SXSWi 2011, Day One: "Actually, almost, overwhelming!"

Watson proposes "Turbo Scheduling," automagic scheduling software based on his socnet preferences


developerWorks: I'm Scott Laningham, and this is the developerWorks podcast. We are at South by Southwest 2011 in Austin, Texas, an event we look so much forward to attending every year. And I'm here with my colleague, Todd "Turbo" Watson. Todd, how are you doing?

Watson: Oh, I'm good, Scott. I've in full South by Southwest fledged force! [LAUGHTER]

developerWorks: I missed you a couple of weeks ago at Pulse, we did all of our Livestream stuff without you.

Watson: Yes, I saw you saying hello to me on the Livestream at the golf course in Costa Rica. Thanks very much. [LAUGHTER] I missed you all. [LAUGHTER]

developerWorks: Did you have a good time?

Watson: I had a good time. Costa Rica's a beautiful place and I want to go back there someday.

developerWorks: I'm sure you will.

Watson: I hope so.

developerWorks: You didn't hit too many balls into ...

Watson: I hit balls all over that country, the jungle [LAUGHTER] the rain forest, the rivers. [LAUGHTER] Titleist stock probably went up at least 50 percent.

developerWorks: Okay, let's talk ... this is just day one of a four- or five-day conference here, and South by Southwest, for those of you who don't know about it, is in Austin, and it started I think as a film festival, then music, and then interactive was added or something like that.

Watson: Yes, I believe it was some 25 years ago, and then first you had the South by Southwest multimedia, which evolved into the interactive festival. And now, I think the tail is definitely wagging the dog. South by Southwest Interactive is I think the largest enrolled, as you can tell from the complete pandemonium. It looks like Grand Central Station in rush hour around here.

developerWorks: I'm sure there's over 10,000 people just hitting ...

Watson: Oh, and this is Friday, so get ready.

developerWorks: Yes. It's actually almost overwhelming. There's so many sessions every hour that I spent about three hours last night just trying to figure out what to see today. I mean, forget the rest of ...

Watson: Yes, you know some clever Internet entrepreneur, hello, should be doing some kind of automagic scheduling software based on all my Facebook and Google preferences.

developerWorks: Hey, now there you go. [LAUGHTER] We could call that Turbo Scheduling, right?

Watson: That's right. [LAUGHTER]

developerWorks: Now, let's talk just about what we heard today, share a couple of thoughts about highlights today.

Watson: Well, you know, the day started in the afternoon for me, and actually started at lunch at a pub on Sixth street where we podcast from last year, a networking event. And then we got to hear Tim O'Reilly who I think, you know, the father of Web 2.0 and all things web and in UNIX publishing, you know.

And Jason Calacanis could hardly get a word in edgewise, which I didn't think was possible, and so that was good. They did a great job, it was a good discussion. And I think for a lot of the younger people in the audience, he took ... that interview took people back with a little bit of history lesson of somebody who was really a grandfather in this industry. And I don't mean that in a derogatory sense.

developerWorks: You and I both sat in there, and I was really struck by how much they covered in an hour in terms of both history and just Tim's perspective on so many things. Didn't they say that when he had GNN, I can't even remember what GNN stands for.

Watson: Yes, GNN, I forget the ... what it stood for as well.

Editor: GNN, or Global Network Navigator, was the first commercial web publication and the first website to offer clickable advertisements ("banner ads"). The first internet ad was sold by GNN to Heller Ehrman LLP. GNN was founded in May of 1993 by Tim O'Reilly and Dale Dougherty of O'Reilly.

developerWorks: But that he did the first study on the Internet as a possible advertising medium.

Watson: Yes, this was like '92, '93.

developerWorks: Even saying that, "as a possible advertising medium," shows you how far back Tim O'Reilly goes.

Watson: Yes, and I also thought it was really interesting, his overview of Web 2.0, which we haven't really had in the nomenclature as much recently. But you know, the idea that the name came from the idea that the web was over after the dot-com bust ...

Shah: Right.

Watson: ... and came out as his thinking on open source, which he had been talking about for a long time. And this whole idea of the Internet becoming the platform, you know, all of that I think proved out that it is the OS now, and a lot of the other talks that you hear are all about that, the cloud and so on. So ...

developerWorks: You know, before you skip beyond that, do you remember when we first started this podcast about five years ago, and you go way back with this podcast, that I interviewed Tim Berners-Lee, and that's ...

Watson: Yes, I do remember.

developerWorks: ... when IBM was real hot on Web 2.0. I mean, they jumped on that bandwagon, and that was a big phrase that we used constantly. And I asked Tim Berners-Lee what he thought of Web 2.0, and he said, oh, that's just marketing bunk. [LAUGHTER]

Well, but Tim O'Reilly subsequently in an interview with us said he's right, because it's not about marketing, it's about the promise that the web had all along, right?

Watson: Yes, it was, but also think about the session today and how O'Reilly, Calacanis asked him about marketing and great brands, and I found it very interesting, you know, based on your comment just now, that he elaborated on that and said that he has introduced a lot of brands into the market, and that they have a core, they mean something.

And the big ideas are like locomotives, they bring a lot of people where they want to go and they belong ... you know, those ideas belong to everybody who uses them. So yes, on the one hand, you know, it's not about marketing, but on the other hand, you have to have a vehicle for communicating those powerful ideas around open source and Web 2.0. And he's very good at that, so.

developerWorks: Yes, and as he said, you know, the idea that Web 2.0 meant the web resurrecting after the dot-com bust, and we forget how much there was being said at the time that maybe this whole thing was a fad and it's gone, right?

Watson: Yes.

developerWorks: Which is a hilarious thought today, but understandably.

Watson: And I also liked what he had to say about chasing things that you're passionate about. He talked about how he never really did what he did for the money. In fact, he's probably lost money along the way because he didn't try to fully capitalize on it.

And I thought that was interesting in light of our participation yesterday in the social business summit, where the founder and CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, talked about, you know, now he's on this mission to deliver happiness. He has a new book about that. And I thought that was really fascinating considering that there's so many of the people here wanting to kind of be the next new thing, but what's the core that's driving you?

developerWorks: Right.

Watson: You know, what's your passion? And I think some of these great innovators we've heard from like Hsieh, like Tim O'Reilly, even Calacanis, they're not all about just chasing the almighty dollar. They always seem to have something at their core whether it's delivering happiness or just delivering information to people.

developerWorks: I was thinking the same thing, and I love that statement of Tim's about his career, especially his early career, is we say full of happy accidents that came from ignorance.

Watson: Yes, yes. [LAUGHTER] I also love the fact that he was talking about Ronald Reagan as the father of Foursquare.

developerWorks: Yes.

Watson: And for people who are wondering, well, where did that come from? It was Ronald Reagan who actually encouraged the civilian access to GPS data which was really intended for primary use by the military. You wouldn't have a Foursquare without having had that API for that geolocation data opening up.

And kind of segue-ing from that into Merissa Mayer talk about what Google's been up to. I think she talked about fun, future and I forget the other thing. You know, that whole talk couldn't have happened without this geolocation opportunity, right?

She talked about Google Hotspot, all the ... and that's one of the things I think Reilly is saying. We heard a little bit about last year because Foursquare was really breaking out, but I mean, I can tell already for this event it's going to be about mobile, social and local and a big mashup of all three.

developerWorks: You know, I always feel like there's an interesting blend here of philosophies when I come to this, and so many young entrepreneurs, people that are advanced in this space with their ideas and their innovations often seem to fall maybe on one side of the political spectrum. That's not, you can't characterize it completely that way ...

Watson: Sure.

developerWorks: ... but to some extent, you would say they do. But at the same time, there's a very, very serious open source, more free market, uncentralized control element here, too. So, these are as broad-based and hard to label thinkers as you can find.

Watson: Yes.

developerWorks: It's a fascinating crowd to be around.

And another thing about Tim, I loved how ... and it also I thought blended well with what Tony Hsieh, is that his name? Tony Hsieh was saying yesterday, Tim said, so much innovation happens when people are just having fun. And Tony's, we should talk just a second about that, yesterday, if you want to. I don't want to ... I don't want to end us on this one before, but we're going to come back and talk a lot about South by Southwest over the next few days.

But that social business summit that we were both at yesterday, talk about the theme of that and what you were getting out of that, which was put on by ...

Watson: Well, the sponsor was Dachis Corp., we actually helped, IBM sponsored the event, there's four events around the globe. And speaking of perfect timing, our friend Rawn Shah is going to walk up, so we're going to ask him a little bit about this as well.

developerWorks: Yes. Hey, Rawn.

Watson: But I think that Dachis Corp., for those of you who don't know who Jeff Datchis is, he was the cofounder of Razorfish, very successful interactive agency back in the dot-com days, and he's kind of reinvented himself. And he was early on in the social business party by founding this consulting firm here in Austin.

And now his company's acquired a number of other partners, and they're really trying to help companies large and small start to navigate these waters by establishing kind of a methodology about how do you rethink the organization. And Rawn, this is a perfect time for you to jump right in and talk a little bit about what that means.

developerWorks: Yes, let's have Rawn jump in. Rawn, you were a speaker at the social business summit yesterday, right?

Shah: Yes, I was.

developerWorks: And thank you for being here. And if you keep that within about two inches of your mouth, we'll hear you in this loud room. How did your involvement come about? What were you speaking about yesterday? Because I actually missed your talk.

Shah: Well, I was here last year, for the summit last year, and it was a much smaller room. This year I actually spoke. It was on the topic of maturity and social business. It was kind of ironic, the session right before mine was relatively about immaturity, so I got a good lead in. They were talking about how basically it was just throw away privacy and do something like that.

The maturity that we were talking about is not necessarily in, you know, human development sort of notion there, but in terms of how the organization grows. So, one simple example is when we started on our own journey in IBM, we were very intensely on what tool do you use, are you a blogger, do you use a wiki, do you use podcasting, things like that.

But the level of conversation has since elevated to a new level. So when we did the social business jam, this was an online jam for three days in February, the themes that came out, the discussions that came out of all of that was around leadership. It was around company culture. It was around values, management, ROI.

So there were still some technical discussions there, but it was a little ... it had grown out of how do I do this on this tool into how do I get productivity out of what I'm using here in the social business ...

developerWorks: So, why do I do it, what's the cultural process and the evolution that happens, all that stuff. Right?

Shah: Yes, they're dealing with the more complicated problems now, which are figuring out how does this fit into the organization. You know, that is certainly way beyond how do I click a button.

developerWorks: Right. Todd, you were there, weren't you, as he gave this talk.

Watson: Yes, I was, I was. And I thought Rawn's talk was excellent, because it did address that maturity. And I think it's probably long overdue, particularly for an IBM where we're trying to help customers that are, span the size of everything from governments to large financial institutions down to even some of the smaller mom and pop shops who are trying to understand the implications of this network technology and this new way of thinking and operating.

And they need roadmaps. And I think is ... and others, Dachis and others are starting to deliver on how we kind of get beyond, as Rawn said, just the click of the light button and get into, how do I leverage this for my business, much like IBM did in the mid to late nineties with e-business, where we were talking about the impact of the network on business and not just talking about browsers as some of our competitors.

So I think that maturity transcended Rawn's talk and got into a few of the other ones. He's right, there were some that were a little more pedestrian, but there were others like John Hagel who really started talking about how do you align this with metrics that are meaningful to the organization.

How do you measure the impact of having gone about and instituting social software to allow for streamlined collaboration, increased productivity, faster go to market and all of that? So I think it's all goodness. I'm not sure we're going to hear as much about all that here at South by, I think we will hear more about the buttons and the tools, but that's okay, that's what this audience is more about.

developerWorks: What do you guys, both of you, think about the challenge of older, you know, legacy organizations, larger corporations, with very, very defined hierarchical structures? I mean, everybody talks about flattening organizations, but what did Lee Bryant, wasn't he one of the speakers that we heard yesterday with Headshift, which was bought by Dachis Group, right?

And he talked about flat organizations still need leaders, but my question as he was talking was, but what does that look like, and how would it ... how must it be organized? I mean, are you simply looking for leaders to emerge out of these very flat groups, just natural leaders? Kind of rise to the occasion and ... because there's so much virtual teaming that goes on now.

Watson: Yes, right, and I'll let Rawn elaborate, because it's his expertise. But my two cents would be, I think one of the gentlemen said, you can't put lipstick on a pig. You can't just take what you see as the veneer of what social media and business constitutes and kind of impose it on a traditional organization.

You've got to really start to rethink the role of how you're going to rethink the organization and then the technology plays a role in that, and I think Rawn, you've talked a lot about the leadership, so I'll let you elaborate.

developerWorks: Yes, and Lee even said, common purpose is more important than strategy. I thought that was really interesting, right? So it must start there, then, right?

Shah: Yes, and there were actually several talks on that. Lee Bryant as well as Dave Gray, who are very focused on the changing nature of organizations. In fact, I'll start with Dave. He was earlier on in the day, but he was talking about, he wrote a fairly influential article called The Connected Company, so much that you know, I remember one of the tweets is Tim O'Reilly asked him if he wanted to do a book about it. This is out of a single blog post.

The key idea is that as organizations grow in size, there's a loss of productivity. You add layers of bureaucracy, we add layers upon layers that make it much more complicated, just to deal with the organization itself.

Now, the proposal there is to take a look more at how a city is organized or how a city is not organized, for that matter. It is not centrally planned where every single business unit should be where they should be, but they have guidelines for, you know, these are the codes for where we can have shops, where we can have residential areas, where we can have public meeting places.

Now, Lee's discussion was centered on leadership, and I think it's something that we ourselves focus on quite a bit, which is the difference between direct and indirect influence. A direct influence is someone, essentially a manager, he can tell you what to do, and if you don't do, you lose your job, or you know, you get bad marks.

Indirect influence is it's what we normally think of influence, it's basically being able to convince other people they should do that, where you don't have to tell them or force them to do anything.

That becomes essential in the new social business organization, because you're going beyond just your immediate team. You're going beyond probably even business units in your organization to partners, companies, everywhere else.

Are you influential enough to help them see your way? You know, if you have a particular project that you're working on, can you convince them that this is something worth working on? So that kind of leadership and that kind of thinking requires completely different strategies.

B schools, MBAs, certainly come up with some of those, and I think the structures for how this influence works outside of, you know, direct face-to-face interaction in the online world, it's different. And that's the part that we haven't figured out yet.

We don't have that concrete, because direct human personal interactions and influence that layer has, you know, you'll find probably thousands of books out there in the market which talk about that. But this is a new medium, where you don't necessarily get to face them directly, but can you still have that relationship?

developerWorks: And one of the things that Lee, anyway, pointed out, and I'm sure came out in other people's talks, because this was about social business, which implies the use of social tools and media that we're talking about all the time, is that the social networks, I remember he said, allow intimacy and presence at scale in a world that often doesn't allow for the old traditional walk around manager, right?

And that kind of manager was the manager who had his or her pulse on what was going on in an organization and had a chance to interact with people. These global businesses and these virtual spread out organizations, this is about the only way we have to get back to that kind of intimacy on some level, right?

Shah: You're exactly right. In fact, you know, that intimacy at a distance, it's being able to connect with people remotely, not even with someone you've ever seen before, for that matter. But you have shared minds, you have shared ideas, you have had discussions. So they know who you are, and you have a working relationship. Especially when it's working on common goals, so going back to Lee's point there.

The common goals is what helps unite and make these new types of organizational units work. It is not necessarily the structure or instructions, says you've got to do this for the common goals. It is what each person brings. You know, I'm going to jump back into what you participated in, Scott, which was the jazz music session there.

developerWorks: Yes, that was fun.

Shah: It was fantastic, because one of the things that was discussed often, you know, several times by several speakers, was the notion of flows. How do you work with flows information? So when you think of an organizational unit and everyone comes to it with their own perspectives, they're basically creating different flows.

And how you manage those flows, personally in your head, how do you know what's going on across all the different ways that people are perceiving, and how do you work with them, that's exactly like the collaborations you see in jazz music.

So, in fact, I thought Michael Gold from Jazz Impact was probably one of the most poignant speakers there, because he actually had an answer for how you manage and work with flows. It was impressive enough to me that that's the top of my Forbes blog today.

developerWorks: That's great. And you know, it was a fun session to be a part of, and I had thought this for some time, I had thought, you know, what a natural connection there is between improvisation, in any kind of improvisational art, whether it's theater, you know, or music or whatever, the connection between that and the kind of skills we're talking about, making effective use of social media to get to this point of intimacy across virtual teams, right?

Shah: Yes. Shiv Singh of Pepsico Beverages, he's head of digital over there, he gave that same example in a different context, real time, how do you market in real time, how do you build an idea that you see happening live, you know, that's basically working with a flow. You see an example happening out there, you think that's a very good idea for the next marketing campaign, how do you execute that within minutes, not take it back, create a plan, you know, work for days and on.

No. Can you turn that around from what you see within several minutes if not maybe at worst an hour, into a worldwide system? So you need a lot of different components that work into that plan. But the key point of that is that improvisation piece, is do you recognize what's happening, do you know how it applies to your own goals, your own activities, your own ... the instrument that you are playing, and make new music out of that.

developerWorks: Anyway, I know everybody wants to jump in, because there's another speaker that's happening, we're already getting into it. But thank you both for coming, and we did mention Michael Gold, and I should say his website is I think it's "com," if not, it's "net," if it's not that, it's "org." It's one of those. [LAUGHTER]

Just Google ... the terms at the end of this article ... editor

developerWorks: Todd, closing thoughts? Or you're just saying, please stop so I can get to this next ...

Watson: No, we're going to go hear Clay Shirky, who's a great thinker and writer in the social space in general. I met him way back when I was living in New York, I always love to hear what he has to say. And then beyond that, you know, of course, the parties are going to start and we're going to start seeing a lot of networking. And beyond that, I haven't had time to scope it out, because I don't have my Turbo Calendar Scheduler thing that some innovator here is going to build for us.

developerWorks: Next year you're going to be presenting on that.

Watson: Yes.

developerWorks: And I'll play drums behind it.

Watson: And we'll do the battle bot thing to ... [LAUGHTER] ... to talk about it.

developerWorks: Todd, we'll see you tomorrow, because we're going to continue all this.

Watson: Yes.

developerWorks: And Rawn, thank you so much for being here, and I hope you'll join us for some more of these, because there's so much to talk about every day from South by Southwest Interactive 2011 in Austin, Texas. I'm Scott Laningham. This is the developerWorks podcast. Talk to you tomorrow.

Search terms for these topics: | Jason Calacanis | Merissa Mayer | Google Hotspot | Google Latitude | John Hagel | Lee Bryant | Headshift | Dave Gray | Michael Gold Jazz Impact | Zappos Tony Hsieh | Shiv Singh | South by Southwest 2011 | SXSWi 2011

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ArticleTitle=SXSWi 2011, Day One: "Actually, almost, overwhelming!"