Weird Hippies or Company Culture Insights? An Entrepreneur's Perspective on Burning Man

What is it that compels tens of thousands of people from around the world to build a city in the middle of the hot, empty desert?

Every year around this time, I hear lots of conversations and opinions about Burning Man. These range from “What is the deal with all these hippies in the middle of nowhere?!” to “It sounds amazing, I can’t wait to go!” and everything in between. Regardless, as entrepreneurs we can learn from this social experiment.

How can we build companies with cultures that are so compelling, people will go to the ends of the earth to be a part of them?

Living Authentically

One important part of Burning Man is its focus on living authentically. Be who you are, express yourself, and live the kind of life you want most. While some only choose to live this way for the week, many people come home with a strong desire to live more authentically in the default world.

Do you engage your team to be authentic at work? Or do you or your team feel like you need to be different people professionally and personally? It can be hard to be authentic as an entrepreneur, when we often feel like we need to act like someone else - someone more confident, more successful, and more in control. Our team members often feel the same. They are afraid that if someone sees the real them, they will be ridiculed and rejected. We’ve noticed that when employees are able to be authentic, they thrive. They stay loyal, encourage like-minded people to join the team, and produce better results. And when entrepreneurs are authentic, it not only feels better, but also sets the example for our team.

Freedom to Try New Things

At Burning Man, attendees are free to try new things. New costumes, new friends, and new adventures. There are no repercussions for trying something new, just acceptance for exploration. This supportive environment results in people trying things they might have never dreamed of trying before. Some they might love, some they might hate, but they’ve tried something new.

Trying new things is essential for learning, growth, and innovation. How many new innovations could your team develop if they weren’t afraid to fail? You can find out if you’re willing to cultivate a team that supports each other, learns from its experiences, and acknowledges that the process of finding success involves failure. Most humans are capable of more than they think they are. As a leader, you can choose to create a culture that helps your team reach their potential.

Shared Values

Burning Man has Ten Principles that are a guide to the community’s ethos and culture. They help shape how people behave and provide a common understanding of what to expect from others. This shared language makes it much easier to indoctrinate newcomers, reinforce the culture, and develop new ways of living it. It draws in people who believe in the principles, and repels those who don’t.

Your company’s culture, starting with clearly expressed core values, does the same thing. Here at Awesome, we believe about five values is the right number. Your team can tell stories with shared values and reinforce desired behaviors. They can attract the right hires and push the wrong ones away. You can leverage a team with diverse backgrounds, experiences and skills, and they are held together with shared values. It’s so much easier to lead when the team itself is taking care of its culture.

Whether you are a longtime Burner or are just not interested, take a moment to think about how these three learnings from Burning Man - Living Authentically, Trying New Things, and Shared Values - can all help you create a more Awesome business.

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