4 things our business life can learn from Burning Man

Burning Man is back this week! Love. It. 

I went to Burning Man in 2016. 

I wasn’t sure it was for me. Burning Man in mainstream media is mostly about sex, drugs, and debauchery. I don’t like festivals. I like a private bathroom. I don’t do drugs. 

Yet I went. Loved it. It touched me.

It gave me so many beautiful moments. Moments to bring into your business life too.

Before Burning Man I spent a week at Singularity University in San Francisco. The left side of my brain was super pumped, full of exponential technologies. 

I arrived in Black Rock Desert after a dusty 9 hour bus ride. In 3 minutes me and my carry-on luggage got stuck in a sand storm in front of the “Human Car Wash” with 50+ naked people lined up. 

Hello, right side of my brain! 

It’s not a festival. Burning Man is a soulful experience week with 70,000 people connecting in a very alternative world. 

You have to bring everything to eat, drink, party, sleep for 7 days between -10 and 40+ Celsius. Leave no trails. 

  • It’s about preparation and self reliance
  • It’s about gifting and caring
  • It’s about radical self-expression and liberation from society’s restriction
  • It’s about a mental mindset to connect with yourself and others in a unique way

I hear you thinking, cool for you, but what’s in it for me? 

Why Burning Man? 

As Larry Harvey, co-founder of Burning Man in 1993 wrote: 

“Modern society makes us passive consumers. Instead of a community, we’ve become a mass. As a mass, we don’t participate in culture, we consume it. 

It is no surprise we thirst for thrills. Consumption doesn’t lead to satisfaction, only to more consumption. If we’re to break this cycle, we must reclaim community and create culture out of that experience.”

Burning Man is born as a free space for people experimenting with disruption. It’s a cradle for creativity and innovation. That’s why so many entrepreneurs, artists and creators go.

Burning Man and business life

Seems like counter opposites. Yet every change starts with doing something. Good thing is that many entrepreneurs, creators and people in tech go to Burning Man. These movers and shakers can be a force for change inspired by BM. 

We still mostly work along these 4 P’s of business: Price, Product, Promotion, and Place.  

Why not work along these 4 P’s of business inspired by Burning Man? People, Promise, Purpose and Principles. 

1. People 

Burning Man believes that transformative change in people or in society can occur only via personal participation. 

Let me share a personal story. 

I walked with my wife on the Playa. A man walked over, complimenting us on the love we radiate as a couple. He offered to take a Polaroid. 

Then he invited us to walk together to visit the shrine of his late wife in the Temple. 

She got killed in a car accident 3 weeks after they got married at Burning Man in the previous year.  We walked through a dust storm to his shrine with many photos, poems and feathers. We talked about what love means and shared a beautiful moment. He shared his grief and love by bringing others into it. 

Community and team work is much more than belonging to something; it’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter. 

2. Promise

Burning Man is an entire city of 70,000 people that is built and dismantled, leaving no traces. 

We joined one of the camps. Most camps created experiences. Our camp’s project was to create an art car. A beautiful, unique self-built wagon to drive on the Playa with music, bar, security. 

You can’t buy an art car. It’s months of fundraising, designing, welding, electrics and then driving over hundreds of miles to get to Black Rock Desert. 

All for a promise of having fun with whoever jumps onto your art car. It’s a promise of people connecting, enjoying art and co-creating a truly unique experience. 

No entrance fee, no business case. 

3. Purpose (and reflection on the role of money) 

There’s no money at Burning Man, just gifting, not expecting. 

For instance:

  • You give a present like a self made bracelet, drawing or Polaroid. 
  • You co-create (and invest serious time and money) a fabulous 10 meter art car. A project that starts 6 months before you roam the Playa inviting others to enjoy.
  • You join the human car wash where 2-3 strangers wash your naked body.

Mostly in business it’s about value exchange via money. Yet underlying is a desire for purpose. I found the purpose in personal participation with my friend and new people. And years after personal reflection helped to understand myself and my purpose better.

Community and team work is much more than belonging to something; it’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter. 

It’s a bit of a broken record but yes magic happens outside of your comfort zone. 

4. Principles

Burning Man is a huge undertaking. It’s also a huge experiment in decentralization. 

It’s easy for things to get out of hand so principles are essential. These are the 10 principles of Burning Man.

  1. Radical Inclusion
  2. Gifting
  3. Decommodification 
  4. Radical Self-reliance 
  5. Radical Self-expression 
  6. Communal Effort
  7. Civic Responsibility
  8. Leaving No Trace
  9. Participation 
  10. Immediacy

I learned a lot and still do from Burning Man 6 years ago. It’s not easy to integrate into our commercial and transactional world. 

What do you think of these 4 new P’s for business as a starting point for a meaningful, productive, playful and human-centered business world? 


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