What Can “Burning Man” Teach an Event Planner? Plenty.

Each year during the week leading up to Labor Day, the countercultural Camelot known as Burning Man emerges mirage-like on the lava beds and alkali silt playa of northern Nevada’s utterly inhospitable Black Rock Desert, an aural, visual and communal celebration of artistic expression with more than a dash of lunacy.

The unlikely love child of post-Haight-Ashbury freethinkers and Silicon Valley technogeeks, Burning Man now attracts more than 65,000 international “burners” to what might best be described as a state fair on mushrooms.

Dali-esque “art cars” and bike-riding costumed exotics wave and weave their way through makeshift themed villages, sharing the sheer joy of living in an environment dead set against it.

This fever dream of music, magic and mayhem culminates on Labor Day with “the burn,” the ceremonial nighttime torching of the festival’s enormous, eponymous human stick figure. Within hours, the burners will disperse after fastidiously removing all traces of their presence.

What possible relevance could Burning Man have to the buttoned-down, super-organized world of a meeting planner? Surprisingly, the festival’s Ten Principles, written in 2004 by co-founder Larry Harvey, could just as easily have emerged from a convention planner’s to-do list, given a mushroom or two. See if you don’t agree.burningman3

Radical Inclusion: Burning Man welcomes and respects the stranger, no prerequisite required. What more does a meeting planner crave than participation?

Gifting: Burners value their music, costumes, crazy cars and art installations as gifts freely given. The same generosity of spirit makes for the most memorable meetings as well.

Decommodification: Burners reject all commercial attempts to crash their party, and any attempts at branding are quickly sent packing. Good meetings should also reflect such unanimity of purpose.

Radical Self-Reliance: Discover, exercise, and rely upon your inner resources. Who wouldn’t like to instill more of that in their meeting team?

Radical Self-Expression: Simply put, own your art and never force it on others. ‘Nuff said.

Communal Effort: Cooperation and collaboration produce the best results, whether at Burning Man or your next event.

Civic Responsibility: Just as meeting incentives have switched from golf and spa to charitable activities, burners embrace the welfare of the community.

Leaving No Trace: The cleanup imperative at Burning Man has many parallels in the growing “green” touches and recycling trends at today’s conventions and meetings.

Participation: Deeply personal participation is the key to transformative change, both for individuals and society. Meeting planner show of hands: Who doesn’t want participation?

Immediacy: OK, this one bears quoting: “Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.” Translation: If we embrace our life and work with passion, we’ll all get the most out of it.

Whether you’re headed to Black Rock City or Atlantic City, enjoy the burn!


Photo credits: Shutterstock, iStock


Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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