Dangercast #2 – Community over Agendas

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Roy van de Water, Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, and Greg Taylor discuss the Gangplank Manifesto: Community over Agendas.

Transcript

Jade Meskill:  Welcome to the Dangercast, where we talk about the design and culture of Gangplank. I’m Jade Meskill.

Derek Neighbors:  I’m Derek Neighbors.

Greg Taylor:  Greg Taylor.

Roy van de Water:  And I’m Roy van de Water.

Jade:  For our second episode, we wanted to talk about the next value of the Gangplank manifesto. If you don’t know what the Gangplank manifesto is, go to gangplankmanifesto.com. The second value is “Community over Agendas.” What does that mean to you guys?

Roy:  Maybe having community instead of having meetings. Maybe talking to people instead of keeping a calender.

Jade:  I don’t think we meant those kind of agendas.

[laughter]

Derek:  I think everybody has an agenda in everything they do at some level and at some point. I think that again the values on the left we value more than the things on the right. So it doesn’t mean that the things on the right are necessarily bad or evil or that they’re…

Jade:  No, it’s OK, to have an agenda.

Derek:  I think where we were really getting at here is that there are a lot of hidden agendas. There was a lot of bullshit playing around, really trying to drive things and not being really upfront about them. And I think when Gangplank came around we said, “Let’s do cool shit. Let’s create place, let’s create community, let’s create relationships, and let’s drop all the bullshit”. To me, this is almost like the no bullshit one.

Greg:  The no bullshit fly zone.

Derek:  It’s about people not bullshit. It’s about building community. Here in Arizona, where Gangplank started, we’re fairly young as a state, we’re fairly young as a business. Our economic environment, our economic engine has been a very mono‑culture, touristy, land development mentality.

There were just a ton of agendas around universities. Universities were one of the biggest purveyors of…just trying to drive students in the door, but that’s not how they would sell things. It was so blatantly obvious that it was almost irritating.

People could just read it from a mile away that clearly this event, or this thing, or this meet up is totally about this thing and trying to do this. It’s almost like the guy that says, “Put your business card in the fishbowl, and when you draw it, you get a free lunch.” But when you come to the free lunch with your team, you get pitched on the damn insurance sales thing. It’s a heavy pitch.

If nobody acts interested, the guy is completely pissed off and throws a fit that how dare he just bought 10 of you guys lunch and none of you are interested in his insurance pitch.

When you go, “Well, you said free lunch,” “Oh, go read the bowl in fine print on the last part. It says that, ‘You must sit through my seminar pitch…’”

Greg:  No such thing as a free lunch.

Derek:  Right.

Jade:  [laughs]

Derek:  At the time, almost everything that was happening in the Valley was that stuff where it’s, “Well, if you read the fine print, you would know that this is a total power networking event. If you read the fine print and nobody is doing authentic community building…”

We just want to make our community better. Whatever that community is, whether it was the Ruby community or the Web Developer community or the Design community, nobody was really doing that.

In Refresh Phoenix…Refresh in the [inaudible 03:45] been national movement as well that was started in Arizona. That was one of the first events, that really was trying to be fairly community minded and fairly agenda free. We’re really trying to model all of our events, all of our activities off of the same kind of ethics or ethos.

It doesn’t mean that there will never be an agenda, but it should never be hidden. It should always be upfront. It should really be about the community, even more so than the agenda.

Greg:  Whenever I hear agendas and community together, I always think ownership and power play.

Some of the things…What’s driven me crazy in the Valley for so long is, as much respect as I do have for the people who throw events, everybody wants to own an event.

Everybody wants to take ownership where we have event A down here, we’ll that’s a Phoenix event, and this guy does this. This is a Chandler event, and they do this. This is a Tempe event and they do this.

That all of a sudden, it starts becoming little power struggles among…It’s a divided community, over power. Then what happen is, in my mind, that breaks community.

Jade:  Yeah.

Greg:  There’s clear lines drawn.

Derek:  I met with somebody recently, took me a breakfast, and didn’t know this [?] person, maybe met them one other time. I said, “Hey, I went and met with so and so.”

I don’t what’s going on but when I told him I was meeting you for a breakfast today, he said, “Oh man, we hate Gangplank. In fact, if you’re going to like anything on Gangplank’s Facebook page or if you reach within their Tweets, we won’t retweet or Facebook anything that you do. We’re going to blackball you if you do that.” To me, that’s agenda, right?

Jade:  Right.

Greg:  That’s a power play.

Jade:  How stupid.

Derek:  If this person is truly trying to build start‑up community, independent…I don’t care who they’re working with. To me, it’s…if want to build the ruby community, the start‑up community, the design, the art community, you should support that community fully, no matter what.

That doesn’t mean that when you have an event at your space, or you’re doing things at your space, that you might not say like, “Hey, the reason we’re doing this event in our space is we’re trying to make downtown Chandler have a more vibrant music scene.” Hey, man, that’s an agenda. I fully admit that. But anybody who asks me like, “Hey, why are you having music events at Gangplank in Chandler”? It’s because we’re trying to build a music vibe, and trying to get creators and artists.

But if somebody says like, “Hey, do you know any musicians that would play at my club in downtown Phoenix”? I’d gladly hand over the list of every musician I know, because I want to support that community. I know the only way that I’m going to be effective is if I fully embrace and support that community, regardless of what my…

I think that’s what it’s really about, is putting the communities that you’re supporting above whatever agendas you have. The minute that you stop doing that, you just destroy community, and you destroy what you’re doing. Because communities can see, whether you think it or not, communities are just like little kids. They can see through all your shit. They’ll walk up and be like, “Man, why are you so fat? Why are you drawing your arms?” They’re not dumb, they see the world as it is pretty quickly.

Greg:  One of the things you said, you said, “truly want to build a community.” Well, do they really want to build a community? Or do they just have an agenda for, what’s the end result of the community, what gain will they get as a by‑product?

Jade:  I think that is a lot of what influenced this line in the manifesto, was looking at…People want the direct benefit of doing something, right? At Gangplank we’re all about the indirect benefit. That’s a long play, and it’s really hard to do. I think, Derek, what you’re saying is, really, the hidden agendas break the connectedness.

Derek:  Yes.

Jade:  That’s such an essential component of community. Where if you have a transparent agenda, if you’ re very upfront with, “Hey, we’re trying to do this,” that will only increase the connectedness of the community that actually wants to be part of that, right? It becomes very easy to say, “No, that’s not for me.” Or, “Yes, that’s very much for me.”

Greg:  Honestly, how often is a hidden agenda really hidden? [laughs]

[crosstalk]

Jade:  It’s not. You may think it is, which makes it all the more insulting, right? “Do you think I’m stupid? Now I’m not only mad that you did this to me, but now you think that I’m dumb, and I can’t tell when you have a hidden agenda.”

Roy:  When you have a transparent agenda, the funny thing is, is even when you’re totally selfish in your transparent agenda, oftentimes people will want to help, just for the sake of helping too.

Jade:  Yeah.

Greg:  Transparency goes a long way.

Derek:  I’ve seen a lot of things in Phoenix seem to be location based works, which is funny in and of itself to me in a lot of ways, but I think what happens is, if you’re truly supportive of the community, and you’re really trying to do something for it, good stuff happens regardless of whether your agenda gets met or not. But when you’re totally agenda‑based, what tends to happen is you tend to block good things from happening that are possible.

We’ve seen a lot of stuff come out where it’s, “Hey, we want this thing, and so we put it under the banner of ‘community,’ because we see that that works. If Gangplank does that, and it works, we’re going to use that same thing, but we’ve really got this thing over here.” I’m going to do an incubator, but I’m not going to call it an incubator. It’s, “I support start‑ups, I want to be part of the start‑up community.” What I really want to do is get paid to play around with start‑ups.

Then what happens is when I start to build a community, start to do some stuff around that, at some point when I’m not getting paid and then I have to go away, what happens is I’ve just damaged that entire community, because they thought they were buying into a community. What I was getting them to buy into was, “Figure out a way for me to make money doing this.”

Then when I end up having to go away, which is totally fine, stuff fails and succeeds all the time, then that community’s left grasping, like, “Whoa, how did this happen?” They’re left scrambling. They’ve made all sorts of choices that have alienated them from other people, because they’re following this agenda instead of being part of the community.

I’ve seen this happen really recently with a group that had gone somewhere. They’d come and they’d talked to us and asked for some advice. We said, “Hey, do this, make it all about community.” I thought they did a really fabulous job of going out and building a community around a really niche market that they were into. I think it went really well.

They lost their space, and what’s happened is they’ve got now, this thriving community that’s like, “I want to do this event and this event.” The organizer has no access to space, because there is such an agenda there why there is space available at no cost.

They don’t want to use it, because they’re afraid that, “Hey, this community that I’ve been building for my need. If I go and point them to connect with another community or another resource. My fear is that while I’m getting my shit together, they’re going to leave and abandon me. When I get it back together, I’m not going to be able to get whatever my agenda is.”

In reality, if they were like, “I’m just making it happen, and we’re in charge of helping that community to continue to flourish like they were when they were getting their agenda needs met.” When they got their crap back together, that community would’ve followed them right back.

It’s just so small minded to think that way. It hurts everybody. That community is hurt, is starting to fall apart. When that happens multiple times where you have a number of starts and stops, starts and stops, people get disingenuous and they get disconnected.

The next time something comes up they’re like, “Sorry, I’ve already been there”…

Jade:  …Yep, the early bird.

Derek:  “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I’m not going to put my time into that, because I’ve seen it happen time and time again.” That’s one of my fears with Phoenix is in Arizona in general, is that we tend to do this to ourselves.

If it happens too many times, when really good stuff comes out, people are just like, “I’m sorry. I’m done. I already wasted social capital on something like this before, and I got screwed. It was really all about this agenda and the like. I’m not going to have that happen again.” Or, “I just have no energy left.”

[crosstalk]

Jade:  I’m sorry.

Roy:  I was thinking too, it’s interesting because I feel like a community, like a network value is based on the number of connections between people. If you try to centralize the community around yourself and your agenda, then the number of connections in that community are equal to the number of people. Because it’s all of those people to you.

If you are all rallied around the common cause, then the number of connections was in factorial, because it’s every single person connected to every single other person in the community. All of a sudden, the power of your community grows.

Derek:  The major power that people don’t see is community builders. Is the more you connect people, the more powerful your individual node becomes.

Jade:  Yes.

Derek:  It’s not the more people you make go through your node that makes you powerful, in fact that makes you…It’s almost like a capacitor, that the more electricity that actually comes through you, the more overloaded you become, and the more unsustainable you become. Whereas, the more you connect the wires to other wires that don’t have to go through you, the stronger you become.

I think that is just such a like reverse way of thinking for people that feel like they have to own the connection. In reality it’s like, if you make meaningful connections for people, people remember when you make meaningful connections for them.

Greg:  They just do.

Derek:  They come back to you, time and time again, and they introduce you to more people, and they ask you to connect them to more people. That is one of the things that agenda builders don’t get, that community builders do get is they want to control the network, community builders want to expand the network.

Jade:  What does a healthy community look like? One that…

Derek:  …Never seen one, don’t know.

[laughter]

Jade:  In a fantastical, imaginary world…

Derek:  …Unicorn. Unicorn.

Jade:  What would it look like if you were involved in the community that truly embraced the community itself over the agendas of the individuals, what does that feel like? What does it look like?

Greg:  To me, whenever I look at a community or I want to become a part of a community, the first thing I always do is, I show up. That’s always the most important thing. You show up, and you take part in things. You help one another.

A healthy community is people who can agree to disagree. Agree to move forward with their disagreements. People who aren’t so looking for…I’ll go back to the ownership thing, looking to take credit for ideas. We’re more powerful as a group than as individuals, and that’s just some of the traits that I always look for.

Roy:  I think that a healthy community has a [inaudible 14:46] culture, while it may have diversity in opinions. You can go to any…

Greg:  …and distinction.

Roy:  Right. You can go to any part of that community and culturally it will be the same. It’ll be the same vibe, even though the people may disagree with the other people in the community.

Jade:  They have the same core values, essentially.

Roy:  Right.

Jade:  The personalities involved might be…

Ron:  Right. I think they should be different too.

Greg:  It’s like moving forward with one common goal.

Derek:  Healthy communities have shared vision. They want something that’s the same, whatever that thing is. If I’m a Manchester United fan, I want them to win the Euro Cup. I want them to win the Premier League. Like all the other fans wanting that exact same thing. I want them to sign the biggest, most awesome superstar on the planet…

Roy:  …And you want to ride in the streets.

[laughter]

Derek:  Yeah. There’s kind of shared expectation. The other part of it is that sense of belonging. That you feel accepted. That’s one thing that agendas hurt so bad, because the minute that you are in “agenda” mode, by default, everybody becomes a binary.

Do you fit my agenda or don’t you? When you are in “community” mode, it’s everybody belongs as long as you believe in the vision. I think that is the biggest earns. If you don’t fit the agenda, it doesn’t matter. I’m immediately going to be like, “You’re useless to me.”

Where if you share the vision you’re infinitely valuable to me regardless of all of those other things ‑‑ diversity, whether you’re dissenting, whatever. As long as you believe in the ultimate shared vision, you’re part of the community, you belong.

Greg:  Me personally, when I sense an agenda, my guard goes up.

Jade:  Mm‑hmm.

Derek:  Right

Greg:  I sense no agenda and I sense cool things are happening, my guard goes down. I’m more vulnerable. I’m more apt to throw out ideas. They may stupid, but you can tell me that they’re stupid. I’m not crossing anybody’s agenda where there’s going to be real problems when it comes to that. To me, it’s a “guard up” versus “guard down.”

Jade:  I think that’s a great place to stop because our next topic for next week is, “Participation over Observation.” Thanks for listening to the Dangercast. We’ll catch you next week…

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One thought on “Dangercast #2 – Community over Agendas

  1. I listened to the whole episode. Wonderful discussion. I recommend to move the player location to the top — I struggled to find it, especially on a greyscale color palette. :)

    First off, what’s interesting is that I consider myself a “Gangplanker” even though I don’t appear as often as I want to. I feel like I strongly identify with the ethos of the community – in spirit – and not necessarily by my physical presence. For instance, this is why Chuck Reynolds shouts “Joe Manna” at me when I walk in and razzing me. It’s why I am known to party it up with a couple Four Lokos in hand. It’s why I find myself willing to dedicate my spare time to promoting WordPress events and sharing knowledge with others. It’s because I feel connected to the community. Really.

    Now, when I think about Assemble Arizona, I have felt such resistance, not from you Derek, Jade or Trish; but instead from the Phoenix community at large. The general concept was to develop a digital, location-agnostic community to amplify the efforts happening all around the valley and statewide.

    Within only a matter of weeks, people began taking to heart that the intent of AA was to become a hacker/co-working space. I did my best to clarify and guide people around the mission and the intent, but once word slipped one or two degrees apart, it kind of became unstoppable.

    And when the message and core focus deviated, participation flat-lined and I made the tough, but necessary decision to kill it — whatever ‘it’ was. I didn’t want to, but I didn’t want to fracture what was already amazing about Arizona and Phoenix in particular.

    So, that said, you are spot on with the dichotomy between agendas and community. It is mind-boggling how many people here fly only their colors and fail to support others locally. Look, even if I don’t truly engage or agree with an idea, I am ultimately vested and supportive of its success. When anyone here wins, we all win.

    But here’s why I’m commenting. I can confirm there are numerous hidden agendas and some walls to overcome within the local community. But you’re doing a fantastic job setting the example for others – and being transparent and open about it.

    If there’s one thing that got me down about AA, it’s this. The disappointment. Not just in myself, but in others. Yes, I agree Derek, that when these spaces start and fizzle out, it damages the community. It’s exhausting. Demotivating. Frustrating. And while I burden the preponderance of the responsibility in my attempt, it is also shared by those who complain, criticize and fail to take risks. What’s great though is that I was able to learn, able to connect with some amazing people, think critically and become a resource for others wherever they needed it. And that’s irreplaceable.

    So, here on out, I’m looking ahead. We all need to set our agendas aside, reach across the aisle and support what we have going on here.

    Love the show, the vibe and the topics. Keep it going! :)

    Your friend in Chandler,
    @joemanna

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