Over the years, SXSW has attracted quite a following and become a mecca for tech nerds, CEOs and everyone in-between. We sat down with SXSW veteran and 2016 Interactive speaker John Hagel for his advice and insight into this year’s festival.


Q. How many times have you been to SXSW and what is your favorite memory from the years that you’ve been attending?
I’ve been going to SXSW for over a decade. I can’t single out one memory from all those years, but I would say that my fondest memories are of the very diverse group of people that I have met. SXSW attracts people on the edge of technology and business – the people who are exploring unmet needs and new capabilities – and I always leave with a new set of relationships and new ideas regarding how the business world is likely to change.

Q. What are you most looking forward to at this year’s SXSW?
For me, it’s always about the serendipity – those unexpected encounters with people that you never knew existed but who, it turns out, have some great insight about an issue or problem that you’re working on. That’s why I try not to block out my SXSW calendar too tightly – I want to leave plenty of time for those unexpected encounters.

Q. What topics do you think will define this year’s festival?
How could it not be the intersection of AI/IOT and VR? These are three hot interactive technology domains, but we tend to approach them in silos. To me, the really interesting developments are the growing intersections of these technologies, along with a fourth domain of genetic engineering/biosynthesis. When we bring these together, we will make smart things smarter, dumb things smarter and living things more robust.

I am also excited to see an increasing emphasis on the relative lack of gender diversity in the tech world and I hope this theme gets the attention it deserves – we are never going to achieve the full potential of any of these technologies unless we find ways to effectively mobilize all human talent to develop and evolve these technologies.

Q. Can you tell us more about the session you will be hosting?
I’m hosting a session that will share some of our newest research on patterns of disruption. I do this with some hesitation because disruption has become one of the most over-used and abused words in the business world today. It seems like anything that is new and different is now “disruptive.” We use a more rigorous definition of disruption that puts a much higher threshold for what is disruptive.

More importantly, we have focused on “patterns of disruption” that are likely to disrupt more than one market but not all markets. This is different from the one-off stories of disruption that we tend to hear. We also have focused on identifying the characteristics of markets that would make them vulnerable to a particular pattern of disruption. This perspective will help both leaders of incumbents and new entrants to focus on disruptive approaches that are likely to have the greatest impact in the particular markets or industries where they are operating. At a time when there are more and more distractions competing for our attention, this perspective helps us to focus on the approaches that matter.

Q. You’ve had a long, rich career in innovation consulting. What would you recommend to young 20-somethings who aspire to be in your place one day?
Oh, that’s easy. My only advice is to find and then follow your passion. I know it sounds trite but it is the one thing that has guided me throughout my life and it has served me well. Too often, we try to “game” the system and figure out where the big opportunity areas are and then devote ourselves to those areas. I am here to tell you that your biggest opportunity areas are the areas you are most passionate about. You will excel in those areas and reap deep satisfaction from making an increasing difference in those areas. If your passion is innovation consulting, then by all means overcome your fear and venture out onto the edges where new ideas and approaches usually surface first. I like to say that “I work and play on the edge – the views are breathtaking, the experiences are deep and satisfying, and the learning is limitless.”

John Hagel is co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge. Hagel is a featured speaker at this year’s SXSW Interactive. Learn more about Hagel’s panel on the SXSW blog and don’t forget to RSVP to his talk, Thriving on Disruption: Recognize and Capitalize on Monday, March 15 in the Austin Convention Center, as he discusses disruption – and what that really means. In addition, he’ll outline what responses can help companies turn threats into opportunities.