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Want greater meaning and happiness? Figure out which desires actually fulfill you.

Entrepreneur | Author of Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life

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Desire Is the Foundation of Business (2:02)

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Understanding Why We Want What We Want (2:09)

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Finding Who We Are Through Story (2:19)

Lavin Exclusive Speaker

There is no innovation without imitation, says Luke Burgis. A serial entrepreneur and author, Burgis shatters the myth that our desires belong entirely to us. Everything we want, do, or create is powerfully influenced by those around us. In his recently released book Wanting, Burgis applies the principles of mimetic theory—the idea that desire is a social construct—to business, offering a unique lens to understand rivalry, conflict, and the collective will of our organizations. By showing us the hidden forces behind why we want things, Burgis helps us to break free from destructive desires, and cultivate the more intentional desires that build a better world.

“This book makes a startling case that many of our goals are merely reflections of what we think others want. It’s a spellbinding read, and it will leave you rethinking your own motivations for months and maybe even years later.”Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and Originals

Luke Burgis has been an investor on Wall Street, an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, and a student studying classical philosophy and theology. His unique path inspired him to contemplate the deeper purpose of entrepreneurship, faith, and human flourishing, forever transforming the way he thinks about business. Today, Burgis is a thought leader in mimetic theory—Rene Girard’s idea that people don’t want things independently and autonomously, but rather through the social fabric of relationships. In his latest book, Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life, Burgis outlines the way that desire is born and shaped, and how business leaders can harness it to affect positive change in their companies and the world. He offers real-world examples from influential people and companies such as PayPal, Google, and Tesla founder Elon Musk. For instance, why did PayPal founder Peter Thiel feel compelled to invest in Facebook? He knew it would thrive because it fueled our deep need to learn from others what to want.

Through these stories, Burgis shows us how imitation has played a far greater role in human affairs than has ever been previously acknowledged. “The one fundamental truth that Girard knew is this—desire is mimetic, or imitative. Our powers of imitation are far greater and pervasive than we ever imagined. The imitation of desire leads us to compete for the same things, which leads to competition, rivalry, and eventually to violence.” Compelling as it is contrarian, Wanting offers us a radical new way of understanding business, politics, education, family, and organizational structures. In addition to Wanting, Burgis co-authored Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person. His work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and America Magazine.

Burgis is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship in Washington, D.C., where he speaks, teaches, and leads efforts to advance a human-centered approach to business. He is the founder and Chairman of the Inscape Center for Personal Vocation, dedicated to helping people discover and live out their unique callings, and regularly consults with corporations to help them build more people-centric cultures and create value through relationships. Burgis is also recognized for his “spiritual entrepreneurship” as the co-founder and CEO of ActivPrayer, a fitness company that provides coaching and training programs based on spiritual principles. He was named one of Business Week’s ‘Top 25 Under 25’ Entrepreneurs for one of his early start-ups. Burgis is a graduate of the Stern School of Business at New York University and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.


Luke weaves a tapestry of personal stories and anecdotes that communicate what matters most in life. From Bob Dylan to Robert Frost to Mother Teresa, he reminds us that at the core, we are moved by persons--not programs or things or the latest technology. Luke motivated all of us to reach outside of ourselves to help others find purpose and meaning.

Snell & Wilmer, L.L.P

In his speaking, Luke combines real world experience in the business world, deep theological thinking, and a clear passion for helping people discover their unique vocations. Using his own fascinating background as an illustration, he inspires others to pursue their personal callings in pursuit of the common good.

American Enterprise Institute

Luke's storytelling ability, presence, and sincerity are exceptional. I've had the opportunity to see Luke in various contexts, and the result is always the same--a truly impactful speaker who is able to communicate wisdom in a highly personal way, even in front of a large audience.

Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship

Luke Burgis brings conviction and power and deep dedication to the craft of public speaking. On several occasions, I've had the privilege of listening to him speak in front of large audiences. Luke’s way is never a memorized "stump speech.” He shapes his remarks to most effectively resonate with the particular group in a highly engaging, even intimate, way--while also challenging them. Luke leaves a strong impression!

SIMA International

Speech Topics

How Great Leaders Shape DesireWanting
There’s a seductive force that leads entrepreneurs to battle for the approval of Shark Tank judges; that makes 1% of books account for 80% of total book sales; and that explains why Facebook is secretly the most violent company on the planet: mimetic, or imitative, desire. In his recently released book Wanting, Luke Burgis shatters the myth that our desires are entirely our own. Instead, he shows us that desire is something social, that humans take their cues from the perception of what others want.
This talk is an eye-opening look at fundamental questions of human desire: Why are most organizations hotbeds of hidden rivalries and envy (and what can we do about it)? Why do we worship innovation and abhor imitation? And how can we thrive in a world where Big Tech companies may know our desires better than we do? Burgis weaves stories about ultramarathoners, Silicon Valley startup culture, and the famous feud between Ferruccio Lamborghini and Enzo Ferrari to show how desire is born, takes shape, and spreads—and why it can lead people toward either conflict or communion. Great leaders understand the dynamics of desire, says Burgis, and they help others direct theirs toward greater meaning and fulfillment in their work by harnessing its power.
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How to Create Human-Centered BusinessesDisruptive Empathy
How can we transform the culture of a business or team—breaking through the humdrum of routine to see each other as unique people? Entrepreneur Luke Burgis points to disruptive empathy as the key. He combines his experience as a three-time startup founder with his training in the humanities to show how making business less transactional and more human actually creates value. Whether it’s the radical hospitality in a monastery, the healing power of storytelling in a Fortune 500 company, or the human-centered approach of a new hospital system, Burgis has a wealth of examples showing us how empathy can unlock new levels of engagement, connection, and success. This talk shows why personal and economic development are intimately linked—and leaves us inspired to find new ways to see our work, connect with our colleagues, and disrupt “business-as-usual” through personal encounter.
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