From Burning Man to Wall Street: Celebrating crossroads at Feast

From Burning Man to Wall Street: Celebrating crossroads at Feast

It’s not quite right to call The Feast a conference, though it does bring together a bunch of like-minded people to talk shop in a conference-like way. Here’s what’s unique, other than the gigantic supper party: it’s not selling anything, except for imagination. There is no mandate, no contrivance. Only bold roads and the yet bolder men and women building them.


“We envision a world in which people love the work they do, in which people thrive in the face of change, and in which people live well and are well,” they say. And that’s the starting point. That’s where the conversation begins.


This October in Brooklyn, NYC, I joined in because I’m interested in new angles on social impact. In my work with THNK, I travel in the same mandate circles—organizationally, we’re all about expanding potential. I thought, what better place to connect with other people who work to ignite change?


In connected roundtables, thematic streams, and workshops, Feast NYC calls up voices that add fire to topics that matter right now. This year’s conference was no exception.


I returned back to Vancouver with a lion’s share of tasks to complete as we get ready to launch into our first session, but my mind is still spinning with everything I heard in New York. Hence the tumbling-out nature of this recap—it’s how it all unfolded, really—an exciting swirl of new ideas and moments presented by fascinating people who got every last neuron in the room firing.


1. Harley Dubios, co-founder of Burning Man, says it’s about time that we all get radical in ways that are bigger than Black Rock Desert.


When Harley Dubois spoke at Feast NYC, she touched on everything from city design (of which Burning Man is an ongoing experiment, after all) to primal connection. She shared ten principles for ‘quicker’ conversation—ways to traverse new ground and listen for understanding. She sees self-expression, inclusion, gifting, and self-reliance as non-negotiable radical acts.


“We live in a world of exclusion, so welcome the stranger,” she says. “If you take the time, what you get is a whole picture of what has never occurred to you.” With decommodification comes more altruistic feelings, and through intense experiences, you feel out your boundaries and learn how to get past them. These are lessons on how to host a party of 65,000 people—but even more, on how to host an entirely new way of living. Maybe both.


Months later, during the European Leadership Summit (in February 2015), Burning Man visited THNK in Amsterdam. Read their blog post here. 

2. Ben Huh of I Can Has Cheezburger counts every last chaotic minute and says you should, too.


“If you believe like your life is endless then you will waste time,” says Ben Huh. “Only those who live forever act like there's time to waste.” Working back from an assumed lifespan, Huh shared his estimates of the exact number of books (962), dinners with his wife (8,336), and full moons (596) he’s got left on this earth—the premise being, if we all knew the date of our own demise, we’d make more of what remains.


Huh sees our inability to savour each day as a problem with language—when it comes to achievement, we should see work as aspiration, not a task. Think of how progress happens—like elements of chaos that maintain their chaotic nature while also working well together. Progress, says Huh, should not be sparked by money as it often is in our modern, developed society. Whether you start with a larger or smaller pool of cash, we’ve already lost if we repeat things that are already expected in our social context.


Change progresses like this: at first, you doubt and resist. We see this in all the facets of our inner monologue—maybe I’m not who I think I am. And the same goes for how we perceive problems. Let the chaos begin.


3. Jessica Lawrence on human-centred well-being as a revolutionary act.


Writer and speaker Jessica Lawrence is the Executive Director of NY Tech Meetup, a Seth Godin FeMBA grad, and a blogger for Harvard Business Review. She states the obvious—this isn’t our grandparents’ assembly line, and we need to rethink our skills as well as our economy to flourish. She says that to do this, we need to improve our problem solving (naturally), our technology skills (of course), and our well-being (?!!?). It’s a human-centred revolution, and it’s what the future will require.


“The people who build solutions have to be just as diverse as the people using them; we need to nurture design thinking early in life so that we’re cultivated to design everything—institutions, things, services, solutions—for humans, by humans.”


To build a new and better economy, the very well-connected, executive-type Lawrence calls on the same radical resilience that the dreamers at Burning Man espouse. This is what made us smile at Feast NYC.


Everything I heard and participated in at the Feast felt akin to THNK’s own stomping ground: rethinking the future of industry and work, resilience, health, and well-being. You walk away from an event like this thinking differently, and acting accordingly.


To the people who made it happen, there's no better compliment.