In case you missed it (which I'm pretty sure you didn't): South by Southwest is happening right now. If you work in music, film, marketing, tech, events (the list goes on...), approximately every third tweet and every fifth email will mention the conference/festival.
That's OK: SXSW brings together some of the best in business and culture to share ideas that are worth talking about and taking inspiration from. But if you're like me, hearing from the best comes with pros and cons.
The upside is obvious. There's usually a good reason that people are the best in their industry: they have good ideas and know how to make them happen. Hearing those ideas is an opportunity to learn something.
But the best also set the bar really high because that's where they play. They have the experience, expertise, and resources to reach the high bar because they've already climbed pretty far up the ladder.
That's where things get tricky. A lot of us aren't close to reaching the high bar, even though we might want to. Whether you attend SXSW or just experience it through the internet, the excitement of the sprawling event has the potential to give us an inflated sense of what we're capable of right now. But the buzz will wear off, and we might feel discouraged by the distance between where we are and where we want to be. We'll start to overthink it.
Overthinking is a symptom of perfectionism which, of course, leads to inaction. Seth Godin says it better than I can:
Perfect is the ideal defense mechanism... Perfect lets you stall, ask more questions, do more reviews, dumb it down, safe it up and generally avoid doing anything that might fail (or anything important). You're not in the perfect business.
If you're reading this blog, you probably host (or are interested in hosting) events, which means the very size, scale, production, and existence of SXSW might make you feel like you're behind. It's easy to forget that today's conference—which brings in over 75,000 attendees, 5,000 speakers, and houses over 2,000 sessions—started over 30 years ago with just 700 attendees.
The organizing principle behind the first SXSW is more instructive than dissecting the complexity of the event today. Back in 1987, the founders simply wanted to expose Austin's local creative and music communities by bringing people together "to meet, learn, and share ideas." They let that principle guide what they did with the limited resources they had.
The point is: figure out your own organizing principle and start with what you have. This isn't revelatory; in fact, there are variations of clichés that get at the same idea:
- Start where you are.
- Perfection is the enemy of the good.
- The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Sometimes clichés are worth revisiting, especially for this audience in the face of this year's SXSW. As Product Hunt's Daily Digest noted, "SXSW is shifting away from a place for startups to launch apps. Big tech companies focused more on branded experiences."
As you hear more about Snap's "Snap House" and Patreon's "House of Creativity," appreciate the events for what they are, but don't let it push you into perfection paralysis. The ultimate goal of any event should be getting people with common interests together to discuss ideas in person, which is itself novel in today's digital world.
If you get people together face-to-face, it's a success. The more complicated stuff can come later.