SXSW Interactive: The Perspective of One HR Nerd


Last week I was at the South By Southwest Interactive Conference (SXSW) for the first time. It was amazing on many levels, but with a few days between the end of the conference and writing this post, I keep thinking about how different the sessions were compared to the conferences I typically go to.

There were no sessions on FMLA, the Affordable Care Act, “Getting a Seat at the Table”, or “Practitioner This or That”. There also weren’t any sessions on Leveraging Your HR Spirit Animal, Engaging Your Millennial Leverage, Becoming a Recruiting Ninja or any other classically cliché HR conference sessions.

Instead, there were sessions like these:

  • How Innovation Happens
  • Frontiers of Computational Thinking
  • The Future of Analytics is on a Need to Know Basis
  • Humans Are Predictable – Exploit That in 8 Easy Charts
  • Entrepreneurship or MBA, Mutually Exclusive or Not?
  • Artificial Intelligence, Immortality and the Future of Selves
  • The Innovation Revolution – Thinking Outside the Box at Adobe
  • Higher Education – To Get a Job or Create a Job?
  • The Science of News and Content Consumption
  • What it Really Takes to Win in Business
  • Empowering Saudi Women – A Conversation with Princess Reema
  • Biz Stone on Creativity and Redefining Success
  • Beyond the Bar Graph – Insights Over Information in Physical Fitness and Health Applications
  • The Art of Social Media
  • Fear, Shame, Empathy and Other Ways to Change People’s Behavior
  • Curious Bridges – How Designers Grow the Future
  • New Social (Vertical) Networks Changing Entire Industries

Oh by the way, these were just the sessions I attended! I wasn’t able to make it to a few sessions because they filled up, there were 5-10 great choices per time slot that I had to narrow down, and I ended up leaving a day early for a personal commitment!

I have to admit, a few of the sessions weren’t quite what I was expecting. As an overall package, however, I’d be hard pressed to replace the diversity of the content covered, and it’s applicability in today’s work environment.

Like I said a few weeks ago, it’s incredibly important for us to diversify our education. It’s not enough to just be “good at HR” anymore, we have to be nimble enough (and dare I say entrepreneurial enough) to innovate and change at a pace that is new to most of us.

I know, SXSW isn’t for everyone. In fact, as I’m typing this I get a sense that many who stumble upon this post will be rolling their eyes right about now because they are doing just fine without any of this “new world interactive business that the kids are into these days”.

And that’s fine, but I’ll close by saying this.

HR as a profession is ripe for disruption. We don’t have to look very hard to see that many of our organizational frameworks are built around ways of seeing the world that are decades old. The way we were trained to do our work doesn’t always line up with the way many of our employees expect to interact with their employer – and we have to figure out how to meet them halfway sooner, rather than later.

That’s why I enjoyed SXSW so much. It gave me an opportunity to push the envelope a bit on the work I do because I didn’t attend a single session that applied specifically to my existing job description. Instead I was forced into attending sessions that expand my capacity to work within a role that is ever expanding, ripe with potential to share what I learn, and incredible opportunity should I choose to make the most of it.

And that’s exactly where I wanted to be.

8 thoughts

  1. You make some great points. We do need to change the way we approach and interact with the workforce. What motivated baby boomers is not what motivates millenials, and what was successful a decade ago is not as successful today.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the spirit! I think that as soon as an HR professional knows enough about HR to be functional they need to branch out to another field so they can apply it day to day!


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