Background Image

Australia on the main stage: How we showed up at the inaugural SXSW Sydney

Jen Dobbie

Jen Dobbie

Creative Director, HW Australia

There’s no doubt that the first iteration of SXSW outside the US was a huge coup for Sydney. Predicted to deliver $24 million each year; the festival is a hub for innovative thinkers across creativity, tech, music, and culture. So, what lessons can we take from SXSW Sydney 2023 when it comes to tech and innovation? Is the future of Gen AI bright or belligerent? How can we embrace all we saw and heard from the over 400 sessions and 700 speakers on offer and apply it to our own world? And was this festival enough to galvanise positive action amongst some of the most seasoned creative minds in the business? Let’s get into it.

Creative thinkers will take the lead
Industry stalwart, Copywriter to CEO, David Droga spoke to creative thinkers moving into CMO and CEO roles and how tech innovation and creative iteration has emerged in multiple industry verticals. After stewarding a $3billion investment in AI, his take on the future is that “Creativity implies a shallowness. Innovation sounds heavier, has more heft – but their one and the same. And, in all categories of business, if you look at the playbook that got you there, it won’t get you anywhere in the future.”

The future of Aussie tech innovation is female
Standout sessions, raved about by groups in corridors and quads – were overwhelmingly female. From Cindy Gallop, on reinventing aspirational culture through female lens adtech; to Mia Freeman and Naomi Watts on Menopause Tech, and Nicole Kidman on award-winning productions; to Hannah Moreno and Elaine Stead showing male tech investors how to stand up by funding female founders; this was women in creativity and tech at their peak.

Australia can take lessons from our SaaS and Fintech successes
Kate Pounder, CEO of the Technology Council of Australia, urged us to think about “how far Australia has come in tech in the last few decades, especially in SaaS and fintech, the great companies we’ve launched and scaled, and how tech is creating 935,000 jobs and $167bn in value in Australia.” Her optimism about tech in Australia is high – believing we should be “lifting our ambition even higher. We have incredible researchers and new companies being formed in a broadening array of areas from quantum, to biotech, to clean tech to robotics, cybersecurity and AI.She also spoke to innovation in regulation  – noting that  “scaling these companies may require different funding and regulatory settings to the companies we’ve launched in the past.

Tech experiences are the competitive advantage for employee retention
The Trust 2033: The Future of Employee-Employer Dynamics session dove into the changing relationship between companies and their employees and how adjusting to changing worker expectations while integrating new technology will be critical factors for success. Can we be looking at the impact of AI technology in terms of creating value for employees where currently nothing exists? Instead of looking at the tasks currently being done by people, what about the tasks currently abandoned or ignored as the work required to complete them is too high for the potential payout? From an employee experience perspective, the automation of these tasks offers employers and employees new insights into the business – making work easier and more efficient, without any change to people’s roles.

The rise of AI demands innovation against homogeneity
While the age of AI is heralded to help unlock our brains into an explosion of creativity and speed, Amy Webb, CEO of Future Today Institute, advocates caution and creative vigilance. Webb, a world-renowned futurist, examined the very human truth that, as we give our decisions to technology like AI, we inherently lose the autonomy to be creative or draw our own conclusions. That said, is it perhaps more beholden upon us within innovative industries, to rail against the homogenisation of creativity, business, and society as a whole?

So, let’s get our powerhouse in order

Presented as a “futurist think tank; showcase of the latest games, film and TV premieres and next-gen technology expo. the week-long SXSW Sydney event was perfectly timed for the current mood within Australian tech and innovation. The venues was full of curious minds from multiple industries across Australia and globally. Networking with unexpected people from HR to PR; Creative Directors to CIOs. It felt genuinely innovative & new – open to all thinkers. It falls to Kate Pounder to guide our approach as the future powerhouse of innovation and tech; “We need to think even bigger; and be on the front foot to keep building a new generation of jobs, companies, industries and opportunities in Australia.”