Burning Man’s 2012 Staff Retreat

Burning Man Founders give their report-out at the annual Staff Retreat.

Last week, 60 Burning Man staffers got together for our annual Staff Retreat, an intensive 4-day offsite gathering wherein we examine the state of Burning Man (the event itself, our organization, and the worldwide growth of our culture). We examine where we stand, where we want to be, and how to get there.

This has been an annual tradition since 1999, when the meeting consisted of a small handful of folks. And while it has taken different shapes and forms over the years, this time is used to look at the challenges we’re facing, the successes we’ve achieved, and the goals we want to shoot for. We also bring in experts to help us develop the skills we need to succeed as an organization. And let me tell you, the work is practically non-stop. The group hardly ‘retreats’ from Burning Man; in reality we collectively dive even deeper into the work we do and the roles we play.

Walking through Burning Man’s history of staff trainings since 2001.

This year there were extensive discussions around growth … what challenges come along with the growth of both the Burning Man community and the Burning Man organization, and how can we manage them? What kind of pressures are the various Burning Man departments facing as a result of this growth? How can we work better collectively to address them? What leadership skills can we bring to the table to ensure that we deal with them effectively?

The group engaged in activities to help us deliver quality feedback to our co-workers, skill-building sessions to help us make better decisions, and opportunities to evaluate how we’re measuring up against our 5-year goals (and 3-year goals, and 1-year goals). We read feedback emails from participants about this year’s event in Black Rock City and discussed strategies for making improvements.

Megan reading through the Participant Feedback binder.

These discussions are always rewarding, but the best work is arguably done in the evening hours after long, full days of work sessions.  That’s when we’re able to connect with our fellow staffers, learn more about each other and what makes us tick, and build the bonds that allow us to work so well together … the connections which make us as much a family as we are a business.

Of course, being the Burners that we are, the evenings were peppered with impromptu bonfires, musical performances, storytelling sessions, irreverent card games, crafting, Tarot-reading, hikes, hot-tubbing, poker lessons, and just taking some precious time to enjoy each other’s company.

The “Stick Man” bonfire.

As intensive as each day was, the passion, dedication and brilliance that each attendee brings to the conversation is truly inspiring, and bodes well for Burning Man’s future. 2012 has been a challenging year to say the least, but the quality thinking shown at this retreat proved that we’ll be able to handle anything the future throws at us.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase first attended Burning Man 2001. He was Burning Man's Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004-2009, and the Operations Manager and member of the Art Council for the ARTery (Burning Man's art department headquarters in Black Rock City) from 2003-2008. In 2009, he transitioned into the Communications Department, where his responsibilities include global communication strategy, authoring the Jackrabbit Speaks Newsletter, content management for the Burning Man website, coordination of Burning Man's social networking efforts, and acting as editor for the Burning Blog. Tales of his sordid adventures can be found on his website.

30 thoughts on “Burning Man’s 2012 Staff Retreat

  • that’s so awesome! bring the biggest narcissists together and put them in a room so they can tell each other how great they are.

    that’s the best way to avoid the obvious question: why does burning man continue to rape the creative energy of the bay area and beyond?

    at the super special burning man retreat of super special minds – guess what, no one gives a fuck about that!

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  • Thank you for all you do to make this amazing! If you want your very own certified wine specialist to make sure you are all hydrated, I am your gal :) Thx again, seriously!!!!

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  • Ummm…I don’t want to be negative but, in the future I would suggest you talk about what was discussed at the retreat and action items that were identified. I know you mean well and this was posted to say, “hey we’re working hard on your behalf”, but it kinda comes off like, “we had a party with your money and you weren’t invited”. It would also help if you could give folks a timeline for when the ticket decisions and theme decisions will be made. Thanks.

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  • Theme?

    Also, I gotta agree with Peace:
    “…in the future I would suggest you talk about what was discussed at the retreat and action items that were identified.” and “It would also help if you could give folks a timeline for when the ticket decisions and theme decisions will be made.”

    For the most part, you guys do a great job. I skipped last year due to the ticket fiasco, but I hope this year will be an awesome 10th year for me.

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  • Nice to know that the stewards of the magical event don’t just magically hope it all comes out well each year. To follow on “Peace’s” comment, a general outline with more detail of what you talked about and what outcomes you wish acheive for the next year would be inclusive, not secretive. Least you would not want to fuel the conspiracy minds. You must have 100,000 + followers. Inspire us! here are my questions:
    1. How did that whole ticket thing work out?
    2. Do you plan on pissing off more people this year with ticket sales or did you figure out how to remember the people who love you first?
    3. The exit pole I did in Reno was that it was a good event. A little more dust than some wanted. It felt like more people were leaving early, even Saturday morning?
    4. I tried leaving Truckee at 7 am on Monday. Got caught in traffic because of a bad accident involving an existing burner. Do you track accidents in CA on Monday? I wonder how many fatalities happen because people are not taking personal responsibilty for their actions.
    5. That should be the 2013 theme. RESPONSIBILITY. For ourselves, our state, our country, the Planet. That is what happens when the Mayan calenders ends…..

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  • Sell tickets at the gate please. Kindda like at the movies, and the ball game.
    Participant says, “Two tickets for Burningman please”
    Ticket window volunteer says, “Welcome home, that’ll be xxx.xx please”
    Participant says, “Thanks”
    VrrOOOmmmm.

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  • For a starving artist/farmer like myself, Burning Man represents a HUGE investment of time and money. Planning starts on the trip home from the previous year’s event. But theme-related costumes, camps, and art cars can’t be started until YOU announce the theme! And then there’s the risk of investing lots of time/money on these things and then not winning the ticket lottery. That’s a big gamble. So maybe next time I’ll simplify, skip the artistic efforts, just bring my tents, camping clothes, bike; and focus all my energies and efforts on the ticket quest…be a tourist, not a participant…Gee, I never thought that going to BRC would be a depressing concept.

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  • Have you ever though of asking for volunteers who want to attend planning meeting and then, ironically, selecting the participants through a lottery? Certainly certain staff would have to facilitate the planning process due to its complexity, but I think radical inclusion would be better served if the planners didn’t seem so seperate from the participants.

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  • 1st time “Burners” should be afforded ticket opportunities at a higher rate. If you’ve been there and done that, let some of your fellow tribe mates experience please.

    Great theme for 2013. I hope to be a virgin.

    I postulate that a weather/climate change theme would be excellent for future events. We only have one planet, and it’s ours. Unlike BRC, we can’t pack up and go home.

    Somebody who can see the future of our beautiful “burning planet”

    A Weather Guy

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  • I just wanted to say thanks and enjoyed my first experience immensely. I missed out on the ticket purchase, but easily was able to buy a ticket off of craigslist from a Burner who lived in New Orleans and I lived in Lake Tahoe.

    Perhaps in order to keep the direction pure it would be better to ensure theme camps, artists, and those that add value to BM get first dibs on tickets. In order to ensure their validity these added value members can make their official requests during and right after the prior burning man.

    Once that number has been determined it is open to the public, because lets face it without the art, its just people camping in the desert with music.

    Either way I wish the staff the best and thanks again for putting on an event that was an amazing experience.

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  • Hey,
    I am a three-time burner and I am sure you’re receiving tons of suggestions of how to handle the ticketing situation nowadays. We have this festival in Germany called “Fusion”, with close to 60.000 participants each year. It is more of a “traditional” festival with booked acts and stages. But at the same time also a little like a burn as there are art installations, theme cars, workshops, a cinema,…..
    The festival had the same problem as you had a couple of years ago and created a personalized lottery system which excluded scalpers by the max. In case any of you speak German you can check it out on http://www.fusion-festival.de
    If not, here’s a brief summary (some steps are the same as the burning man lottery last year):

    1. Each attendee signs up for only ONE personalized ticket (ID check at the gate)
    2. There’s a 2 week period for signing up
    3. There’s the possibilty of peer-forming so you make sure you’re not the only one in your Group receiving a ticket (first person to sign up creates a group with a password so the others can sign up for that group when they register. Fusion festival says the mathematical chance of getting a ticket by yourself or in a big group is the same)
    4. There is a first lottery for all applicants
    5. If you get a ticket it’s non-transferrable. Every participant has an online account where he can change his shipping information or cancel the ticket up to 4 weeks prior to the event.
    6. People not lucky in the first lottery get a second chance in the second lottery which takes place two months after the first and giving out all the tickets that weren’t paid or canceled until then. 
    7. Any other tickets being returned after the second lottery are given to volunteers (as first time volunteers don’t receive a ticket at burning man, maybe there could be a final last minute sale like last August)

    I think especially the fact that there are only personalized tickets combined with the fact that they are absolutely not transferrable will keep away scalpers and minimize the demand of tickets which surely will still stay above supply.

    Keep it up!

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  • Bummed I missed out on last year’s Burn. While I think this year’s theme is highly creative and a great social/economic commentary, it just doesn’t give me that warm, fuzzy feeling like Fertility did. Sadly, I missed out on it due to the lottery. :(

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