I have to say hats off to Nick Molnar, a guy who I’ve never had a problem with, and who has now impressed the hell out of me with this rapidly deployed post in response to the recent IDEATE controversy. No checking in with the Millenial Tribe “leadership” required by this dude, he shoots from the hip and clearly speaks from the heart:
One of the defining features of Burning Man is its impermanence. Every year a city is built and then demolished to the point there is no physical evidence it even existed in the first place. Black Rock City is under a constant existential threat. Will the BLM keep handing out permits? Will the town of Gerlach still accommodate the throngs of Burners passing through? Will the Port-O-Pottie’s keep getting serviced? Having an ever-growing number of people come together in a specific piece of desert every year is a doomed proposition. One year, the rumours will finally be true and BRC as we know it will be no more.
The Burning Man founders know this better than anyone. But they have also been abundantly clear that Burning Man is not confined to a patch of sand in the desert. Here’s a quote from Maid Marian from 12 years ago:
“It gradually dawned on me that many things we do before and after the event are a part of Burning Man’s culture. Burning Man is not a select club or a clique or a closed subculture. It is a kind of tapestry, an ever-widening network of actions and relationships extending far beyond the place called Black Rock City. As a result, many of us have gained a way of looking at life that is similar. Regardless if Burning Man has changed our lives, we share certain values in common. Now it’s time to begin to communicate as members of this global community.”
Black Rock City may die, but Burning Man will live on.
This is where the Ten Principles fit in. They are what makes Burning Man portable and resilient. Regional Burns are a great example of this: someone who has never set foot in BRC can be a full-fledged member of the Burning Man community by attending a Regional and seeing the Ten Principles in action.
Today, that “ever-widening network of actions and relationships” has made its way much further into society than Regionals and Decompressions. Google, the 4th largest US company by market-cap, is a part of that network. When Larry Page and Sergey Brin had to pick a CEO to help them grow the company they gathered a shortlist of prospects and picked the one who had been to Burning Man. The Googleplex is littered with Burning Man art, and photos from the event. The first ever ‘Google Doodle’ was the Burning Man logo.
It’s trendy in tech circles to make fun of Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra, and they have certainly made occasional missteps into evil territory, but Google is a leader in everything from environmental stewardship (leave no trace) to workplace diversity(radical inclusion) to protecting internet freedom (civic responsibility).
Google is far from the only example of Burning Man principles infiltrating mainstream society. Zappos’ quirky – and celebrated – company culture borrows from Burning Man principles. Ridejoy, a successful ridesharing startup, began as burningmanrides.com. Couchsurfing.org is a part of that tapestry. So is Free Grilled Cheese Day. Big-time CEOs like Jeff Bezos, Chip Conley, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Bill Gates have all attended. It’s hard to imagine that they didn’t bring a little bit of their experience back to their organizations. In aggregate, those types of changes may one day touch more people’s lives than BRC ever will.
The is why The Burning Man Project is so important. The Burning Man Project is a new group devoted to bringing the Ten Principles into broader society, spun out of the Burning Man Organization. It’s a big bet that the leaders of tomorrow are going the principles of Burning Man into their organization, and that even people who have never set foot into BRC are going to incorporate the Ten Principles into their lives.
Was it a practical move to put the largest number of virgins in a single camp ever? No.
Was Ideate as welcoming and inclusive as it could have been? Nope.
Was the Reallocate drone project enjoyed on the same scale as The Trojan Horse or Opulent Temple? Not even close.
Was it worth it? I think so.
We fucked up. There was too much back-patting and networking and way too little radical inclusion, participation, and communal effort. Hubris led us to set expectations too high. The Reallocate drone project was a remarkable technical achievement, but its limited scale made it a pretty marginal gift to the larger Burner community. We hosted some amazing talks, but they were probably 70% attended by people from inside Ideate. We had fantastic meals, but we only shared them with our campmates and our almost-as-elitist sister camp. As a group, we got more value than we gave.
There were times where it felt like a dustier version of TED, Summit Series, or SXSW. We created the kind of place where who you knew, or who you were, mattered more than what you contributed. The already-exclusive group had even more exclusive sub-groups: private salons and retreats to Fly Ranch, where only the most elite of the elite were invited.
But here’s the thing: it was a long-term investment. We were all virgins once, and none of us got it right the first time. I frequently grapple with how to be a better member of the community. It takes time to wrap your head around Burning Man culture, and how to be a part of it. The people I met at Ideate were some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, kind, and tenacious people I’ve met inside or outside BRC. It might take years to pay back all that the group got from the event, but I’m confident that this group of people is going to make the playa a better place and be exemplary members of the community.
The big gambit is if they can take these lessons home and use them to build the next Google or Zappos. The people I met in Ideate are certainly an ambitious bunch: theSummit Series team just bought a mountain, Reallocate is doing radical work around the world, Shervin’s funding the next wave of innovators, and on and on and on. If even a small percentage of the Ideators actualize their ambitions, there are going to be a lot of Burners in positions where they can really make a difference.
Remember, BRC might not be there in 10 years, but Google sure will. The Burning Man of tomorrow won’t look like the Burning Man of today. That’s why I think Ideate was a bet worth taking.
Well said Nick. And certainly, friends of mine who were in this camp in 2012 are people I HIGHLY respect. But not all. They know who they are. Many of these Ideatez had some potential, but lost my respect, not only through their actions at Burning Man, but also through their actions afterwards.
Anyway, you have earned my sincere respect; you get the Burners.Me GSD gold star for today, for having the balls out of all 210 of them to get this here post out there. We eagerly await a more detailed response from the Camp Leader of Ideate, Carson Linforth Bowley, as well as Bear Kittay who we’ve asked for an interview. Bear has contacted us to let us know that he is actually on the BMOrg payroll now. As we understand it, in the role of Social Alchemist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you desire to know more.