Wharton Business School Uses Burning Man as Case Study

bm shark jumpingNot sure if it’s worth going into six figures of student loan debt, if this is the kind of education you’re going to get. They think “The Man” is a camp!

How can a non-profit festival based on Gifting and Decommodification, be an example for Business School students? The mainstream are bending over backwards to link themselves to Burning Man, now the shark has been jumped. I’m sure these students will have no problem paying $650 for tickets.


re-blogged from Wharton Magazine:

What Burning Man and B-School Have in Common

Though it’s November and fall is in full swing, I’m devoting today’s post to Burning Man, the late-summer ritual that draws over 60,000 participants to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada every year.

For the uninitiated, here’s how Burning Man works: Each year, participants build an entire city from scratch and live in it for a week. People work together to build elaborate camps and villages—their themes and functions varying widely. You can find open mic lounges, yoga and meditation spaces, collaborative art installations and just about anything else imaginable.

While Burning Man is unique on many levels—it is the self-described “annual art event and temporary community based on radical self-expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada”—one of its most fascinating rules is that nothing can be bought or sold, with the exceptions of ice and coffee. No one receives any financial compensation for his or her efforts.

Then, at the end of the week, all the camps are burned or completely dismantled. One of the rules of Burning Man is to leave the desert exactly as you found it.

On the surface, it would seem that there is very little overlap between the cultures of Burning Man and business school. The former’s participants are largely stereotyped as hippies and artists running off to escape the constraints of society for a week, while MBAs are seen as leaders of the types of industry and societal structures that Burning Man participants are trying to flee.

However, a closer look reveals that there is more in common between the two than one would think. In fact, aspiring MBAs can learn valuable lessons from the Burning Man community:

A camp at Burning Man.

A camp at Burning Man. Photo credit: Jennifer Morrow, Wikimedia Commons.

1. Self-sufficiency is key.

Because Burning Man has no vendors (there’s no money, remember?), attendees must make sure they come in with ample provisions for the week—food, water, gear and clothing—enough for 100- degree days and near-freezing nights. Participants must be prepared for anything.

Similarly, many MBA grads describe the time they spent in B-school as the two most intense years of their lives. Admissions committees are well aware of this. When reviewing applications, they will look for candidates whose stories demonstrate resiliency. They will also want to ensure that you have a realistic understanding of the drive and dedication it will take to succeed in their program.

2. Your leadership skills will be tested.

Time and again, aspiring MBAs tell me that one of the main reasons they want to get in is so they can improve and refine their leadership skills. Burning Man is nothing if not a week-long leadership intensive.  Consider this: How can you get people to work for you when you can’t offer them the usual forms of compensation like money and promotions? How can you get them to build something that will be completely dismantled at the end of the week?

The camps and projects that succeed at Burning Man have one thing in common: leaders who clearly express their vision and create a positive shared experience for their fellow participants.

The Burning Man. Photo credit: Aaron Logan, Wikimedia Commons.

The Burning Man. Photo credit: Aaron Logan, Wikimedia Commons.

3. Teamwork is key.

At the same time, it’s important to know when to step away from leading and become part of the team. That’s essential to the Burning Man experience, where the point isn’t simply to build your own structure but to participate in others’ camps and villages as well. Understanding the importance of collaboration and teamwork is vital to growing and learning at B-school.  Make sure that your application contains examples of your ability to play both roles—leader and team member—effectively.

4. Creativity counts.

At Burning Man, people express their creativity through their appearance and by being problem solvers—for example, figuring out how to anchor installations against high desert winds. While you won’t have too many opportunities to wear tutus and animal costumes at B-school, you will be asked to apply creative thought to problems. The admission committee will look for evidence in your essays and your interview responses that show you have a unique perspective that will add something new to the classroom.

5. Be an individual but participate in the collective.

Every year, Burning Man has a theme. Participants can interpret these themes however they like, and part of the fun is seeing the variety of installations and spaces that spring up according to themes like “Rites of Passage” and “American Dream.”

Like Burning Man, all MBA programs have their own unique culture. The key for your application is to speak to the individual attributes that make you a great candidate, conveys your understanding of the school’s culture and reveals how you will be a great fit there.

7 comments on “Wharton Business School Uses Burning Man as Case Study

  1. Thank you, burnersxxx, for providing a free and independent press for the Burner community. Larry stated numerous times, that our awesome city, Black Rock City, needed a government, and that they stepped forward to be that government, and that a city needed a central meeting place, and a city needed a paper. Thank you for being that paper for our city, in the manner of the U.S. first amendment.

    The Wharton blog post was solely a marketing post, by a business school admissions consultant, purposed towards the marketing of her business.

    But, business schools must do case studies upon Burning Man. How might a few people gain control over a community, and over a crowd sourced event, and direct an estimated $35 to $47 million towards their pockets, while the community, paying numerous millions of cash from their own pockets, provide of the spectacle and the entertainment towards the ticket buyers of the event? While the ‘owners’ of the business pay as little cash as possible towards the spectacle, and towards the entertainment, solely $20 of each $380 or $650 ticket, towards the artists and towards the build of the Man? And, to do it in a mostly tax free manner, of donating the event to a 501(c)3 corporation, of which, they are in near total control? And, the manner of which to hire brilliant lawyers and consultants, purposed towards retaining of this control over numerous people whom throw this crowd sourced event, while directing the cash towards their own pockets, while hiding near to all information upon the cash directed towards their pockets, from donors to their 501(c)3, and from donors to its subsidiary corporation that generates the cash? All the while making decisions in direct opposite of the desires of the community, such as the Commodification camps and directing tickets away from the community, while paying little cash towards the awesome artists and people whom labour to build the city each year, such as DPW, and paying zero cash towards awesome sound camps, mutant vehicles, and other camps providing of the spectacle and of the entertainment? And, the manner of which to direct a social media PR crew, purposed towards hiding their cash out from donors and other contributors, stating of they do not have the money to pay people, while hiding of that they have directed the cash towards their pockets, utilizing prior contracts between their corporations? Burning Man is an awesome business school case study upon the brilliant manner of which to monetize the labours of a community of numerous other people, near to free of tax levies, to hide the cash directed towards the pockets of the ‘owners’, and, yet, to remain in near total control.

      • I am curious as to how the Simpsons might comment upon this, in the manner of which they comment upon Fox, with humour, but not pulling their punches.

        Marge- Burning Man has jumped the shark.
        Bart- Everything that has been in existence for 25 years has jumped the shark.
        Homer- But, we haven’t, boy.

  2. I wish they would include a section on how to recover from a night on the playa after 3 hits of ecstasy, a bottle of Jack and waking to realize you fucked 2 of your girlfriend’s BFF while doing cocaine off their nipples until sunrise. But maybe that’s for the advanced course. Kids are cute.

  3. The lecture might have more resonance to those Wharton kids if the topic went more along the lines of “Burning Man and the Culture of Corporate Entitlement.”

  4. Sounds like a pathetic attempt to “talk to the kids at their level” kind of thing. And those categories are pretty funny. “Creativity counts.” Yeah, that could be applied to fucking anything.

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