Two take outs from SXSW which will improve your ideas

In Bruce Sterling’s closing remarks yesterday we were told "Technologists are terrible at predicting the future because they try to solve everything”. Which is a funny thing to hear at the world’s biggest technology and innovation conference.

David Caygill, Iris

Managing Director, The Iris Nursery


Esther Perel - SXSW
Esther Perel speaking at SXSW 2018

Embracing ambiguity, divergence and difference

In Bruce Sterling’s closing remarks yesterday we were told "Technologists are terrible at predicting the future because they try to solve everything”.  Which is a funny thing to hear at the world’s biggest technology and innovation conference. I’ve come along in order to discover the trends that will matter for 2018 and beyond. His point however cuts to one of the key themes to emerge this year. Embracing ambiguity, divergence and difference.

Here in Austin we have the usual smorgasboard of new services and devices being launched, most of these are fuelled by ambitions for growth and funded by investment / VC capital. Typically, these businesses are looking for fast, efficient ways for tech to "Solve for X”. By turning everything into a distilled simple problem / solution model, a wrinkle in the system to be optimised may mean we actually narrow the possible outcomes and direction of travel. 

Ester Perel, a relationship councillor who won SXSW speaker of the event yesterday, talked about how couples often arrive looking for fixes to their relationships, differences to be resolved. However sometimes there is not an answer, couples have paradoxes that should be managed. Accepting that there are differences which can be recognised and celebrated can lead to a richer relationship. There is no ‘fix’.

Many leaders in the digital, technology and innovation space have brains wired as solutionists and they run the risk of jumping to ‘fix’ mode too quickly, which can have dangerous assumptions or biases built in.

How to avoid this? Spend more time observing, especially if it is a complex system with many actors or elements. More insights here will result in more nuanced outcomes. The more time we can spend in a problem space, with multiple potential routes forward, the more likely we are to get to the best ideas.

South by South West, with its eclectic mix of interactive, music and film, is of course a great example itself of a divergent event with thousands of sessions, gigs, screening across the city of Austin. The melting pot of ideas, disciplines and cultures creates a unique opportunity to make lateral connections. It’s a time to be inspired and explore ideas with new people.

Take out: By embracing ambiguity we’re able to progress a greater number of diverse routes resulting in better ideas.

Better by design

“We live designed lives. Bad design means bad lives.” The topic of design has been consistently growing in importance at SXSW and in our industry in general. This year saw teams from IDEO, Bruce Mau and Carissa Carter of Stanford d.School explore issues such as how we can think beyond the classic design disciplines of graphics or architecture to how we design better services, businesses and social movements. 

Bruce Mau implored us to think of how we scale up our thinking to effect massive change, “It’s not about the world of design, it’s about design of the world”. In his 24 Principles for massive change, he codified the various tools and techniques he deploys on his projects. For example, sketching, low res versions of the final thing. We can sketch anything, from visuals of course, but we can also sketch a budget or a building or an organisational structure. When in the exploration of the output make many versions so it becomes possible to compare and obtain feedback honestly against a specific artefact, not just an abstract idea.

As we raise the profile of design in organisations, they will see marked increases in many key metrics. Companies must distribute the tools of design across the whole organisation, making a basic understanding of the language and process of design a core competence for all, in much the same way people view an understanding of the commercial aspects of a business. A change like this can result in a 69% increase in successful launches according to David Aygan of IDEO in Leading for a Culture of Innovation & Creativity

Take out: The tools of design will enable you to build a better world.

Guest Author

David Caygill, Iris

Managing Director, The Iris Nursery


David is the Managing Director of the innovation division at iris Worldwide. He is a specialist in technology driven innovation for brands with 15 years experience in retail, e-learning, travel and consulting. He’s led the development of award winning campaigns, new products and new services for brands such as the UK National Lottery, Save The Children, MasterCard, MINI, Samsung and Domino’s. He’s also active the startup world as a founder, investor, mentor and matchmaker

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