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Six Big Takeaways from SXSW 2023

By Andrew Zimmer

SXSW is a whirlwind of events that can be difficult to absorb, even for the most seasoned attendees. However, if you pay close attention, you'll notice certain themes that emerge throughout the conference, resonating far beyond the event itself. Here are six big themes we picked up from this year's SXSW:

Your mission has never been more important to your brand

In an ever-changing landscape, having a clear mission has become crucial for brands, organizations, and leaders. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, companies with a strong sense of purpose are more successful in the long term (HBR, 2021). Whether your mission is as lofty as Patagonia's aim to save the world or tailored to a specific business, people are looking for brands and leaders with a clear sense of direction. This is the anchor that all business and marketing strategies can flow from.

If you work in or near social media, set boundaries for mental health

This is a good theme for anyone, but especially those involved in social media. With mounting evidence that social media can negatively impact mental health, many SXSW speakers emphasized the need to set boundaries and ensure downtime from social media. Some speakers go so far as to delete their accounts every weekend, while others engage in scheduled positivity across platforms.

The era of moonshots is winding down; for the next few years, progress will be based on what's possible

While people will always want to take shortcuts and jump right to the finish line, incremental progress is key to achieving long-term success. Given the current environment around risk, funding, and recession, this sentiment is likely to be emphasized by leaders in the coming years.

All eyes are on AI (Artificial Intelligence) 

There's no doubt that AI was the most talked-about topic at SXSW. It’s estimated that AI could contribute trillions to the global economy. Barring legislation, AI is set to touch, and more likely, completely change almost every aspect of our lives, from medicine and business plans to recipe selection and travel planning.

The responsibility for the future is decentralized

A somewhat unsettling aspect of AI's rapid development is the refrain we heard from speakers: "I hope someone figures it out" and "It's up to each person to educate themselves about responsibly using AI." While it's essential to take personal responsibility, there is also a need for top-down guidance on AI, either from creators or government entities, to ensure a responsible transition 

This is the moment

Now is the time to figure out the future, and everything after will be different. Work is already changing with ChatGPT rocketing to the public consciousness, creatives are incorporating Dall-E and Midjourney in their processes, real estate management and development is primed to adopt these tools, and industries like financial markets have already been at the forefront of using AI. While this sentiment may be expressed at every SXSW, the upcoming years promise to be transformative. We mustn’t wait to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape.

This year’s SXSW served as an important reminder that the world is constantly changing rapidly - and unpredictably - and that it's essential, now more than ever, to stay informed about emerging trends and adapt accordingly.


Harvard Business Review (2021). The Business Case for Purpose.


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