Through the ears of an entrepreneur

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SXSW: A lesson in human behavior

If you ever get close to a human
And human behavior
Be ready, be ready to get confused
There’s definitely, definitely, definitely no logic
To human behavior
But yet so, yet so irresistible

–       Human Behavior, Bjork

This song introduced my favorite seminar at South by SouthWest 2010, “Seductive Interactions,” which explored the role of human psychology in user interface design.  It was one of the most fascinating presentations at SXSW; not to mention cleverly titled enough to lure a crowd of hung-over UX geeks to a 9:30 AM session.  Nice to see someone practicing what they preach.

Seductive Interactions, and the Bjork song, left me wondering what an entrepreneur could learn from the study in human behavior that is South by SouthWest.  While you could hardly call this place “representative” of society (unless in the time I’ve been locked away here, society has become predominantly white, over-educated and obsessed with iphone apps), I certainly learned a few lessons about human behavior in the digital age during my time in Austin:

  1. Humans hate wasting time and as it turns out, that’s not what we used Twitter for at SXSW 2010.  Time and again, I watched participants Tweet warnings to prevent others from attending dud panels, or giving panelists real-time feedback to cut to the chase or lose the audience.  This very trick was turned on Twitter founder Evan Williams during his overly long, sycophantic and turgid Q&A “keynote” (with a full nod to interviewer Umair Haque for his role in the underwhelming production).
  2. We are a social species that does better in tribes. And isn’t that just what social media has given us, in these fractured and displaced times?  As real-world communities disappear, we’re creating virtual communities to fulfill our needs.  I’ve heard social media called the “new water cooler,” but I’d go so far as to say it’s the new tribal fire where we gather to share stories and exchange information.
  3. Human nature is, perhaps, changing with the times.  While we’re by nature self-interested, evolution taught us that the best means of self-preservation is through cooperation with others.  At South by SouthWest, that cooperation was demonstrated by the many non-profit organizations here to learn (or teach others) how digital and social media could raise awareness of–and money for–critical issues of our time (Lance Armstrong Foundation with cancer, Twitter with Haitian Earthquake Relief among many other examples).

That’s just a snippet of the hundreds of insights into human behavior SXSW delivered for entrepreneurs like us. If you want to learn more about human behavior and see what author and designer Stephen Anderson had to say about seducing your site visitors, you can check out the presentation here:.

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