I’m mid-way through this year’s SXSW festival and want to provide some insight into what it means to me as IT innovation manager at John Lewis. 

It’s Sunday March 15 and I am sitting in my hotel in Austin, Texas.  I’m mid-way through this years SXSW festival and I have started writing this blog that will take you through my experiences over the past couple of days, providing you with some insight into what it means to me as IT innovation manager at John Lewis. 

For those of you that have never heard of SXSW (South by Southwest) it is an interactive, film and music festival that attracts over 150,000 people each year in the middle of March and has been running since 1987. My focus in Austin has been the ‘interactive’ element, which attracts approximately 30,000 people each year and focuses on emerging technologies and behaviours surfaced in exhibitions, keynote speaking sessions and a wide range of interactive panel discussions. 

In fact, that is the reason why I am in Austin.  I was very privileged to have received an invite from Decoded Fashion to take part in a panel to talk about experimentation and co-creation, both important themes in the world of innovation and a great opportunity to tell our innovation story to a new audience and meet fellow collaborators and innovators.

Eureka moment

During the flight from London I started to pick out some sessions that I thought would provide some new insights that I could share with the teams back home. One of which, called ‘Neuroplasticity’ why brands have to change, explored the impact absorbing new data has on our brain and how behaviours like skimming data can impact our memory. This session gave me a ‘eureka moment’ and really convinced me that past thoughts on the subject were accurate. 

It’s not technology alone that will shape the future of retail, it is human behaviour and our expectations as customers that drive how technology is used. We must relentlessly focus on the ‘customer first’ and the experience we want to curate. Only then can we identify the technology.  

My Fashion hack panel took place on Saturday at 9:30am in room 205 of the JW Marriott hotel, the first session of the day. I sat alongside Maurizio Rossi (Co-founder of  H-Farm venture) and our moderator Liz Bacelar (Founder Decoded Fashion). 

We spent the next hour discussing in-house innovation, like we have at John Lewis with Room Y and external innovation like JLab.  This identified key points I wanted to make in that there are many facets to an innovation ecosystem and you have to demonstrate the ability to be innovative internally as well as look outside your business for new ideas that you will not have visibility of day to day. 

Moving forward

The retail landscape is changing at phenomenal speeds and you cannot stand still. You have to remain agile and listen to the innovation clusters that are inside your business as well as outside. Not all are going to succeed but that is the beauty of innovation, you may fail but as long as you learn and keep moving forward, success wont be far away. As part of the panel I agreed to become a mentor alongside fellow panellists from Michael Kors, Google, Kate Spade, Topshop and Asos, to all but name a few. 

This will give me the opportunity to meet new and talented start-ups that John Lewis wouldn’t normally have access to and gives them the opportunity to get feedback on their product or solution that may help in improve their offer. I am a big ambassador and supporter of the start-up community so this is a really rewarding initiative to be involved in.

Tomorrow is my last day in Austin and it closes with a session named Moonshots and Reality, which will be presented by Astro Teller, whose day job is running Google’s ‘moonshot factory’. I’m extremely excited to be at this session and I’m sure there will be lots of learning I can bring back to Room Y and partners across John Lewis. 

  • John Vary is IT innovation manager at John Lewis