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We’ll come to you.

[There are so many ways that SXSW could change the way we think, operate, and organize around big ideas, exciting new tools, important issues, and as a community of smart, passionate people.  There are so many ways that SXSW is already disrupting the ways that we think about how technology can be utilized, creativity should be applied, what communications can achieve – but that mostly/only happens on site, during the event, and the momentum behind so many potentially exciting things is lost when everyone flies back home to the rest of their lives. I want to see SXSW get to that next level – and I have four quick ideas that I think can help.  This is #3.]

SXSW Suggestion #3: Set My Schedule. 

There are at least a half dozen options for panels or other programming during each scheduled time slot during SXSW.  There is no way to attend them all, and even if you are able to access the video/podcast/presentation from an event after the fact, we all still miss out on some really incredible stuff.  Moreover, the way most people choose what session to attend, naturally, is by looking for the topics they find most relevant to their work/life/interests and/or the speakers who they believe will best address their questions.  That means, more often than not, we go with what we know.

I would argue that system is flawed and limits our potential to learn new things, consider different perspectives or engage with people, or around issues, where we aren’t already comfortable. Having so much competing programming presents a huge missed opportunity – for SXSW and those of us attending.  But there are other options:
First, the scheduling for SXSW should be set up to encourage cross-discipline learning and force interactions between people with different perspectives.  Panels shouldn’t be constructed to ensure that the participants don’t already know each other or work in a similar field – so that the conversation naturally includes a diversity of perspectives and experiences.  The overall schedule should encourage an attendee to collect the greatest level of knowledge about a variety of subjects, or variety of perspectives about a particular area of interest – by designating a theme for each day (day 1 is about communications, day 2 is about monetization, etc) or by ensuring that someone can pursue a topic through a series of different perspectives by moving from one panel to another (or simply staying in the same room all day). 

Second, for those who can’t determine, from the limited descriptions that are offered, what will be most interesting or useful to them – or where the quality of discussion will be highest or meet their particular needs best – having SXSW build a schedule for you, to use their judgment and understanding to help you learn, would be an incredibly valuable offering.

I realize that many people probably appreciate the buffet-style presentation of different topics at a conference like SXSW.  I’m not making this argument on behalf of people who can’t make choices, or as a veiled criticism of free expression or free will.  I simply believe the unique cross-section of experiences and capabilities that gather each year at SXSW is not being leveraged fully – and one of the best ways to do that is to ensure cross-discipline participation in every session.  Left to our own devices, I don’t anticipate that will happen.  With some assistance, or direction, from the organizations of SXSW, however, anything is possible.