Jedi Mind Tricks and Data: Lessons from SXSW

The Phocrastinate founders put their money where their mouths are at SXSW.

Fresh off the plane from Austin, Texas, I’m checking in to share a little of what I learned at the annual South by Southwest Festival. No longer just about music, SXSW has grown to include a full slate of exhibits and talks centered on interactivity. Featuring speakers running the gamut from Mark Cuban to Funkmaster Flex, the conference was a terrific chance for Season, Michael and I to really learn about trends and best practices we can put to work for Noble’s clients.

One event I got a lot out of was called, “Jedi Mind Tricks for Entrepreneurs,” presented by Nicole Glaros, partner and Chief Product Officer at Techstars Ventures.

A main takeaway from this speech was this: Entrepreneurs are going to do what they want, when they want. Stay out of their way! They are very similar to high performance athletes. Glaros explained that what separates good athletes from other athletes (or good entrepreneurs from other entrepreneurs) is their mindset. At the end of the day, there is minimal difference between athletes’ physical abilities. It comes down to their “positive” mental approach to things.

To attain this positive approach, she recommends spending three minutes a day conditioning yourself with positive messages. (She also made some quantum physics references, which I was stoked to hear.)

In another talk, this time about Minecraft, I was inspired by the fact that most of the highly-popular game’s innovations have come directly from user experiences, as Minecraft players have built entire virtual worlds from their own imaginations. There’s a lot to be learned from this approach.

One thing I noticed from a lot of startup entrepreneurs is that they are evangelists for — and users of — their own products. For example, the CEO of transportation startup Lyft, Logan Green, began as one of the company’s first drivers. Or the founders of photo sharing site Phocrastinate standing on street corners to hand out bottles of water and promoting their company. We also saw a few flat-out bad ideas. The lesson here is to have a viable business idea before you polish that proverbial turd.

Data, Data, Data

Data Data Data is what came out loud and clear at the conference. But not just any data: quality data.

Does that new Fitbit knockoff that is half the cost of the original collect more accurate data or less? All these dashboards we create mean nothing if the data collection points are of a low quality. In short: we should say to ourselves, “great, we have data. Now, what?”

I was also very interested in the notion of making “measurably-informed UI/UX decisions,” such as iterating over and over again, testing each iteration with an audience. As digital marketers, we should be creating feedback loops so we can learn from our iterations. Make no mistake: you need to move down the “shipping” route and get your product into market, but don’t do it based on emotional assumptions. Do it when you are backed by data and purpose-driven decisions. We also met with our friends at Optimizely, who share this view.

Noble Studios will ensure that, no matter the size, each project design will employ outside validation supported by factual data. Data that is as real-time as is possible. The truth is, users do things very different than what they report. We will move forward focusing on the things we must do, then layering on the things we can do. Cool stuff just won’t scale and is often unpredictable.

Here’s the key. When you take a data-driven approach, you can run the risk of optimizing low-quality products over driving new category viewpoints.  So, we need to think of innovative ways to stay disciplined so we can be predictable without losing our creative edge.

For more on this, check out the double diamond design decision model created in order to stimulate creative thinking.

SXSW gave us a lot of ideas to chew on. Stay tuned as we put these ideas into practice for Noble’s clients.