From speaker videos to event photos our SXSW recap page has it all!

This year was our 9th year hosting award-winning events during SXSW, so we decided to go bigger and better! In 2018, we officially partnered with the festival for the first time to produce 16 high-profile panels, with 62 speakers across 3 days. The programming was insightful, the audience was engaged, and the panelists were razor sharp.

Among those panelists was Melissa Schilling, Herzog Family Professor of Management, NYU Stern School of Business. During her panel she examined the lives of seven creative geniuses and explored how we can learn from them. I had the opportunity to chat with Melissa about her SXSW panel, career journey, and her cabin in the woods! Check out our interview below.

Aaron: What are key lessons you’ve taken away from being a professor on about innovation?


  1. Ideas are easy; it’s having the courage and persistence to follow through on them that is hard. Most great ideas are going to face opposition of some sort — perhaps a lack of support, or early failures. And some of those ideas won’t ever succeed. But every idea that does succeed has someone behind it who pushed doggedly, even when the going got tough.
  2. Part of why most great ideas face opposition is that when you come up with a truly original idea, most other people will at first have trouble understanding it. This makes sense — if the idea were obvious, lots of people would have already had it already. So even though our inclination is to go bounce our idea off of a few people, in the case of breakthrough innovation that’s probably a lousy strategy. Don’t expect other people to “get it” — if you truly believe in it and have worked out the path forward several steps, and have thought through the economics of it, you just have to push forward.
  3. All great innovators and all great entrepreneurs are serial innovators and serial entrepreneurs. It’s in their nature to try, and try again. Most have plenty of failures in the beginning, but they learn from them, and they try again. They boostrap small successes into larger successes, and even larger successes after that. So if you’re just starting out, you’re not really looking for your one big idea; you’re looking for your *first* idea.

Aaron: During SXSW, you discussed innovators who have changed the world – who are the innovators who are currently inspiring you?

Melissa: Right now I’m really inspired by Elon Musk. In fact, I often wake up in the morning, think of Elon Musk, and realize I’m not doing nearly enough with my life. Elon has taken on so much — he’s so brave. And it’s not because he’s insensitive; you can tell from his interviews that he is sensitive, and a lot of the opposition and failure he face has been very hard to bear. But he just pushes on because he believes in what he is doing, and he has an inner toughness and strength of character. I love that.

Aaron: What was your biggest takeaway from SXSW?

Melissa: Music is such a powerful part of the human experience. When it’s playing somewhere, people approach, they dance… It’s not even fully clear why, as a species, we love music so much, but we do. And that ability to revel in something joyous together is wonderful.

Aaron: Tell us something people may not know about you.

Melissa: I grew up in a cabin in the mountains of Colorado (with only a wood stove for heat). I was the only child of a fiercely independent single woman. We cut firewood, shingled the roof, and changed the oil in the car ourselves. I also spent a lot of time alone in the mountains, drawing, playing music, or reading.

Aaron: Is there a book you’ve read over the last year that you would care to share with our readers?

Melissa: A book I’m reading now that I find extremely interesting and hopeful is “Clean Meat” by Paul Shapiro. This book describes the developments currently underway to grow meat without animals. It sounds freaky, but then again, factory farms are even freakier. The motivation for the innovation is twofold. First, the demand for meat is growing far, far faster than meat supply. The world population is increasing, and development is increasing, and as economies develop, they start eating more meat. Most forecasts are predicting a “meat crisis”. Growing animals for meat is incredibly inefficient — it takes 146 calories of grain or other plants to produce 1 calorie of beef. That’s very wasteful. Predictions are that we can get that down to 3 calories of plants to produce 1 calorie of meat if meat is grown without animals. Second, agricultural production of animals is incredibly bad for the environment. The world’s cattle have a greater impact on greenhouse gasses than the world’s cars. “Clean meat” grown in breweries would have far less environmental impact, and would also be free of the steroids, antibiotics, e-coli, and other ills of slaughterhouse meat. It’s attracting big investors like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Cargill Foods. It really gives me hope.

Aaron: If you were on a deserted island and could only bring one album with you, which would it be and why?

The Police, Reggatta de Blanc. I can listen to Bring on the Night or Message in a Bottle endlessly, and never get tired of them (plus Message in a Bottle would be particularly poignant…)

Want more insights from Melissa? Watch their panel from SXSW.