Cantillon: SXSW gets bigger, but is it getting better?

Many talks aimed at young start-ups were cliched and had nothing much new to say

Christopher Isaac “Biz” Stone, co-founder of Twitter and Super, speaks during the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg.

Christopher Isaac “Biz” Stone, co-founder of Twitter and Super, speaks during the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg.

 

How much hot air goes into a festival hosting hundreds of events over five days? Quite a bit, it seems.

South by South West (SXSW) began 29 years ago as a music festival based in Austin, Texas. Three decades on, it has ballooned into a fortnight of music, film, business, comedy, gaming and everything else.

SXSW Interactive – a five-day mishmash of digital creativity, psychology, entrepreneurship, emerging technologies and thought leadership – was spun out of it 22 years ago. The festival definitely has its strengths: some great speakers and serious networking opportunities, coupled with a fun atmosphere. But is the whole thing a little too big for its boots?

Modern society doesn’t allow for containing a good thing. If you’re not always thinking about expansion, growth, aiming higher, you’re branded as lazy, or lacking ambition or vision. But if nuclear physics has taught us anything, which it hasn’t, it’s that trying to push too far beyond critical mass is never a good idea.

There is too much going on at SXSW Interactive. Too much choice can lead to stress, even in the most decisive among us. Of course, the continued growth of the event would be totally acceptable if it were the case that the number of people in the world with good ideas – coupled with even better communications skills – was also growing exponentially. But that isn’t the case.

Many of the talks aimed specifically at young entrepreneurs and start-up CEOs were cliched, and had nothing much new to say. It’s perhaps a little too easy to coax young entrepreneurs and start-ups out of the little money they have if you promise them answers, solutions, solid gold networking opportunities etc.

SXSW is growing. The event has even moved out of Austin. Why is it getting bigger? Because . . . things get bigger. That’s how the system works, despite the fact that the aim of any business, group, event, or movement shouldn’t be simply to get bigger. It should be to get better.

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