Internationally, the coronavirus is forcing everyone to adjust their plans – how often they interact in public, and most definitely whether or not they go to crowded places.
Major conferences are being cancelled, the NCAA basketball tournament could be audience-free and televised only, and there are talks regarding whether or not to allow viewers to attend the olympics or if they should be cancelled altogether.
And from March 13-22, there’s SXSW in Austin, Texas where we are headquartered. The organizers have publicly stated, even up to today, that plans will move forward, despite a “handful” of speaker cancellations (including Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey).
A petition to cancel SXSW has spread, garnering over 15K signatures so far. That list of names is snowballing as people are asking their bosses if they can work remotely, buying frozen food in bulk, and worrying about the endless unknowns about the coronavirus (incubation periods, treatments, vaccines, recurring cases).
But is a petition and fear enough to cancel an international conference that boosts a city’s bottom line (and pours billions of dollars into a dependent ecosystem) enough to shut down SXSW? Are we simply overreacting?
Regardless, SXSW is still announcing new featured speakers like Adam Schiff, Beto O’Rourke, and Hillary Clinton. Ignore the theme of that list, and focus on the point that this film, tech, and music mega-conference has done little to assuage fears aside from updating their “safety resources” page to encourage folks to take “precautions” recommended by the World Health Organization.
“SXSW is working closely on a daily basis with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event,” organizers said in a statement yesterday. “As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health [available here], the 2020 event is proceeding with safety as a top priority.”
The conference organizers added, “At this time, no health departments in the state have requested the cancellation of any gatherings as the current risk of person-to-person spread in their jurisdictions remains low. Historically, March is not a peak international travel month in Austin, but we will continue to monitor. Information and practices are changing during this rapidly evolving situation and we will continue to follow national guidelines. This being said, there are no imminent plans to postpone any current events.”
As an event organizer myself, I can tell you that there’s nothing more terrifying than a threat, be it health or otherwise. Peoples’ livelihoods depend on this event, and I promise there is fear and frustration at the SXSW corporate offices. I still think there is a chance the event will be pared back, but at this point, it doesn’t look like a cancellation is likely.
What will be different this year (besides fear and the fact that coronavirus will be part of every single in-person discussion), is that for the first time since it’s inception, the festival will likely be absent of locals which typically accounts for a huge portion of attendance and which populates their massive army of volunteers.
I personally spoke with nearly 100 people to gauge sentiment in Austin regarding SXSW, and unanimously, folks were surprised it wasn’t cancelled, and indicated they had changed their plans to attend, noting that they would be avoiding downtown for the duration of the conference. Unanimously.
There are a lot of jokes online about SXSW being the reason Austin will be host to a major wave of coronavirus after the conference, and that feeling is no surprise…
If you’ve shopped in the past week in Austin, you know that it is very hard to find hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and even less common items like deep freezers, and ammo.
Locals are not taking any risks. And that includes attending SXSW.
Therefore, this begs the question – will locals excluding themselves cripple SXSW’s earning capacity? Fears may be overblown, I grant you that, especially given that no communal cases have hit the Austin area, but people are opting out because they’d rather live than hear a surprise concert from a famous rapper, learn about cool robots, or watch a screening of an indie film.
It is my personal opinion that SXSW is literally the best conference on the planet. We’ve been involved for over a decade. And the organizers are in an impossible situation. Truly.
But with so many unknowns about the coronavirus, shoving thousands of people into close proximity is running more and more people off, be they speakers, performers, attendees, or just about everyone that lives in Austin. It’s time for SXSW organizers to make the painful call to cancel. Or at least postpone for the fall.
But they won’t.
Here are some recent reactions from the ol’ internets:
Unpopular opinion: If SXSW was as "forward thinking" and "innovative" as they claim to be, they would CANCEL the festival this year. The risk to our local infrastructure is too great, not to mention potentially accelerate the national infection rate.https://t.co/e4a9clMqfC
— Jake Grosek (@JakeGrosek) February 26, 2020
"Safety is a top priority for #SXSW.".. right behind the other top priority of $3555MM revenues on the line. Requesting travelers to "practice usual precautions" is short-sighted and naive. You should refund everyone's ticket in light of #Coronavirus "di… https://t.co/dedj5SUsfI
— Ken Michaelside (@kmside) March 2, 2020
A little surprised at ECCC not canceling yet given Washington state's cases and a state of emergency having been declared. https://t.co/FS3tfwx47a
— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) March 2, 2020
Organizers need to #CancelSXSW! Having people get on planes and then mix for weeks is dangerous. No one wants an outbreak of #CoronaVirus in Austin. Follow the lead of Mobile World Congress and keep people safe. @sxsw
— Justin Mauldin (@jmauldn) February 27, 2020
The secret to self improvement isn’t always about improvements
(EDITORIAL) Self improvement and happiness go hand in hand, but are you getting lost in the mechanics of self improvement?
Think back to your New Year’s resolutions. Now that it’s summer, how many of them are you still keeping? Think about which ones stuck and what went by the wayside.
If you’re like most of us, you had big plans to make yourself better but didn’t stay the course. I’ve only managed to keep one of my resolutions, but it isn’t always easy.
I want to take a look at why we can’t keep our goals. I think we’re always on a journey of self-improvement. It’s easy to get obsessed with reading self-help books or trying to learn new things. We want to be better. This spring, I went through a Lent study with a group of people. Lent is a time of growth and self-reflection, just six weeks. And yet many of us are struggling to keep up with the daily reading or maintaining a fast of something we willingly chose to give up.
Why do we fail?
I think we fail because of three things.
You might think I’m going to say something like we fail because we don’t have willpower, but I think that is the farthest thing from the truth. I’m no therapist, but I’ve read the literature on alcohol and drug rehab. It’s not willpower that keeps a person sober. It’s community. One reason I think we fail at our goals is that we don’t have a cheerleading team. I believe that we need people on our side when we’re trying to improve.
Secondly, I think we fail because we want immediate results. We have this mentality that things should happen quickly. I’ve written about this before. It’s like you workout once and want that swimsuit body. We get frustrated when we don’t see results right away. So, we move on to the next pursuit.
Do your goals lead to happiness?
Failure can also be because self-improvement goals don’t always lead to being better person. We do a lot of things because “we should.” Your doctor might think you need to lose weight. Maybe your boss wants you to be a better speaker. Meditation should make you a better person. Maybe you ran a marathon, and now you think you need to run an ultramarathon because that’s what your best friend did.
What makes you happy isn’t always what you should be doing.
Your doctor might be right, but if you’re choosing to lose weight because you want to make your doctor happy, you’re probably not going to stick with a program. If you’re trying to learn Spanish to make your boss happy, again, you’re probably not going to enjoy it enough to really learn. If you’re chasing after goals just to say you’ve done it, what value do your achievements bring to your life?
If you’re obsessed because you “should” do something, you’re going to get burned out and fail. Whether it’s New Year’s resolutions, a self-improvement project or giving up meat for Lent, you need solid reasons for change. And if you give something a try that isn’t for you, don’t soldier on. You don’t need to spend years taking yoga classes if you don’t enjoy it.
When something becomes a burden rather than bringing benefits, maybe it’s time to take a look at why you’re doing it.
When you don’t know why you’re knocking yourself out to be better, maybe you need to figure out a reason. And if you feel as if what you’re doing isn’t enough, stop and figure out what will satisfy you.
I’ve been doing a lot of meal prepping on the weekends. Sometimes, I want to quit. But it pays off because I have less to do throughout the week. It might seem like a burden, but the benefits outweigh the burdens. I’ve been able to eat much healthier and use more vegetables in my meals, which is the one goal I’ve been able to keep. I have some good friends that help me stay on track, too. I choose to eat more vegetables for my health. I think it’s a combination of all these things that is helping me meet my goal this year.
Don’t give up on making yourself a better person. Just don’t become obsessed over the program. Look at the outcome. Are you pursing happiness on a treadmill or are you really working to find happiness?
What I wish I knew about finances in my 20s
(EDITORIAL) They say money makes the world go round. So, let’s discuss how to be smart with finances before it’s too late.
Being in my early twenties, something I’m still getting used to is the fact that I’m making my own money. This is not to be confused with the babysitting money I was making 10 years ago.
Twice a month is the same routine: I get my paycheck and think, “Wooo! We goin’ out tonight!” but then I snap back to reality and think about what that money needs to be put towards. The smallest part of it going towards fun.
It’s been tricky to really start learning the ins and outs of finances. So, I do what I usually do in any type of learning process? I ask for advice.
I used to be fixated on asking those more advanced in age than I what they wish they knew when they were my age. Now that I’m determined to learn about finances, that question has been altered.
I reached out to a few professionals I know and trust and they gave me solid feedback to keep in mind about building my finances, about what they wish they had known in their 20s. However, I don’t think this only applies to those just starting out, and may be helpful for all of us.
“It’s important to simply know the value of money,” says human resource expert, Nicole Clark. “I think once you start earning your own money and are responsible for your housing, food, etc. you realize how valuable money is and how important it is to budget appropriately and make sure you’re watching your spending.”
Law firm executive director, Michael John, agrees with Clark’s sentiments. “I wish I had kept the value of saving in mind when I was younger,” explains John. “But, still remembering to balance savings while rewarding yourself and enjoying what your efforts produce.”
There are so many aspects of finance to keep in mind – saving, investing, budgeting, retirement plans, and so on and so forth.
In addition to suggesting to spend less than you make and to pay off your credit card in full each month, Kentucky-based attorney, Christopher Groeschen, explained the importance of a 401k.
“Every employee in America should be contributing everything they can into a 401k every year, up to the current $18,000 maximum per person,” suggests Groeschen.
“401ks present an opportunity for young investors to 1) learn about investing and 2) enter the market through a relatively low-risk vehicle (depending on your allocations),” he observes.
“An additional benefit is that 401ks also allow employees to earn FREE MONEY through employer matches,” he continues. “At the very least, every employee should contribute the amount necessary to earn the employer match (usually up to 4%) otherwise, you are giving up the opportunity to earn FREE MONEY. Earning FREE MONEY from your employer that is TAX FREE is much more important than having an extra Starbucks latte every day.”
Whether we like it or not, money is a core aspect of our daily lives. It should never be the most important thing, but we cannot deny that it is, in fact, an important thing. It’s tricky to learn, but investing in my future has become a priority.
This editorial was first published in May 2018.
How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future
(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.
Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:
Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.
Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.
Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.
The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.
And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.
We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.
That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.
Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.
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