Seven Takeaways from SXSW

What does Gen Z want in a job? What’s the next workplace trend? And how can we keep the robot overlords at bay?  We came to South by Southwest (SXSW) with questions. And as usual, the 10-day ideas conference promised answers on how better to live, learn, work, play, and heal. We returned with these favorites, straight from the brightest minds in tech and the humanities:

2018 is the beginning of the end of smartphones.

So says quantitative futurist Amy Webb, who points out that smart phones have peaked, are not getting any smarter, and now offer only incremental benefits. In their place are the (already ubiquitous) digital assistants ushering in the non-visual user interface age. Per Webb, by 2021, 50% of the people who live in industrialized nations will conduct more than half of their machine interactions by voice.

More than ever, we crave human interaction.

The more we’re immersed in automation, the more essential it is to design the “human option”—that feature that makes us feel more connected. Whether it’s a human library where you can “check out” someone from a different background, or the addition of a slow check-out lane, we need to build in opportunities for empathy and humanity. That’s according to Rohit Bhargava, founder of the Non-Obvious Company.

To ward off displacement (by robots), cognitive diversity is key.

To prepare ourselves for fundamental change, we must ensure there’s diversity at the decision-making table. That means not only racial and gender diversity but diversity of information-processing. By infusing your office with alternative styles of thinking, you’ll be able to challenge the norm of your organization. Among Australia’s ASX 200 companies, for instance, there are more CEOs named John than there are women CEOs. (Ditto for Peter. And David.) But “I’m not sure John, Peter and David have all our best interests at heart,” said Dominic Price of Atlassian. A homogenous group of executives, not considering the myriad perspectives of the workforce, may think a robot is an appealing hire. Different backgrounds are needed to inform more sound decisions.

Apartment buildings offer the gift of time.

Class A buildings no longer need to offer multiple parking spots per unit to get top dollar, says Constance Freedman, Moderne Ventures and Stephanie Fuhrman of Greystar. Grocery shopping, laundry service, co-working spaces, and rideshare stipends are being added in their place, as residential developers make it easier to go car-free. Tenants save time, but what’s in it for the owner? They get to reduce the amount of garage space and get even more out of their footprints.

Make your organization healthier by integrating play.

For humans, and across the animal kingdom, playing helps teach practical skills in a carefree and supportive setting. So why do we lose this jovial spirit as we age? Creating an open and inclusive culture that supports playful experiences increases loyalty to an organization. Short of gamifying all operations, Michelle Lee at IDEO suggests augmenting the employee experience to make learning and growth in your office environment both professional AND playful.

Gen Z has arrived.

Get excited, because this new generation is going to reinvigorate business as usual. Craving authenticity, Gen Z, in the workforce and as consumers, can sniff out an organization’s real priorities. (Time to retire those ambiguous mission statements.) If you’re a company leader, make sure your organization goes beyond messaging and is truly living up to its goals, says Tiffany Zhong, “Gen Z Whisperer” and founder of Zebra Intelligence.

Familiarity can make you blind.

Carl Marci, Chief Neuroscientist at Nielsen, mentioned a recent study he performed, in which auto dealers and regular viewers watched an hour of television, complete with commercial breaks. The two groups responded similarly to most commercials, with one important exception: car commercials. Auto dealers’ excitement peaked during the “deal” portion of an ad, while everyone else showed textbook signs of disengagement. Here, science proves what may not always be obvious—that we “experts” could benefit from seeing our output through the audiences’ eyes.

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