After 7 trips to Burning Man over 14 years while working for various tech companies, I’ve personally experienced and witnessed the brain dead malaise that can take over as people come back to earth after spending a week on the Playa.
Burning Man is an exhausting experience — mentally, physically, and emotionally. But it is also inspiring and enlivening and can drive creativity if you know how to tap into it.
Every year someone asks, “How can we make the ‘default world’ more like Burning Man?” In most ways, you can’t — the playa is too magical and unique to recreate. But you can create an atmosphere that helps your team take best advantage of the creative window that may have opened up for them out on the playa. Here are a few tips.
- Let Them Drink Coconut Water!
It may seem silly to make this point first, but most people have no idea just how dehydrated they get after a week of desert living (let alone drinking and doing drugs in the desert).
Dehydration lowers brain function more quickly than hunger and lack of sleep. And since the cells in the body can only take in so much water on a given day, it can take days of non-stop drinking for the body to recover to full hydration after an experience like Burning Man.
The solution? Stock your company fridge with tons of hydrating, electrolyte-filled drinks — coconut water, gatorade, Vitamin Water, etc. Put a leaderboard on the fridge where people can mark down how much they’ve had. Reward the “most hydrated” with a free lunch at the end of the week. Anything to get people hydrated and back up to maximum productivity and brain function.
(PS. It can also help to put a large bottle of 5-HTP supplements next to the coffee maker. Just trust me on this one.)
- Encourage Them to Share What They Learned
I used to work in an office where talking about Burning Man was taboo. It was like it was something to be ashamed of, rather than something to share and celebrate. F*** that.
People are going to talk to each other about their experiences at Burning Man whether you like it or not. Why not call it out in the name of transparency and authenticity and get people talking to the entire office about it?
Ask your resident Burners to host a brown bag lunch to talk about what they learned on the playa. If you’re worried about “censoring” the content, it’s ok to remind them that normal office decorum still applies, so some stories might be best left for after hours.
Who did they meet? How were they inspired? What realizations about themselves, life, or their work did they have? How can we bring those lessons back to the office? How can we build them into the product?
If people aren’t down to share in a public setting, encourage them to take a few hours to journal or brainstorm. People have revelatory experiences on the playa. It’s best to encourage them to channel those experiences into their work, rather than simply telling them to “get back to work.”
- Let Your Office Culture Be Influenced by the Best of Burning Man
At the end of the day, Burning Man is an experiment in culture. Beyond all the costumes, parties, drugs, and art, there are social norms on the playa that do not exist in the “default world.”
Here are a few important ways Burning Man can influence your office culture:
- Radical Inclusion — Burning Man is a participatory event. There are no wall flowers. This creates massive opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas, sharing of responsibilities, and thinking. Great organizations like Google actively recruit problem-solvers. They reward off-the-wall ideas. Feeling that your wacky idea will be welcomed with curiosity rather than judgment engenders an atmosphere of creativity and nonlinear thinking.
- Radical Self-Reliance — When at Burning Man, you have to be able to take care of yourself. Yes, some people show up to posh camps where people wait on them, but that is a gross recent phenomenon that all real Burners hope will die off. Real Burners are self-reliant. And self-reliant people are problem solvers. They are resourceful. They never give up.
- Gift Economy — Burning Man is a gift economy. This means you can’t buy anything (except ice and coffee), and you aren’t supposed to “trade” for things. If you have something others want, you are invited to give it away with no expectation of compensation. Having an office culture with a gift economy means people support each other, they dive into offer help and ideas, and they don’t squabble over credit.
At the end of the day, you can’t expect your Burner office mates to recreate the playa experience in your office. But by helping your team recover physically and mentally, by encouraging them to share their experiences, and by creating an atmosphere that draws the best of Burning Man into your office culture, you can make this annual rite a resource rather than a liability.
Oh, and I heard Daft Punk is already booked to play at the trash fence at 3am the Friday before the Burn next year. See you there!
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