XOXO is Reproducible
XOXO is a festival that celebrates independent art and technology. It just wrapped up its second year, and most people who attend it tend to have wonderful things to say. I am no exception, so here's my wonderful thing to add: XOXO is reproducible! As long as you understand where the magic comes from.
If you haven't been, here's how it works.
- You show up and pick up your badge and some other goodies.
- There's an opening party.
- The next day there are opening remarks.
- Then there are some social events.
- There are food trucks helpfully parked outside.
- There's an interesting marketplace to check out.
- The next day the speakers speak. That night there are events.
- The day after that, speakers speak again.
- Then there's a closing party.
And that's it! That's XOXO. So what's the big deal? Well, artfully designed experiences transcend their bulletpoints.
Experiencing XOXO reminded me of the smartphone makers in 2007 that did the checklist thing against the first iPhone. "It has a camera. So do our phones. It has the internet. So do our phones. You can install things. Same with our phones."
And then they shrugged, pointed to the things iPhone didn't have like copy/paste, 3G, a removable battery, and decided they were fine. Nothing to worry about. The comparison checklist had spoken and declared there was nothing new in the iPhone.
We now know the checklist was very wrong.
You know what wasn't on the comparative checklist for XOXO? When Andy Baio said something like this on the first day:
"Here's my theory. The conference takes you. The question of whether or not we can recrate the magic from last year all comes down to you introducing yourself to people. Our speakers aren't parachuted in, or kept in a secret back room. We're all the same here. And I know many of us are introverts, but just try. Walk up to someone, introduce yourself, and that's what is going to make this conference work. For you, and for everyone. You'll probably never be around a more accepting group of people than in this room. You should not have to be alone at XOXO."
I think that's what did it. Personally, it's easier for me to fall in love than to stride up to someone and start talking, so Andy's little pep talk was exactly what I needed to hear. It fundamentally changed how I thought about the conference, about my responsibility to it, and what I could expect to get out of it. I moved from passive observer (where it's so easy to yell FAIL!) to being a part of it (which creates ownership and passion). I felt like XOXO was mine, all of ours, and that's a wonderful feeling.
(At one point, someone accidentally fell into a window, shattering the glass. I ran to get a trash can, someone else got a second trash can to help block the area, someone else ran off to get Andy, and we policed the area until the mess could be addressed. The guy told me "I feel like I just ruined the prom." When Andy came by to look at the damage, I felt like we let him down. We all cared, and it was something you could feel in the air all weekend.)
Romeo and Juliet is just a love story. iPhone is just a smartphone. XOXO is just a conference. The difference is in the experience of it, and of the love and care given to the details and the finer points. The things that transcend checklist comparisons.
Which makes the magic fragile. XOXO without creative people boldly talking to each other about their passion would be Just Another Industry Conference. The fact that it wasn't can be traced largely to Andy's pep talk, and to each and everyone, myself included, that found the nerve to talk to their fellow attendees.
Putting on XOXO couldn't have been easy. But its spirit is absolutely reproducible by any group willing to put in the effort to really understand what makes it work. And that's way more inspiring than thinking of of one event as some kind of outlier, or once-in-a-year miracle. It doesn't have to be, and that's wonderful.