The sessions at SXSW usually fall into one of two camps. They’re either incredibly informative or incredibly inspirational.
The informative ones usually introduce a new piece of software, or revolutionary hardware.
The inspirational ones are more about invigorating the next generation of entrepreneurs, wonderkids and creative pioneers.
And it’s these sessions in which the keynote speakers really come into their own. The keynote yesterday was left in the hands of Adam Savage (left), presenter of the Discovery Channel hit show Mythbusters. Savage discussed the synchronicity of art and science, and why we need more people in this world to care about both.
“We see art and science as being at either end of the cultural spectrum,” he said. “But they are the same thing.”
So how can we all be more artistic, and more scientific? And how can we apply that to our everyday lives? Savage had an answer that’s become a bit of a theme throughout SXSW: Be Curious. Be active. And be prepared to fail.
Indeed, the most uplifting part of the whole SXSW festival is the feeling that you’re part of some sort of movement. Something big. Something energetic. We may not all be Zuckerbergs or Assanges, but the majority of people here are people that are trying to make things happen. No matter which part of the industry they’re in, Austin is full this week of go-getters. Of people who persist. Who believe in an idea. I hate to get all mushy here, but it really is quite inspiring to see.
How often in the UK do we truly believe in an idea or a purpose so much that we will go to great lengths to see it through? How often are we really prepared to push our ideas to the limit? And most importantly, why are we so scared of failure?
Savage wasn’t the first supremely successful person this week to identify a willingness to be prepared to fail as the most important characteristic that someone can have.
“Failure is the most important thing in science,” he said. “We all need to be comfortable in talking about and encouraging failure. Only when you fail do you truly know your limits, and where you sweet spot actually lies.”
Or, to use another one of his bite-size quotes: “You can’t tell a kid not to touch the stove. They must touch the stove. Life is about curiosity.”
Burning children aside. It’s a lesson that we in the creative industry should really be comfortable with. The very best creatives are curious sorts, yet various pressures mean that a culture where it’s OK to fail seems a long way away. But how else will we improve, how else will we learn, and how else will we create more things that are truly groundbreaking?
Matt Williams is content editor of Engine and a former Close-Up editor of Campaign.