By Marty Bortz
(Last updated 11th April, 2020)

INTRODUCTION

This document is the continuation of almost two decades of participating in, thinking about, and studying what has been referred to as ‘transformative festival’ culture. It offers some new ideas for the ways in which those involved in this movement can ‘bring out’ the culture into the wider world. Of course, there are many others involved in this task, and many other ways to achieve the purposes of what I am trying to do in the discussion below. I offer my thoughts as one contribution to this discussion.

Indeed, the question of how to make the world more like a transformative festival has been central on my mind for most of my adult life. It has shaped my thinking, my research agenda and my social engagements in ways that I probably don’t quite understand. I, like many others, have felt the power of transformative festivals and their ability to produce fundamental shifts in how people see the world. Everyone has their own story. For me, it started as ‘partying’, then it became ‘doofing’, and then moved on to ‘Burning’. Now, I just call it ‘the work’.

The work is happening at a time of grand social challenges. Climate change is an ever-present threat – one that continues to expose the inadequacies in our systems and institutions. Australia has recently seen catastrophic fires that have added further urgency to this challenge. Social inequality seems to be out-of-control. Populism and right-wing extremism continue to pose barriers to addressing important problems. People are waking up to a general sense that the system is rigged, and it is rigged for a select few. Moreover, the colonial act continues, as Indigenous knowledges are subverted, marginalised and generally excluded.

At the same time, several movements have sprung up in direct response to these challenges. Tiny house, permaculture, minimalism, veganism and the maker movement are all examples of people who are trying to take things in a new direction and to move away from the Western capitalist paradigm. To this list, my great hope is that we can add ‘transformative festival culture’, or, more specifically, Burner culture.

Indeed, it is vital that we see Burner culture in its social, political, and historical context. If the Burning Man Project is to achieve its promise, it must pay its respects to all that came before it, and all that goes alongside it. The rave and psytrance movements, Dada and the situationists, the Cacophony Society and Suicide Club (and much else) have all had an important role to play in what we now call Burning Man. But more than that, Burning Man (or Burner culture – I use the two interchangeably) has its origins in the concept of ‘festival’, and the ways in which people come together to celebrate and be together for no other reason that that is what human beings are meant to do.

If nothing else (although there probably is much else), the capitalist model has produced a heightened sense of social alienation. While it has done much to provide for the material needs of individuals, it has and continues to impoverish us emotionally, psychologically, socially, and intellectually. It is a major (if not the major) contributor to the problems I mention above. In light of this, a new paradigm needs to emerge – one that does not automatically throw out the baby, but instead takes what’s valuable from the existing model and moves it in a new direction. We need evolution, not revolution. However, changing our systems and structures is not enough – we need a fundamental change in how we think. We must shift how we are with each other, with ourselves, and with the environment.

Of course, there are many people who don’t see (or don’t want to see) transformative events as anything but a good time, a place to party and forget about the world for a while. At the same time, I believe that there are a great many others who do acknowledge or feel, maybe at some unconscious level, that there is much more going on, that the depths of this movement really should be explored further. While this document is for anyone involved in the community, I do hope it holds particular relevance for those who fall in the second category.

And so, this document provides a point of continuity and of change. It provides some new approaches to understanding how to move beyond just maintenance of Burner culture, and towards a vision of a better world. In other words, this document has been written to move us closer towards a politics of Burning Man. As part of this, it asks how we can draw on the 10 Principles to not only address social challenges, but also to create uniquely Burner structures. Indeed, and as I argue below, the 10 Principles have focused on the culture, but we need to consider more deeply how they can contribute to structures. Finally, the document also asks ‘where to from here’ for the ANZ (Australia & New Zealand) Burner community.

I offer the ideas in this document from a place of humility, fully cognisant of all the work that has gone before me to create and evolve Burner culture globally and within the Antipodes. I acknowledge all those people – past, present, and future – who have made contributions in their own way. Some of those contributions are grand, others less so, but all those contributions matter. As always, the ideas are offered as a proposal, a starting point for discussion and, in some places, as a provocation. They are not, and should never be considered, didactic. Rather, I offer the ideas as a gift and a conversation point. For these reasons, the document will always be a draft, ready for updating as the movement evolves. The Burning Man Project will never finish – we are always in a state of becoming.

And finally (if you’ll forgive the flourish), this document is for all the people that have made Burner culture what it is. For the artists, and the theme camps, the organisers, the rangers, build crews, and the punters. It is for Larry Harvey. It is for those of us who feel that something is not quite right and want to do something about it. It is for those of us who know that art is never an add-on but is instead fundamental to who we are as a people. It is for those who know that art is healing and, if nothing else, the world needs healing right now. It is for those of us that have felt the power of transformative festivals and want to make the wider world more ‘like that’. It is for those of us that greet each other in the dust and say ‘Welcome Home’.

We are thinkers. We are makers. We are artists. We are activists.

We are dreamers. We are doers.

We are Burners.

Watch us Burn.

 

OVERVIEW

The rest of this document is divided into three sections: ‘What’, ‘How’ and ‘Where’. In ‘What’, I outline the basic tenets of what I see as the politics of Burner culture. As always, it takes as its starting point the 10 Principles. At the same time, it argues that the Principles are not enough. While the Principles have been vital for maintaining the culture both within and beyond Black Rock City, they do not sufficiently provide us with a way to address the problems and challenges facing the world today. What is needed is a link between the Principles and the world ‘out there’. Moreover, we need to articulate what a uniquely ‘Burner organisation’ would look like – something that doesn’t just replicate the structures in what has been referred to as the ‘Default World’.

To do that, the document introduces what I refer to as the ‘4 Incursions’. These are: social capital, wisdom, play, and self-actualisation. As the section will argue, the 4 Incursions are fundamental human needs that have been marginalised through discourses of Western capitalism. They are also practices that the Burner community is uniquely placed to reinvigorate.

After that – in ‘How’ – I provide some basic ideas on how the Incursions can be introduced into new organisations within the Burner community. This section draws heavily on the work of Dee Hock and his notion of the chaordic organisation. The discussion in that section is provided in the hope that any new organisations in the Antipodean Burnerverse (and elsewhere) are willing to create organisations that can move and flex to meet new demands, but also to live up to the ideals of the Burning Man Project. My assertion is that chaordic organisations – combined with the 4 Incursions – can do that.

Finally, in ‘Where’, I provide what I see as the basic institutional framework that will allow these ideas to manifest in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). Indeed, the ANZ Burner community is at a unique stage in its development. It is of sufficient maturity and complexity to allow for ideas to take root and be implemented, but it is not so mature that it the underlying institutional framework has ‘hardened’. This is an opportune time to capitalise on what works, but also to leave sufficient breathing room for future growth and transformation. And, of course, it is a part of the Burner community that I have developed some insight into over the past few years.

 

WHAT

The 10 Principles have, to a large extent, allowed Burner culture to flourish around the world. They tell us how we are when we are together. At the same time, they are not enough in propagating Burner culture, particularly if Burner culture wants to contribute to social problems. Rather, what is needed is an appraisal of the 10 Principles in light of pressing social challenges. The question then becomes two-fold. First, what are some of the grand problems that we face today? Second, what aspects of Burner culture can we draw on to directly address these problems? While the discussion acknowledges capitalism as a fundamental issue, it also argues that just asserting ‘capitalism’ as the problem is not enough. Rather, we need to be able to articulate what deficiencies capitalism has caused that Burner culture is uniquely placed to address.

Here, I argue that there are 4 basic human needs that capitalism has undermined. First, our need to connect with other people and to live in genuine communities forged through shared struggle and story. Second, our need to realise our fullest selves. Third, our connection to the land and environment, and other modes of knowing. And, finally, our need to play, and to use play as a vehicle for growth and learning. The Burn experience provides humanity with a petrie dish for ways in which these needs can be reintroduced into wider society. The trick then is to draw on Burner culture to reinscribe these core needs to our physical, social, and psychological spaces. To do that, I argue that we need to rearrange the 10 Principles into 4 Incursions. These are: social capital, play, self-actualisation, and wisdom. These will now be unpacked in turn.

 

Social capital

In 2000, sociologist Robert Putnam published a highly influential book called Bowling Alone. In it, Putnam argues that there has been a decline in what he calls ‘social capital’. Put simply, social capital refers to the networks that people have with other members in a community. These networks allow a community to function and flourish. The decline in social capital has reduced civic engagement, and people are no longer having conversations or joining groups to participate in discussions about matters that affect them. He attributes this erosion to technological innovation – as people watch more television (for instance), they become more and more atomised. While they may live close to others, they do not interact with them in any meaningful way.

The loss of social capital continues to ring true today. We see lower and lower membership in trade unions and political parties. Everyone it seems is plugged into their devices at all times. Our popular discourse rests on the prefix ‘i’ – what can your product do for me? The state of political discussion is poor at best, hostile and dangerous at worst. This is of course related to the great urban paradox – the more people that live in proximity to us, the less we are able to connect with those people. Instead, we retreat into individual bubbles. All of these are symptoms of the modern condition.

     

Larry Harvey was fond of the notion of social capital. In a 2002 speech (Viva Las Xmas, 2002), Larry spoke about the value of social capital, and the ways in which Burner culture can produce it. Drawing heavily on Putnam, he talks about two forms of social capital – bonding and bridging. Bonding capital is the intra-group connections – so the strength of the relationships we have with those in our immediate circles. Bridging capital is the strength of connection we have with people in other groups, environments or circles. Larry (rightly, in my view) argues that it is the spirit of gifting that generates social capital – both bonding and bridging. To this, we could also point to civic engagement, communal effort and participation as three additional ways through which social capital is achieved.

Indeed, it is the struggle and the difficulty of Burning that brings us all closer together. It is the challenge of taking a 747 jumbo jet to the middle of fucking nowhere all in the name of art. It is the harsh conditions of the playa or the paddock that means that, sometimes, we have to bond together just to get through it. Let’s face it, Burning Man can be pretty shit sometimes. However, it is this shit-ness that allows for the emergence of social capital. We puzzle and problem-solve together, and in doing so we create bonds that that last beyond the event. In this way, by forming a temporary community, we actually create a permanent one. And so here we can identify the first ‘Incursion’ – social capital. 

Play

The second Incursion is ‘play’. The concept of ’play’ has been identified as one of the key guiding principles of collectivisation and decision-making within hunter-gatherer societies. These societies were highly egalitarian. They made decisions on a consensus basis, but still respected the fundamental autonomy of the individual. They also lacked hierarchy in the way they organised. In such societies, power is highly distributed; it is based on the respect and esteem that others hold you in. It is not based on the position you hold in the organisational structure (indeed, there was no organisational structure). Resources are equally distributed as well – nobody has more than what they need – and gifting becomes the basis of the economy.

But this is not by accident. Anthropologist Richard Lee describes hunter-gatherer societies as ‘fiercely’ egalitarian. This meant that they had to design specific structures, rules and processes to ensure that their egalitarian approaches were preserved. This was not a chaotic ‘free-for-all’, but instead it was a deliberate approach. In this ‘reverse dominance’ approach, power came from the group, not an individual. While individuals may be influential, it was the group that decided where to go next. Anybody that tried to exercise dominance without the will of the group was quickly brought back into line.

          

Underpinning all of this was the notion of ‘play’. This term should be seen in its common vernacular, but it also has a specific meaning. In its common vernacular, play is what children do. They invent games, put on dress ups, build pillow forts, and pretend to be kings, queens or superheros. To the adult eye, this may seem like frivolity. However, play has a very serious and important aspect to it, which is the specific meaning I refer to above. Indeed, play is how we learn. By attempting new things, by using their imagination, children begin to learn real life skills. They learn how to cooperate and get along. They learn how to negotiate and share resources. They learn how to problem solve.

Educational anthropologist Peter Gray has argued that our modern capitalist system has resulted in a loss of ‘play’. In Gray’s view, modern industrial capitalism has not been around for that long, and 90% of human existence has occurred through hunter-gatherer societies. Modern technology, agriculture, combined with the intervention of the capitalist state, has meant that we have lost much of the egalitarian nature of our ancestors. Instead, we are arranged hierarchically depending on our ability to serve the interests of capital. Our schools teach subjects that are of little interest to us, but will be useful if you want to ‘get a job’. As part of this, we lose the ability to play. In general, we are told what we should learn, rather than following our interests and finding out for ourselves what might work best. Over time, we lose our ability to play and instead feel a sense of social alienation as we question why, each day, we get up to do things that we see as being of little worth.

In her PhD thesis ‘Sacred Playground’, anthropologist Sarah Megan Heller argues that part of the transformative aspects of Burner culture are firmly rooted in the notion of play. Echoing Gray, Heller argues that ‘play’ is something that has been lost in late industrial capitalism. Fully participating in Burning Man offers people an opportunity to reconnect with this fundamental aspect of human existence. People are removed from the mass consumption market economy and instead are able to do things just for the sheer hell of it. They are given the space to learn and to create, to try new things and see how they go, independent of metrics, key performance indicators or a bonus. As they enter into the world of art and imagination, they can devise and test new ideas and evolve to a higher vision of themselves.

Play here has a sense of immediacy. It allows people to get into what psychologists have called a ‘flow’ state, in which people become lost in the moment, and ideas just keep coming. Here, ideas become decommodified – they aren’t there to serve the needs of the market, but instead are there to serve our own growth and evolution. Play also provides us with an opportunity to gift our talents and interests to others and to be inclusive as we invite others to play and learn with us. As Heller writes:

… the pilgrimage to Black Rock City appears to increase a person’s psycho-cultural toolkit. Many of the lessons people learn are related to play. People learn new play practices and try to play more often. People try to find more meaning and creativity in their work — paid and unpaid. People try to create a sense of belonging and community wherever they go. And most importantly a person is likely to have experiences at Burning Man that increase their capacity to experience an intense mood of play in public. In this mood a person becomes more capable of imagining different possibilities and trying them out. People often become better at adapting to unpredictability and to new environments. At the same time this playful pilgrimage involves major costs and various risks. These lessons were learned in an extremely accepting cultural context situated in a brutally unforgiving desert. These lessons can make a person more resilient, better adapted to the precariousness of a market system and an unforeseeable future that is likely to involve major climatic changes

And, thus, ‘play’ becomes our second Incursion.

Self-actualisation

One of the key contributors to the ways in which the modern economy has developed is Frederick Winslow Taylor.  More specifically, Taylor (and a few of his colleagues) was one of the major contributors to a system known as ‘scientific management’. It is pretty hard to overstate how influential the principles of scientific management have been to the ways in which modern organisations are structured. It is well beyond the scope of this document to analyse scientific management and the ways in which it supports the accumulation of capital. I will just say glibly that it really does.

One of the underlying principles of scientific management was the need to extract the most value from the individual worker. One of the key concerns during Taylor’s era (late-1800s and early-1900s) was efficiency – how to extract the maximum amount of output from the least input. While this was a relatively easy proposition for material resources (wood, iron ore, textiles, etc.), it was much harder to apply for the worker. Taylor felt that, if workers could be made to work more efficiently, then even more value could be extracted from production processes. As part of this, Taylor thought very deeply about how this could occur. One aspect of this, of his approach to scientific management, was allocating the right person to the right job. So, a person with great physical strength would be allocated a job that requires a lot of heavy lifting. A person who was sociable might be placed in a role that required them to deal with customers. And so on.

Today, we take this approach for granted. However, back then it was a revolutionary idea. At the time, people were allocated to jobs on more of a ‘rule of thumb’ basis – there was no systematic allocation of staff. This made sense. However, over the last few decades, this idea has been commodified. That is, wealth, power, fame, prestige have become attached to specific jobs and roles. As a result, modern discourses say that, to be successful, to be worthy, you should aspire to those jobs. Typically (though not always), these are the professions – accountants, lawyers, doctors, etc. ‘Becoming’ a lawyer, for instance, is hard and competitive, not because of the inherent value of the job or its worth to society, but because these roles have been commodified. And so, instead of people pursuing their interests and passions, they pursue jobs and careers that are ‘safe’ or that will provide them with the trappings of capital.

This state-of-affairs prevents people from achieving whatever it is they actually want to do with their life. It prevents them from achieving a higher vision of themselves. As people pursue careers and jobs, rather than passions and interests, they divert their limited time and energy away from where it really lies. In this sense, our current systems deny people their opportunity to self-actualise. They prevent people from achieving autonomy, mastery, and authenticity. Instead, people are placed in a ‘slot’, a position in the organisational hierarchy, instead of realising their true potential. Of course, this does not automatically rule out people from occupying these roles (doctor, lawyer, etc.). Indeed, there are a great many people who are intensely passionate and really great at the kinds of demands that are placed on these noble professions. At the same time, there are a great many people who are undeniably dissatisfied with what should otherwise be a rewarding and meaningful vocation.

Burner culture can provide a counter to this condition. As discussed in the previous section, the Burn creates an environment in which people can experiment, follow their interests, and learn how to be better at whatever it is they want to do, completely unfettered by the typical constraints that are placed on us in modern organisations. Work becomes play. Self-actualisation becomes a manifestation of self-expression as we come to the Burn in the fullness of our being. We gift our talents to the community, and we don’t expect anything in return, but instead know that we will be re-payed somehow. And to do so, we must be radically self-reliant. We must understand that experimentation and self-actualisation has its risks to ourselves and others, and so we need to consider these as we evolve. For these reasons, self-actualisation becomes the third Incursion.

Wisdom

To understand the role of wisdom in the Burnerverse, we must first separate it from the notion of knowledge. Though these concepts are related, they are actually quite different. Knowledge refers to the accumulation of facts, data, and information as well as the ability to consider cause-and-effect relationships. It helps us predict, control, and provide explanations for things we encounter in the world. It is generally the product of scientific endeavour, and tends to be more instrumental or ‘rationalist’. On the other hand, wisdom operates at a deeper or more encompassing level. While it automatically incorporates knowledge, it also introduces ‘fuzzier’ or more subjective concepts like ethics, emotion, and judgement. It considers the effect that the pure application of knowledge might have on other people or a society as a whole. It is gained through experience, trial-and-error, and ‘paying your dues’, rather than mere technical proficiency. Wisdom is compassionate, kind, and empathetic. It acknowledges that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

In our modern capitalist system, we have focused on knowledge as the key to our material future. We talk about the ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘knowledge management’. Data is seen as the ‘new’ oil, with calls for data to be seen as labour. Our universities are no longer seen as places to produce wise and engaged citizens, but instead they are designed to turn people into products. Our education systems have been marketised, again, to serve the interests of capital. Policy-making often turns on the evidence, as incomplete as it might be. This focus on knowledge as a material good has contributed to a loss of wisdom.

Moreover, the modern capitalist state has, at its core, a pursuit of self-interest. This removes individuals from their place in, and relationship with, a wider community. It divorces them from their local environment and encourages them to ignore the greater good in place of their own needs. Self-interest gives way to selfishness. It is childish and unhelpful and, to a large degree, a contributor to some of the grand challenges we face today. Relating this directly to a commodified form of knowledge means that we pursue knowledge only to the extent that we can get paid, not for its own sake. As part of this, we seek the quickest way forward, as that is what the market demands. However, by doing so we automatically exclude the getting of wisdom, which can only happen through experience, humanity, our relations with other people, and deep reflection in line with our ethics and morals. This cannot be bought or taught, but can only occur through lived experience.

Burner culture can make a contribution to reinscribing wisdom in society. The first, and most obvious, of these is leave no trace. By ‘leaving no trace’ we can show respect for our environment. However, ‘leaving no trace’ requires more than picking up your trash. It means considering your entire environmental impact as a result of the Burn – the carbon emissions that your car produces, and the embedded energy in the water, the trash that you take home with you. Wisdom and immediacy are closely related as well. As we participate in our society and respect the environment around us, we learn to appreciate that we are one piece of a larger whole, and we begin to respect and work within that whole.

And so, the notion of ‘wisdom’ becomes our final Incursion. By making decisions based on wisdom, rather than ‘brute knowledge’, we can more fulsomely enact the 10 Principles. At the same time, this Incursion provides us with an opportunity to push the movement in new directions. More specifically, it provides us with an opening to incorporate Indigenous wisdom into the culture. This is deeper than a ‘Welcome to Country’, Indigenous liaison officer or reconciliation action plan (as is the custom in Australia). These are all vital, but they are not enough. Rather, we must inscribe Indigenous ways of knowing into the way we make decisions, the way we structure our organisations, and the issues we choose to focus on – a point I return to in the final section.

 

HOW

If the 10 Principles are the cause, then the 4 Incursions are the effect. That is, in my view, combining the Principles in different ways produces the 4 Incursions. Of course, there are probably different effects of combining the Principles. However, these 4 have been chosen as they are part of what the world needs right now, and they are what Burns do well. They are our contribution to addressing some of the enormous social challenges that humanity faces. But to do so, they first need to help shape our social systems and structures.

The purpose of this section, then, is to outline how we might use the 4 Incursions to structure our organisations. The section does not incorporate the 10 Principles, primarily because, as I say above, the 4 Incursions represent a synthesis of the different Principles. In other words, by focusing on the Incursions, we automatically adopt the Principles.

To complete this task, the section draws heavily on the work of Dee Hock. More specifically, it focuses on his notion of a chaordic system. As I will outline below, a chaordic system is something that sits between chaos and order. Too much chaos, and the system collapses. Too much order stifles creativity and imagination. What is needed is for Burners to ‘walk the chaordic path’, and to do so in ways that align with the Incursions. How to do so is the focus of this section. Importantly, the section does not provide an answer to the question of ‘how should we organise?’. Rather, it provides a toolkit to allow individual Burns to do that for themselves, in recognition that the particular structure adopted should serve the needs and purposes of the local context.

What is ‘chaorder’?

The development of the concept of chaordic systems is based on a recognition that traditional command-and-control, top-down hierarchies are ill equipped to deal with the complex challenges of today. Organisations are continually faced with intractable and so-called ‘wicked’ problems, in which there is no real solution. As part of this, the condition of leadership is one of uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. To address these issues, chaordic systems theory argues that we need to completely redesign our organisational structures. Chaorder offers us one approach to doing this.

As mentioned above, chaorder sits somewhere between chaos and order. It is not a balance or synthesis of the two concepts, but is instead its own ‘space’. A diagram might be helpful here.

(Source: http://aositoronto.weebly.com/the-chaordic-path.html)

At the extreme ends of this diagram are, respectively, ‘chamos’ and ‘control’ – the former being a system of total chaos that is completely unmanageable, while the latter produces systems that are too rigid and brittle to innovate. At the same time, we don’t want to completely remove chaos and order. Chaos is needed to allow for creativity and new ideas. Order is needed to ensure that things get done in the ‘right’ way, and at the ‘right’ time. We want enough order just to frame things, and enough chaos to push things in a new direction. This requires the adoption of tools, processes, and decision-making models that can walk the line between chaos and order.

Walking the chaordic path

So how do we do this? How do we design out organisational structures that allow for just the right amount of chaos, and the right amount of chaos? In other words, how do we ‘walk the chaordic path’? The answer to this question is going to be slightly different depending on the task at hand – whether it is running a meeting, designing a project, or structuring an organisation. However, the  ‘chaordic stepping stones’ provide us with a series of questions to ask as we are doing this work. The basic approach is as follows[1]:

  • Need: Why is this organisation needed right now? What are the challenges and opportunities we are facing? What do we need this organisation to do?
  • Purpose: What could this organisation produce? What could it inspire? What question will drive our work?
  • Principles: How do/should people work together? What are the criteria through which we will judge acceptable conduct?
  • People: Who is not in the room that should be? What relationships are necessary to allow us to achieve what we want? Who might be interested in the work we are doing?
  • Concept: What are the different structures that are available to us? Which of those are going to be most conducive to our work? How might we embed our principles at all levels of the organisation?
  • Limiting beliefs: What are we afraid of? What will it take for us to work in new and unfamiliar ways? What do you need to feel supported in this new endeavour?
  • Structure: What resources do we have to fulfil our vision? What is the simplest structure that can support our work? How should power be distributed in the system?
  • Practices: What day-to-day behaviours should we adopt in our work together? How much commitment are we willing to give to make it work? What documentation and processes do we need?
  • Harvest: How will we document and capture the work we are doing? How will that be shared with others? How do we design feedback loops that support growth and evolution?

Of course, these are not the only questions that should be asked. However, they are enough to give you a sense of how to design organisational structures that are adaptive and creative, but still allow the right things to happen at the right time.

The other tool that is available is what has been called a ‘breath pattern’. At the start of each endeavour, meeting, task or inquiry, the tendency is to rush to a solution (to ‘converge’). However, chaordic thinking encourages us to resist this challenge and to hold ourselves in uncomfortable spaces for long enough to allow for true creativity to emerge, but not for so long that the task gets overwhelming. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a process or task should last forever. The trick is knowing how long to ‘hold’ that space before chamos emerges, or before people resort to control as a way of exercising power.

As illustrated below, there are three components to the breath: diverge, emerge, converge.

  • Divergent thinking is what we do as we launch a new task, whatever that happens to be. It is the space of critique and the initial case for change. It is a place for questioning and is what gets things moving.
  • From there, we need to ‘sit’ in the emergent space. The tools and conversations here encourage us to sit with uncomfortable thoughts and complex emotions for enough time to allow for new ideas to emerge. This is often called the ‘groan zone’, or the ‘grown zone’. It is a space through which we can reach a higher vision of what is possible.
  • Finally, we move to converge. This is the time when we accept that the work has been done to a sufficient degree. We have developed new ideas and new concepts, we have come up with new solutions. Though they may not be perfect, they are good enough. As a result, we close off this task and move on to the next.

This process is illustrated as follows:

Depending on the complexity and uncertainty of the task, this process can be run in an hour, a day, a weekend, or for months. Importantly, this process is most useful for complex, ambiguous or uncertain tasks – ideally things that are important but not urgent. It may not be as helpful or useful when outputs and parameters are well-known or routine.

Chaorder and the Incursions

So, how do these thoughts relate to the 10 Principles and/or the 4 Incursions? How do we combine these concepts with chaordic (chaos & order) thinking as a way of underscoring and shaping our organisations and structures?

The first assertion I will make is that we should focus on the Incursions, rather than the Principles, in designing our organisations. This is for three reasons. First, and as I state above, the Incursions represent a synthesis of the 10 Principles, and so by drawing on the Incursions we are automatically drawing on the Principles. Second, the Incursions are simpler, and thus represent a more parsimonious framework than the Principles. Finally, the Incursions, as a hypothesised effect of the 10 Principles, are evaluative – they give us a framework through which we can test the extent to which an organisation is living up to the ideals of Burning Man, and to make changes and adjustments as necessary. As a result, the 4 Incursions should serve as the underlying basis of organisational design in the Burnerverse. Synthesising the Incursions with the chaordic stepping stones provides us with the framework to do that.

The first point to make here is that the Incursions, combined with the discussion in the previous section, go some way to addressing several of the stepping stones. They give us a clear statement of the need, purpose and principles. From there, it is necessary to use the Incursions as a guide for the remaining stepping stones. This means that we need to use the incursions generate new questions to drive thinking and problem-solving. Some example questions that we may ask based on the Incursions are:

  • What connections in our organisation should there be? What connections are missing?
  • What structures do we need to create a safe space to play?
  • How do we overcome beliefs that prevent people from actualising themselves in our organisations?
  • What decision-making framework and processes do we need to ensure we make wise decisions?

Of course, there are many, many other questions that can (and, indeed, should) be asked when designing a chaordic organisation that embeds the 4 Incursions. These will need to be combined in new and interesting ways, depending on the task at hand. To assist with this, a matrix (as provided in Appendix 1) might be helpful.

 

WHERE

[TO BE ADDED...]

 

 

APPENDIX 1: EXAMPLE QUESTION MATRIX

 

 

STEPPING STONE

INCURSION

People

Concept

Limiting Beliefs

Structure

Practices

Harvest

Play

 

 

 

What structures do we need to create a safe space to play?

 

 

Wisdom

 

 

 

 

What decision-making framework and processes do we need to ensure we make wise decisions?

 

Self-actualisation

 

 

How do we overcome beliefs that prevent people from actualising themselves in our organisations?

 

 

 

Social capital

What connections in our organisation should there be? What connections are missing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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