From SXSW 2008 – amidst sirens and Austin, Texas 6th St. street noise – comes an interview with filmmaker Erich Weiss premièring “Hori Smoku, Sailor Jerry” about the originator of contemporary tattoo-ing – and iconoclastic libertarian American – Norman Collins who combined Japanese technique, Polynesian traditions, and American motifs in Hawaii during WW2.
The interview delves into the the “screwed, boozed (blued), and tattooed” wild culture as a million sailors and soldiers descended upon the idyllic islands (especially Hotel Street), plus Mr. Collins’ complex life, the artistic lineage of Sailor Jerry, rivalries and legacies of various tattoo artists/legends, mentorships of Don Ed Hardy and others, and the remarks about “fad” tattooing and (lack of) regret.
Day two or three, depending on how you count ‘em, of my 3rd quest to South by Southwest in Austin Texas… And I gotta say, it’s shaping up just fine man. You know, I’m keeping up a solid effort and fully professional about spreading the love of my job, and that’s going really well. Also very important to maximize the party and good times, and that, too, is progressing suitably well.
Despite shaking off some nasty flu and general haggardness from excess travel and in general just haven’t taking very good care of myself, and then coupled with some disorganization and long stories about things that didn’t get printed and didn’t get delivered and stuff, yeah it’s rolling along just fine.
Recap: Last night down at the Gingerman, one of my favourite beer drinking places (which has moved around the corner to a location that might even be finer than its previous, though I’m really surprised that’s even possible because that old location was just fine).
Yesterday I rallied up after my slumber and scarfed down some nasty coffee and went down to the Hideout Coffee Shop. I met up with this nice Canadian lady that I met every time that I’m down here and as soon as I walked in the door she said, “You’re here from Canada” and I’m like, “Yes I am!”
It was packed and hectic. Just like last year, I was late for these migas breakfast burritos laden with a bunch of leftover odds n ends shit: egg, cornflakes, etc. Tasty. I really needed a good proper breakfast! Where should I go? She told me some directions to this place and I thought I was going off track but then it all came together and I got some wicked blueberry pancakes at the Counter Cafe with poached eggs just the way i like em.
If you’re not careful you end up living on appetizers, which is why today I’m on a quest for a proper breakfast, so again, I am in some dire need of sustenance – need to nourish the body to nourish the soul. At the Hideout I got a big giant smoothie. It was quite charming.
Then, at the convention centre, I stood in line and got my badge! You gotta have a badge. If you don’t have a lanyard, man, you don’t belong.
Then I rallied with some buddies and we sat on the lawn drinking Sobe green tea. I had some Japanese envelopes from my papery stash — back from 1983! I was fortunate to be able to augment my stash with some more packets from a Japanese dollar store in Tinseltown. So I sat with some buddies (John and Jason) and I filled these wee dossiers with stickers, tattoos, pins and sealed my card in. It was like a bundle of diplomatic goodness. Good time doing arts and crafts in the sunshine.
Then I found a little table to setup. I was curious about a press release I had put out so checked on that while thinking about issues about privacy, elitism, notions about early adoption, etc.
Then I headed off to Mellow Johnnies — it’s a bike shop, a complete beauty. It wasn’t super fancy but it felt really comfortable. They had smoothies and maps for local riding routes. I could see how you might like living here with all the distances to ride. There’s not really mountains — not by the B.C. definition but long roads to ramble.
Anyhow, this particular meetup event at Mellow Johnny’s had to do with my professional capacity. The people/hosts knew what I was doing with day-job and knew what we were up to and we had some intelligent discourse about this particular topic.
But, my highlight was sharing these envelopes with all these people. And explaining the love and care that went into those things and they opened them up with excitement and questions. Cheap and Cheerful marketing success.
After eight SXSW conferences, I’ve learned that the hard way. When my company was first getting off the ground, we were completely lost in the shuffle, despite our best efforts. In 2012, however, we had a 28-foot-long, 15,000-pound secret weapon. To stand out amid the gala parties and blow-out bashes hosted by much bigger tech companies, HootSuite decided to take to the streets. We transformed a Ford E-450 shuttle bus into possibly the world’s biggest owl, in honor of our mascot – mounting a pair of giant eyes above the windshield and affixing enormous plastic wings on the sides.
Cheesy? Yes. Effective, absolutely. By the end of the conference, our logo had been splashed across the pages of USA Today, Mashable and Inc. The conference’s highest profile attendees were clamoring to get on board and party with us. And investors whom I didn’t even know were inquiring about thecompany. In the end, it cost us around $30,000 to buy and outfit the vehicle. Considering that hosting just a single party at SXSW can cost as much, if not more, that’s an absolute steal. This year, in fact, we’re bringing HootBus back for its third ride.
I shared a spiel called “Art and Tech are Old Pals” at Wordcamp Vancouver in a full version but shared a spontaneous and shorter version while at Social Media Clubhouse at SXSW 2011.
In this spiel, i discuss a “people’s history” of media creation and my tactics and thoughts about how to foster creativity by viewing the past and participating in the creation of the future.
During SXSW Interactive Festival, Dave shares stories of analog arts and crafts, sparking creativity, using technology to tell stories and remaining interesting using examples from historical artists and his own experience.
You’ll see lots of interesting props pulled from an old-timey suitcase and a few laughs along the way plus practical tips you can implement to enhance your own creative process.
Note: Thanks to Social Media Clubhouse for filming. Available also on Vimeo.com, posted here for posterity.
You can catch a longer version of the similar deal in Art and Tech are Old Pals at Wordcamp Vancouver and you might also enjoy Greeks to Geeks at Wordcamp Whistler.
The panelists made several simple but powerful points that, for some reason, often go unheeded by Western individuals or companies when going to China.
1. Take your time to understand China. One of the most profound and simple points made was by Sage Brennan: China is complex. It is different. It is even more different than it first appears. Therefore, take your time to understand China.
Elliott’s thoughts: This seems like such a simple point, and yet many Western companies and individuals rush into China in a mad dash to stay competitive with a fast moving local market. There is a growing recognition that no global company can ignore China if it seeks to be a global leader. This recognition may compel companies to enter the market with too much money, too many expensive foreign executives, and unrealistic expectations for immediate success. But market insight–and a localized leadership team that can operationalize that insight–takes time to develop. “Taking your time” doesn’t mean commissioning market research studies and sitting on the sidelines. It may mean aggressive experimentation–on a small scale or a local scale–to build up your operational abilities and to learn in the marketplace.
2. You simply cannot succeed without a trusted and capable local Chinese partner. Robert Scales repeated a mantra that may be obvious to most. You cannot succeed without a trusted and capable local Chinese partner.
The heart of the problem is related to point #1: impatience. For virtually all business opportunities, there is usually some intense sense of urgency because of the speed of the market and the high level of competition in China. But in the heat of the moment, a company may enter into a business relationship with a partner that they really don’t know very well.
Elliott’s thoughts: It may be a fallacy to say that there is no legal system in China to enforce contracts and to award damages. But you can assume that regulations change quickly; can be enforced inconsistently from place to place, from time to time, and from regulator to regulator; and that greater market and business uncertainty will more likely result in situations not fully contemplated by your contractual relationship. Therefore, contracts are necessary but not sufficient. A baseline of trust is needed to provide a more supple foundation in an uncertain environment. To get a feel for these issues, subscribe to China Law Blog and read it religiously!
3. Question your assumptions about how things work in China. Always. Foreigners (and returnees) bring with them a set of assumptions about how the world works based on their Western experience. While Western management techniques and functional expertise can no doubt provide advantage to foreigners (and returnees), these advantages can be offset by a slew of Western assumptions that can create blind spots on how the Chinese market actually works. According to Kaiser Kuo, “No American company has charged into China using their current business model [without modification], and been successful.”
Andrew Lih provided a series of examples (mostly familiar to our readers in China, but not to Americans with limited exposure to China):
No one uses voicemail. When some one calls you on your mobile phone, you generally pick it up. Mobile calls take precedence over face-to-face conversation, which is generally interrupted by a call.
China uses SMS more intensively. SMS may have become entrenched because of the low cost of sending text messages. The first thing Chinese do in the morning is check their IM first, not their email.
Instant messaging, combined with SMS, is a hugely popular means of communication. China’s leading IM platform, QQ (Company: Tencent (HK:0700)), has 350 mm users–over 50 times the audience of Twitter!
Only 56% of all Chinese internet users have email addresses.
Ownership of PCs is much lower, especially in 2nd and 3rd tier cities, where heavy PC usage is at Internet cafes
Unlike the West, where e-commerce was Web 1.0 and social media is Web 2.0, China’s internet usage started as a social phenomenon first and is just now moving to more utilitarian purposes.
4. Learn to handle more nuance and complexity than you are used to in the West. Evaluate China on its own terms.
Its easy to look at China and evaluate it based on a Western point of view. Often, that point of view can be very “black and white.”
Christine Lu made an insightful comment: “Don’t come to China trying to change China. Instead, China will change you.” This does not mean you should compromise your core values or abandon useful Western techniques. It does mean that you need to first seek to understand China, and then expect to localize your approach.
Andrew Lih gave the example of censorship of China. The most simplistic Western perceptions on China media control focus on the “Great Firewall” that prevent Chinese netizens from accessing unbiased external sites. A more sophisticated view refocuses on the filtering of “sensitive” content on domestic Websites that is enforced not by government regulators directly but by the private companies that operate these sites under license. An even more nuanced view might considers the increasing freedom of speech and press that is happening on the Internet over time, and government efforts to “shape popular opinion” as a command-and-control bureaucracy struggles to handle social media.
To understand this issue of censorship, one needs to dig a lot deeper than just the “Great Firewall.” Andrew gave the example of “human flesh search engines,” where bands of netizens form online vigilantes to bring justice to bear. Andrew talked about the example of Chinese “kitten snuff films” where netizens successfully hunted down the woman responsible for the films. Another famous incident from 2008 was the Weng’An Mass Incident. This example shows the complex interplay between netizens and the government that gets lost when Westerners bring their own simplistic views of “censorship” to the study of China.
Kaiser also brought up the issue of intellectual property rights. Copyright infringement has actually been a growth enabler for many products. An example was open source software and Microsoft software. Piracy of Microsoft software has actually reinforced its dominance in China and provided Microsoft with ways to make money on companies that do have to comply with copyright laws. Music piracy is another example of how popular adoption can be a nice side benefit of piracy. Of course that means you still need to find a way to make money on your music!
5. If you want to truly change China, you must also localize your approach – dramatic laser light shows may gain international acclaim but no real effect on Chinese popular opinion.
In reference to the laser light protest during the Olympics by performance artist James Powderly, Christine Lu argued emphatically that such dramatic protests from Westerners really have no effect at all. If you sincerely want to change China’s policies on press and speech freedom, human rights, the environment, Tibet, religious freedom, etc…then start with points 1 through 4 above! Make a long-term commitment to understand China, to find a trusted and capable local partner, and to localize your perspective and solutions. Of course, that may not be the fastest way to a comic-book deal, wealth, fame, and Western acclaim.
With another action-packed #SXSW come and gone, I’m now back in Vancouver, enjoying a plate of pancakes and an overflowing inbox staring me straight in the eyes.
Upon my arrival, I found myself quoted in the Wall Street Journal, and felt pretty cool.
Here’s an excerpt and one of my top tips year-after-year for SX goers:
One way you may be able to tell apart investors and other bigwigs from the masses at South By Southwest is by zeroing on people’s feet, suggests Dave Olson, vice president of community for HootSuite, a social-media-management platform. While almost everyone wears hoodies, jeans and other casual attire, high fliers tend be the only ones sporting “rare vintage Puma sneakers” or other fancy footwear, he says.
On a backporch in Austin Texas during SXSW 2013, I hear a story from my buddy Pat about interviewing Lemmy from Motorhead for SXSW when the Lemmy film premiered. Annotations include blanking out, Titanic, lined notebooks, cinema volume, horseback riding, and general bad-assery.