TED and Burning Man

I spent last week in Oxford at my first TEDGlobal conference.  I was unexpectedly struck by the parallels between this prestigious gathering of global intelligentsia and an event ostensibly as far away at the other side of the spectrum as possible – Burning Man.

Burning Man is near impossible to explain to the uninitiated, let alone succinctly.  It’s like dropping yourself on another planet with an entirely different species of human being.  You’re on a dusty dried lakebed that looks like the moon (known as the playa), without money and branding, wearing some ridiculous costume, surrounded by creativity at every turn.  One’s first impression is often of some absurd hippy drugfest in the desert, but I assure you there is much more to it than that.  This link or this link will give you more information.


Here are the parallels I observed between the Burning Man and TED:


1) People step outside of the confines of their everyday routine and realize how much they’re missing.  At TED, it’s about stepping back and pondering a bigger picture to inform your work.  At Burning Man, it’s about recognizing how differently humans can organize themselves, even if only for a week.


2) People are much more open to each other than almost everywhere else.  A TED badge or presence on the playa translates into a willingness to engage with whoever stumbles upon your path.  An hour into meeting someone last week, deep in conversation, he began talking about something deeply personal. He said to me, “We’re in TED space, so I’m going to be very open about this.”


3) There are infinitely more fascinating things to do with your time than possible, so it’s futile to attempt to allocate it.  At TED, every person is passionate about what he or she does and is utterly fascinating.  You can attempt to engage with the speakers but the person sitting right next to you is just as incredible.  At Burning Man creative things to explore are literally ubiquitous.  So in both instances, you may as well give up on the planning and stumble.  For a type A like me, this alone is liberating.

4) You’re intensely over-stimulated.  There’s so much to do and see and it’s temporary, so you don’t want to miss a thing.  You go and go and go and go and by the time it comes to and end, you’re utterly exhausted.

5) When it’s over, you crash.  As Chris Anderson warned us on Friday, “there’s so much dopamine running through your brains, you’ll probably be a bit sad for the next few days”.  In my case, my brain is still so turned on, the crash hasn’t hit.  Yet.

Both events will change you.  If there is any way you can to to either, I encourage you to make it happen.

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