Burning Man is built upon several core touchstones. Among them are: a “gift” or “sharing” inspired economy, the need to throw traditionally siloed thought to the wind in lieu of a collective approach to creation and “recombinant mash ups” of intellect, and the guiding mandate of “leaving no trace.” Interestingly, with the new era of collective creativity upon us, and the imagination economy looming, perhaps brands can absorb some critical new insights from the festival that can guide us (and our leaders) forward as our “beds” continue to perennially “burn”:
1) The “gift” economy that has always inspired the non-commerce environment of Burning Man has interestingly shown its face in the outside world with the dawn of the new “sharing” induced economy as reported by Fast Company and others. Brands that inspire the sharing of everything from information to real estate have quickly become the new champions. Brands that encourage group activities predicated on shared experiences emerge as the new leaders (Words with Friends anyone?) Brands that provocate the ability to share tasks and the accomplishment of our collective duties (TaskRabbit) catalyze the impending “service networking” phenomenon as yesterdays NYT reported. What does this all mean? Noone knows for sure, but perhaps what Burning Man has taught us is that meaningful experiences prevail over pure commerce, and brands’ ability to follow this simple mantra, will equate to tomorrow’s leaders. What if Burning Man has been slowly and purposefully aiming to teach us that our future leaders will be those not motivated by commoditized offering and pure profit alone, but rather a sense of purpose?
2) Burning Man has always celebrated the power of collectively inspired creativity-and the ability to break down traditional barriers in an effort to discover the innovations of tomorrow. As leading brands are now showing us, whether it’s in Silicon Valley’s increasing reliance on the arts to inspire the technology innovation of the future (typetrigger.com buffalo.dj) or in GroupOn’s formulaic approach to marry the art of poetry and humor with their approach to commerce, or in the world’s faith in the culture of collaborative creativity that Jobs built with intentional purpose prior to his departure, an unbridled approach to creativity, and the collective thinking of the many, will trump the singular pontification of the few. Burning Man was founded on this idea-one which will likely be profoundly linked to the positive eventuality of our collective tomorrows.
3) If “Burning Man” is known for anything, it is known for its guiding mantra of “leaving no trace.” While this operating principle has historically been synonymous with a visceral commitment by the festival to traditional “sustainability”, perhaps in our current environment this wise notion can and should be applied beyond an environmental footprint. Perhaps today, leaving no trace should mean a need for brands and their leaders to display a visceral commitment to responsible corporate citizenry and authentic interaction overall. Perhaps leaving no imprint now means success should be only predicated on the lasting and intangible impression brands leave behind. Perhaps successful leadership and unwavering consumer preference should be determined more on the memories and connections provocated and less on the fleeting products and wares that brands once viewed as their signature. Perhaps in the age of data overload which has reared the first generation with the benefit of enormous content, yet no context, one therefore shrouded in an overwhelming sense of paralytic thought induced by today’s new levels of complexity, creativity should be viewed as less optically inspired and more operationally instructive.
Perhaps the time has come to recognize that our “collective ‘beds” are in fact “burning.” As the creative genius, William S. Burroughs, who inspired this blog, once astutely noted: “Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.”
Here’s to hoping our jointly felt burning sense of desperation, can and in fact will, lead to collectively inspired creation and profound change.