Last week, Marian Goodell joined THNK’s current cohort - Class 12 - for a Forum dialogue on the theme of community and cohesive decentralization. Many readers won’t have heard of Marian; she’s not a celebrity per se and you won’t find much about her online. Yet she is arguably one of the most successful community cultivators of the last three decades. She is the CEO behind the ever-growing cultural phenomena that is Burning Man—a cohesive global community that organizes around ten principles.
What began 30 years ago as a few friends gathered together on a beach in California now attracts over 75,000 community members to the Black Rock desert each August. But for those who are working with communities worldwide, what is most remarkable about Burning Man is not the scope of its flagship event, but its Regional Network— a full annual calendar of decentralized, volunteer, and community-driven gatherings worldwide. Examples include ‘AfrikaBurn’ and Israel’s ‘Midburn’, annually convening 11,000 and 8,000 members, respectively.
At THNK we often refer to ‘leading from behind’ - an essential 21st century mindset for those building resilient organizations. But what does this really mean in practice? As a starting point, letting go. In her leadership role, Marian learned early on that stepping back from top-down control was a powerful approach to scaling Burning Man; she knew its logo and ‘brand’ were not actually its most powerful assets, but that its potential lay in community and everything the members wanted to bring to life.
“Truly creative endeavors are actually very productive,” says Marian, who believes that Burning Man gatherings allows people to connect more authentically. “Human interaction mediated by the Burning Man principles is what draws people together. The brand is the experience,” she says.