Innovation. We all like to think we are innovative, but are we? I admit that I'm less innovative and great at stealing (or leveraging - sounds less criminal). And sometimes I just state the obvious. But I do LIKE to think I'm innovative and find all the new, useful things, which is why things like SXSW Interactive can be so attractive.
But let's face it, new ideas and those ah-has come from working - not from attending a conference. Conferences present ideas good for stealing/leveraging. Those ideas may be innovative where you work, but honestly, it's not innovation. You stole it from someone else, somewhere else to use for your own purposes. If anything, you should pay that speaker a usage fee.
I've mentioned in previous posts that I'm a little cantankerous when it comes to anything about the Web and innovation - that's my disclaimer. But given the above, I have to ask the question - Why do we go (or not go) to SXSW?
There's this great infographic about this at AdWeek.
It sums it up - SXSW Interactive isn't really about innovation. It's about finding that "next big thing," the "next gold rush," "what's cool" to make money. If you need to spend a bunch of money to find out what's new to make money, you shouldn't be in business. There are far cheaper ways to steal and expose your product to other people. It makes you wonder why SXSW Interactive exists (there is always a venue to hear cool music).
In fact, the most innovative products and ideas are viral. You find out about them from your 25 year old friends (or hip grannys). Only a few know about them. That's why they are innovative. I truly believe in the curve, and it makes me wonder if SXSW is more an early adopter conference rather than a true innovator conference.
There aren't a lot of innovators, which makes being an innovator a coveted position. Most people aspire to this and are always looking for that next big thing to make them a celebrity innovator. But even in the world of celebrity innovators, not all of the are innovators - they are building upon ideas someone else set in motion (e.g., the concept of a tablet started in Star Trek, then Sculley had it at Apple, then Steve Jobs perfected it).
Sometimes working on the Web/mobile, we get stuck trying to be "cool" and "hip." The early days of the Web were all about this - and it was tiring. It mattered less if you were making a product that made life easier for the average person than if you had a product that looked "cool" and "fun." This is why there was a plethora of online stores. Shopping is fun (it isn't really innovative). Chase is innovative with mobile check deposits - but let's face it - banks and deposits aren't sexy, so what's the big fuss.
Conferences like SXSW make me realize how the Internet is still in its infancy and more of a "gold rush" than an actual tool for innovation and making life better. We're getting there - but our industry has a way to go. We are like a teenager - when the parents are away, we still like to have a big ol' party for ourselves.
P.S. I have to add about being cool and SXSW Interactive...In 2012, SXSW highlighted the app Highlight. I'm not sure if you remember it. I referred to it as the stalker app. After everyone lauded it's creation there was a bumper crop of stalker apps created, people made a ton of money, and everyone started thinking that it was ok to ask the person next to you in line if he liked sushi because the app said so. Most product managers wanted to include these types of features in the app because it was the next new thing. I mean - how can you ignore something that go so much attention at SXSW! (Even if it was intrusive and inappropriate). I don't think it really went viral - I mean most people don't even like what Facebook does when it comes to information sharing.
Innovation? i'd say it was more of a cool applicaition of technology. Next big thing? Only to those of us teenagers who like to give ourselves a party from time to time.