Burning Man is that time of year where 70,000 people head to Black Rock City, a self-made, temporary-city that is created in the Black Rock Desert (affectionately known as “The Playa”) in Nevada. The Burning Man foundation describes their yearly event as “not a festival,” but a “catalyst for creative culture” and “a network of dreamers and doers” (though you’d be hard-pressed to find many other descriptions without the festival reference.) It’s incredibly popular with billionaires and successful executives.
And not only should you go, but you should also expense it for what it teaches you about how to be more successful in life and work.
Burning Man and radical self-reliance
While the city is largely self-governed, co-founder Larry Harvey wrote 10 guiding principles back in 2004, when Burning Man was already 18 years old: Radical inclusion, gifting, de-commodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, immediacy.
Veteran Burners are quick to remind others that these are not commandments, but the principles give insight into the philosophies which make Burning Man so successful. In these days of delegation, we could do with a little more radical self-reliance in the office and not just on the playa.
These days we’re surrounded by articles telling us to stop doing so much and delegating so little. There’s clearly value in delegation, and everyone from HBR to Tim Ferris has told us this much is true.
But when Harvard University surveyed over 3,000 executives to better understand what differentiated leaders at innovative companies, they found that the companies that were most innovative had leaders who saw it as their direct responsibility to be a part of creative work — They don’t delegate it, they do it themselves.
Here are the five “discovery skills” that innovative leaders don’t delegate to others (and why you should expense your trip to Burning Man)
- Associating: Think of ideas as new (and novel) combinations. The more we expose ourselves to, the more connections our brains can make. As famed management consultant Tom Peters said, “Hang out with weird, and thou shalt become more weird… Hang out with dull, and thou shalt become more dull.”
- Questioning: Entrepreneur and executive Gareth Kay argues that problem-solving is purely a reactive way to think about what many of us do. Instead, the job is actually looking for, and articulating, the best problem to solve. Innovative leaders are most likely to challenge assumptions, asking “Why?” “Why not?” and “What if?”
- Observing: Take a clue from anthropologists and spend a day talking to customers instead of having your research team setup focus groups. Exceptional business ideas are realized by dissecting common phenomena.
- Experimenting: All of the innovative leaders engaged in “some form of active experimentation, whether it was intellectual exploration, physical tinkering, or engagement in new surroundings.” Leaders who lived internationally prior to becoming CEOs had roughly 7% higher market performance on average.
- Networking: While executives are most likely to delegate conference attendance and other networking events, innovative entrepreneurs make concerted efforts to meet different kinds of people with radically different perspectives.