One of the greatest allures of the annual SXSW conference in Austin, TX is its ability to stay focused on ‘what’s new and next’, even outside of its own bounds. The idea of confluence is now central to SXSW, and under the guise of ‘Interactive’, you’ll find session tracks as diverse as brands and marketing, social impact, food, and experience storytelling. But if you’re as keenly interested about the future of work as we are here at Liquid, there’s one track not to be missed – the workplace sessions.
Here’s a roll up of the most inspiring and interesting company culture themes we heard at SXSW this year:
Purpose as a cornerstone for good culture – over and over again, The Greater Purpose crept its way into panels at SXSW. Amanda Townsend, from Seattle’s Outreach.io, identified purpose and the ability to drive real change as a key driver for how millennials engage with their workplace. And in David Aycan’s presentation about business design at IDEO, he shared that IDEO’s first step in building a creative culture is helping a copy defining its purpose – “It’s really hard for an organisation to get started if they don’t know where they are heading, or the change they are trying to make in the world.”
To get to the future of work, we’ve got to turn inside – Melinda Gates dove into her keynote by highlighting the radical shift in the workforce over the past forty years – and the remarkably little change we’ve seen in the workplace itself. She gave SXSW a charge to start the change now: “You can lead a radical redesign of how we think about work in this country in the 21st century”. Likewise, keynote speaker Esther Perel drove home the way the health of our work relationships are starting to show up in service and product offerings, and how being attentive to relationships, especially at the executive levels, can make or break a company.
The next frontier of company culture will be the company’s connection with the broader community – Several speakers pointed out how that company culture is no longer restricted to the four walls of the office – and customers are expecting businesses to show up and give back to their broader community. Miguel McKelvey of WeWork explained that a key pillar of their culture is the idea of “citizenship”, or how their people contribute to their broader communities and energise their world in a positive way.
AI isn’t the great workplace threat it’s been made out to be – if you’re willing to ride the wave and apply it in the right way – Anirban Kundu, CTO of Evernote, addressed concerns by comparing advances in AI and ML to the internal combustion engine, saying “It is not true that AI will just take over the jobs and leave you with no jobs to be had. Different jobs will come up.” That sentiment was echoed by Dr. Fei-Fei Li of Stanford University, who participated in panel about democratising AI. She called on SXSW attendees to explore the power AI has to create new opportunities – not just to break down old ways of working. “We need to recognise that AI needs to be human-centred – it needs to be focused on enhancing human capability rather than replacing humans. AI is actually the technology we can use to create more jobs and we need to invest in that.“
SXSW 2018 generated a clear callout for attendees across the board – the future of work is in their hands, and a strong focus on company culture will help to make sure that future stays bright.
Lindsay Wolff Logsdon is Strategy Director, Culture, Liquid Agency