Why entrepreneurs love Burning Man

Over the last few years I have developed a plan to leave my job in the summer of 2014 and ease into an extended period of travel in which the 2014 Burning Man festival will be my last North American stop.  While researching this leg of the trip I’ve been struck by the fact that entrepreneurs are particularly attracted to Burning Man so it was neat to come across this article on the Linkedin profile of Entreprenaissance Movement founder Creel Price.

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Why entrepreneurs love Burning Man

By Creel Price – If you walk around Silicon Valley in the week prior to Labor Day weekend, it more resembles Death Valley rather than its usual bustling self. With the cult Burning Man event on the horizon in the Nevada Desert, the absence of entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk, Sergy Brin and Mark Zuckerberg has become the norm rather than the rarity.

The pre-conceived perception I had of Burning Man was of some hedonistic party fuelled by dust inhalation, put together by the equivalent of the modern day Illuminati. Hence I went forth with both intrigue and, I must admit, some trepidation – largely based on a deep-seated fear of not quite fitting in.

For those who haven’t heard of Burning Man let me attempt a synopsis – though now, having attended, I realise trying to compare it with anything in the real world doesn’t do this incredible melting pot of sensory overload justice, and my own experience is going to colour my commentary.

  • The Challenge: To build a 60,000 strong community that appears and disappears in a little over a week without leaving a trace – and therefore not impacting on the environment;
  • The Remote Location: An inhospitable dirt pan ambitiously called Black Rock City in the Nevada Desert;
  • The Purpose: founder Larry Harvey is quoted as saying ‘ . . . they went to a festival and came back trying to change the world.’ Burning Man is about challenging people’s realities in order that they may bring their insights back into everyday life.
  • The Real World Doesnt Exist: Money is taboo, clothes are optional, days are nights and nights are day and transport is aboard mutant vehicles more at home in a sci-fi film than rocking along to techno music;
  • Everyones Welcome: From the odd assortment of hard-core burners from yesteryear, the myriad of festival junkies, travellers from afar and yes, entrepreneurs of every shape and size.

From the description above, you would think Burning Man would be more in line with Timothy Leary and Hunter S. Thompson devotees than with the Zuckerbergs of this world. So what exactly is it about this place that strikes a chord with entrepreneurs?

For me, the answers are found in a natural alignment with the ten Burning Man principles – principles which successful entrepreneurs use on a daily basis to create their own success.

Let’s discuss just three to illustrate my point:

1. Radical Self-Reliance – surviving in the desert on your own merit. Having to lug your own water and food in, or relying on the goodwill of others. This principle is made for entrepreneurs given there are few professions that require you to leverage a shortage of resources as much as entrepreneurship.

2. Radical Self-Expression – being prepared to let your true self-shine. You aren’t atBurning Man to merely look at the amazing artworks, art cars or to see the five story man burn on Saturday night. Rather you become part of the artwork – it is the amazing pervading vibe of goodwill that sets this event apart from anything I have ever attended. Given business success is largely about bucking established trends and creating disruptive technologies in order to generate a unique competitive advantage, it is no wonder entrepreneurs feel at home.

3. Radical Inclusion – diversity is encouraged and no pre-requisites exist for participation in the Burning Man Community. It was this principle more than anything else that I felt in spades and has left me a person changed for the better. My fear of not being cool enough to participate was completely unfounded. There is no criteria of cool. You are who you are. There are few creative or counterculture environments so devoid of artistic snobbery or ‘too cool for school’ vibes. And given I, and many of my entrepreneurial peers, have both a preparedness to stand out and an eagerness to fit in, being part of this community of different yet likeminded people is like a home-coming.

Whether you are an entrepreneur or not, Burning Man is a must do experience to gain creative inspiration, share an amazing experience with a diverse crowd of people and challenge the assumptions that our very ego-centric, competitive and consumer-driven world is built on.

My resolutions from Burning Man? Other than to honour my pledge that ‘what happens in Burning Man stays in Burning Man’; are to simply be more accepting of others and the choices they make.

To embrace principles over rules.

But most of all – to be slower to judge and quicker to help.

Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock, Creel Price

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