Dangercast #12 – Leadership in Gangplank

Jade Meskill, Derek Neighbors, Trish Gillam, and Chris ‘Dragon’ Lee discuss how leadership works in Gangplank.



Jade Meskill:  Hello and welcome to the “Dangercast.” We are going to talk about the culture and design of Gangplank. I’m Jade Meskill.

Derek Neighbors:  I’m Derek Neighbors.

Trish Gillam:  I’m Trish Gillam.

Chris Lee:  And I’m Chris Lee.

Jade:  Today, we are going to talk about, what does it mean to be a leader inside of Gangplank?

Derek:  Inside of Gangplank, what does it take to be a leader?

Jade:  What does it mean?

Derek:  Oh, what does it mean?

Jade:  Yeah.

Derek:  I just say that what is takes would be too stupid that you are a leader.


Jade:  No, no. We don’t want to talk about that.

Derek:  What does it mean to be a leader? It means that you are inspiring and motivating and modeling and showing the way for other people. It’s equal parts doing and inspiration.

Jade:  How’s that different than being a leader somewhere else?

Derek:  Leader somewhere else ‑‑ usually it’s you adopted the title Leader because somebody gave you the title of leader.

Chris:  Here, you just work to make things happen. Nobody’s necessarily telling you what to do or giving you the authority to go do something. You just step up and start doing stuff and start making things happen.

Derek:  I’d say outside Gangplank, the way leadership tends to work, or that I see it in most organizations, is somebody is given the title of leader. Usually that title of leader is manager, director, vice‑president, president, CEO, you name whatever title you want to put behind that.

Two things are extended via that title. One is authority. You have the authority to do something, usually over other people. You have the authority over other people and resources to do things. If we don’t get results, it’s your fault. You get accountability.

What happens is that those that report to “said leaders,” view it exactly as that. You get to lord over me, so I have no stake and no ownership in the outcome that is to be. If anything goes wrong, it’s your fault.

Jade:  That’s positional authority.

Derek:  Positional authority.

Jade:  We’ve used the term “leaderless organization” quite a bit. I think that causes some confusion, so maybe reconcile that idea with what we’re talking about. Chris said there’s no positional authority at Gangplank. We’ve talked about that idea of being a leaderless organization. How does that actually work in practice?

Derek:  A lot of people when they think when you say “leaderless organization,” they immediately jump to, “Oh man, it’s just 100 percent chaos. Nobody’s in charge. Nothing will get done. How do you resolve any dispute? How does anything happen because there’s nobody that is ‘in charge'”?

“Who do you go to when the shit hits the fan,” is what people immediately tend to think. When people say leaderless or organization or we talk about it maybe in Gangplank at times, I don’t think we say as much anymore because of the problems that it causes.

We really say that there’s no appointed leadership. There’s no institutional authority. It’s the people that rise to the occasion. There’s still leaders, but they’re leaders because they’ve gained the influence by either what they’re doing, what they’re inspiring, or through some form of integrity. The leaders exist.

I would expect if you walk into most Gangplanks and you said, “Hey, how do I get this done”? Or “Who’s in charge of this”? There’s some idea of somebody who you might talk to, even though that person isn’t necessarily the anointed leader of something.

Chris:  That’s definitely a good example. When people come in and they ask about how they do something, there are definitely the people that we point to based on what they’re interested in participating in.

It’s not something where somebody said, “Hey, you’re the guy to go do this,” but just through their actions over time they’ve just shown that they can help with things and make things happen. Then we point people in those folks’ direction, depending on what they’re looking to participate in.

Jade:  It’s a meritocracy?

Derek:  Yeah, that’s a good way. We used to call it “showupocracy” which I think there’s a lot of value in that, but sometimes people can just show up and not actually provide guidance, cannot provide actually doing things.

Then you have an entitlement problem, which we’ve seen as well where, “Hey, I’ve been around here a long time, and I show up every day, therefore I should have final say and authority in absolutely everything because I’m the oldest turd in the room.” That’s really great, but what have you done for us lately?

Jade:  I think when that phrase originally was used, the idea of showing up and doing were one and the same.

Derek:  Yes.

Trish:  I think it’s the difference between taking initiative and the turfer ownership. Sometimes people come in and they try and claim that because they’ve been involved with some initiative or some area, but it’s theirs and everyone must get permission from them. We really go towards to whoever takes the initiative.

Also, it doesn’t really matter what title people have given you, if you’re not actually taking initiative, no one really looks at you as the leader.

Derek:  That’s an interesting thing that I definitely have seen over the last five, six years, whatever. There is a pattern of people that tend to want to come and participate in Gangplank. You can substitute the word Gangplank for community.

People that come into community generally want one of two things. They either want authority, “I want to be the whatever leader.” “I want to be in charge of this.” “I want this thing.” What they’re really saying is, “I want to be given institutional authority over people and things.”

Now, it might be a scope of things. “I don’t want to be the president of whatever this community is,” but “I want to be in charge of this aspect of the community. Please anoint me and give me that title, so that people are forced to do what I say and I’m entitled to certain resources that are available to me.”

The other thing I tend to see is that people want possessiveness of some kind. They come in and they either want the authority portion of it, or they want some form of possession.

Jade:  Exclusive domain over something?

Derek:  I would almost call it power, maybe even it is reverence from other people. I want people to have to respect my authority, because I am the thing. What we have found is that when people come in and do that, and you give them any form of leadership, it always, always ends poorly.

It either ends poorly because they don’t have the best interest of whatever they’re trying to lead, it’s really all about them. Or they tend to fall down very quickly because the minute that something starts to grow, and I think you see this in community when community really blossoms, it’s like that hockey stick growth in a start‑up.

It explodes so fast when it explodes, that if you do anything to contain it, you actually kill it instead of really letting it go. When you get those type of people, what happens is, community starts to build itself and that person is trying to wrangle, “But, I’m the boss, I’m the boss, I’m the boss. Why are you doing the podcasting? You didn’t check it out. You have to go through my process before you can use that resource, because I’m the podcast manager.”

You get all of this weird possessivy crap that starts to happen that turns people off. That’s one of the big differences between traditional community and an organization that’s a company. People that show up to company show up for a paycheck. They’ll tolerate a whole lot of shitty leadership in exchange for a paycheck.

When people come into a community and they’re not getting paid, they tend to tolerate a whole lot less of that kind of behavior before they’ll leave, or before they’ll say, “Yeah, I’m just not getting engaged. I’m not going to give you 100 percent of the best me that I’m interested in because of that.”

Jade:  How have we dealt with that problem?

Derek:  We suck at dealing with that problem.

Jade:  How should deal with that problem?


Derek:  Some of it is we have to get better at teaching people how to be good leaders. What I mean by that is, the world’s model currently of leadership is much more of an organizational, positional title of authority role. That is the status quo when you look at most leadership programs, even if they say, “We’re about servant leadership.”

At the end of the day, what they’re really trying to do is teach you ways to manage people. In Gangplank, it’s how do we teach people how to get the best out of people, not manage people. How do you inspire people to do really great things? How do you teach them the skills to be able to be more effective at what they do?

Jade:  I think one of the big things that we’ve done is, I used to call it “picking winners.” We were doing a lot of assigning people roles and authority and we’ve really put a stop to that. While that causes a bunch of chaos in the short term, the long term benefits far outweigh having some of that certainty of having this person in charge. We used to do that a lot. You were in charge of this initiative and we would ask people to take ownership of it.

Derek:  People were like children they begged. They begged us for a title. “Can I please”? And then we got stupid and we were like people are begging for it, maybe these, some of these initiatives that we have that we don’t have anybody to be dumb enough to be leaders for, maybe we could sucker them into being leaders, by giving them a title.

Then we found out, oh my God, they turned into these possessive ass holes the minute you give them a title. Maybe this is a bad thing but that is another pattern that I see or another thing that is very difficult about this type of leadership style and I am seeing it in organizations that are for‑profit businesses trying to go to a much more organic, self motivated…

Jade:  Autonomous.

Derek:  …autonomous type of things. What happens when nobody is motivated to do the thing that I think is really important so if we allow, OK here are these 10 initiatives, or these 7 initiatives, or these 3 initiatives, or this one big thing, or one big program and it’s necessary to be successful in a community and be a Gangplank.

We need people to step into that and you hear the crickets strip, and nobody steps into that, what do you do? Like, I know we did, we panicked and said, oh God we have got to get sucker somebody in to paint the fence like Tom Sawyer here and anoint them with, “You are in charge of this thing.” We used to do the thing of “Hey Chris, you are going to be in charge of whatever it is. Nobody will take, until you can find somebody else to be in charge of it.”


Derek:  And it solved some short‑term problems but it created all sorts of long‑term pain. Because either Chris really wasn’t interested in it or wasn’t interested in Gangplank. He wasn’t doing anything for it anyways. So we had this false sense of somebody was taking care of it and it wasn’t or if he didn’t and he did it than he got drunk with the power of “ho ho ho or moo ha ha, I am now the overlord Czar of this thing and I started to do all sorts of…”

Jade:  And he rules the calendar with the iron fist.

Derek:  Yeah.


Derek:  He could do all sorts of stupid stuff…


Derek:  …so I think, it’s a hard thing to do, it’s like, how do you inspire people to fill the holes that our organization has?

Jade:  What are some of the challenges that you guys have seen?

Trish:  I think one of the challenges, I mean it’s scary to be a leader. That trade‑off when you have managers that you have agreed to put up with your crap because they deal with the blame.

Jade:  I think it is really scared to choose to be that leader. Right?

Trish:  Right.

Jade:  Because it’s your fault.

Trish:  Yeah.

Chris:  I think one of the other challenges is that we still have holes that nobody has stepped up to fill. I remember the old days when people got appointed, we had all the different initiatives and at least had someone in name that was supposed to be working on something.

Since that doesn’t happen anymore, you have some people that are passionate about the initiative that they are working on and they are actively moving it forward, where we have other initiatives that really not much happens because there is nobody driving that. I think some of those things are important at Gangplank still.

Jade:  So how do we fix that problem?

Derek:  Some of it is, we do a poor job articulating why those things are important. It’s the classic kind of why problem, like we don’t say, why those things are so critical to a healthy successful Gangplank. Instead of just seeing it as a ship work, I will never forget like talking to [inaudible 14:23] about little bit about music and saying, ‘Hey, we really could use somebody to step up in this space.”

And at the time his big thing was like “What the hell does that even mean, like music”? Because it wasn’t the musical studios. I start talking about so much more than music. I think he got really interested in it, but then he was like “Yeah, but now it’s too overwhelming. I am not a physical artist and I am not of this and I am not of that and now I feel woefully underqualified to even begin to do that”

And I really think, especially in the instance of Gangplank ‑‑ it’s not just a community, but each one of those initiative is a tiny community within that community. You’ve got the community of a city and then you have got the community of the building and the space and the people within the city and then you have got another little subset inside of that ‑‑ that is an interest, am I interested in health? Am I interested in studios?

The hardest part about being a leader is how do you get followers? How do you build that community and that’s where we have really fallen down. We have not shown people how do you go out and solicit like what you are doing and what your vision is to other people to get them interested and get them to help you go where you want to go.

Chris:  Yeah, I think that’s true but the other thing that you said about letting people know how important some of these initiatives are to Gangplank is key, because you know there are people trying to lead initiatives that can use the help that you just mentioned but we have these other holes that we need to get filled. So I think really focusing on talking about the importance of those roles and functionalities is something like that can be really helpful.

Trish:  Could we do a podcast on each initiative?

Derek:  I think, we already did some of them. I think Gangplank Junior we might not have done, but the rest of it we have done.

Trish:  OK.

Jade:  That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks for listening to the Dangercast. If you have any suggestions or things you would like to hear us cover please email info@gangplankhq.com. Thanks.


Dangercast #11 – Code For America

Jade Meskill, Derek Neighbors, Nicole Neditch, and Luke Norris discuss Code For America.


Jade Meskill:  Hello. Welcome to another episode of the “Dangercast.” We’ll talk about the culture and design of Gangplank. I’m Jade Meskill.

Derek Neighbors:  I’m Derek Neighbors.

Nicole Neditch:  I’m Nicole Neditch.

Luke Norris:  And Luke Norris.

Jade:  We have Nicole and Luke here from Code for America. Tell us a little bit about what Code for America is about and then we’ll get into some of the other things we want to talk about.

Luke:  Yeah, sure. Code for America is a non‑profit start‑up based in San Francisco, California. We have the notion, that not only coding across America takes place just in San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago, but it’s actually’s happening around the US and around the world now.

We aim to help cities better leverage technology, become more innovative in the way that they respond to the needs of citizens, use technology and engage with citizens to create a democracy or government that’s for the people, of the people, and most importantly by the people.

Jade:  Awesome. We were talking right before we hit record, about how this ties in well with Gangplank’s Local initiative. On the Dangercast we’ve just started getting into the details of some of the different initiatives that we have.

Derek, you had some interesting thoughts about how those align. Maybe you could share that with the listeners.

Derek:  Yeah, one of the things that Code for America does…we’ve got a local brigade here. We’ve done several hack‑a‑thons. Our Labs program, as well as our Local program, participate in Code for America quite a bit, and the number of initiatives around it.

One of the things that gets lost for people that tend to be more techy in nature is they think that it is solely about code and hacking, but in reality it’s really about changing how we think about how we govern people, and what the governance model looks like.

A large part of that is creating more transparency, in creating better ways to engage. In making it easier for the people to be active in how they’re governed, and how they run their city, and how they create their city.

Which I think completely overlaps with what we’re trying to do with our Local program. Which is really not only those things, but also how do we create attachment to place, how do we do place‑making, and a big part of that is feeling like you’re an active participant in moving your community forward.

So there’s a whole lot of overlap. We certainly tried to get Code for America in Chandler three or four years ago when the program first started, and it just…Things weren’t quite right for that to happen, so we’re super excited to see them do some regional stuff here with some partners.

I’m excited. I’m super excited about what the potential is there. Maybe you guys could tell us a little bit about ‑‑ we’re familiar with it, but I don’t know if all the listeners are, maybe you could tell us a little about Code for America brings in some fellows to work with a city and community partner.

Maybe you could us a bit about like how somebody, how those fellows are chosen. What looks like how many there are and what the relationship is between the city that they go to and what the expectations are/aren’t, and what the goals are around some of that.

Nicole:  Sure. Code for America operates…it’s a competitive program so both cities apply to be a Code for America city and fellows apply to be fellows. We had about 650 applicants this year that were from all over the country and we chose about 30 that are going to go into 10 cities this year.

There are three fellows per city and usually the team of three consists of a designer, a UX designer somebody who is thinking about the user experience. A programmer, somebody who is going to code that experience, and then a project manager or a researcher, something in that type of a role.

Those three fellows that come out ‑‑ they go through a month of training in the month of January and then they come out of each of the cities so Mesa is one of the cities this year and they are going to embed themselves in the cities for the entire month just to do a ton of research and that’s going to go into creating an application that has impact and scale within the community.

Derek:  And so all of the prior work that’s been done by fellows in cities, is that available for other cities to use or how does that work? Is it that then a property of the city or does it go back an open source what does that look like?

Luke:  Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that we’re most interested in and committed to is building an open source environment. And so fundamentally, if you think about the role of cities, whether there are cities with 2 million people or 70,000, fundamentally cities face the same types of problems, in the way that they deliver service to their citizens.

When we go into cities, we build the applications that are in an open source environment that allows for those applications to be re‑deployed in the other communities and so the fellows’ primary objective is to create new piece of technology that impacts some types of problem that exist in the local community that we also know is evident around the other communities in the US.

But while they are there, they have the opportunity to turn back to some of their fellow alumni as well as Code for America to talk about how you can redeploy applications like a Doctor Hydrant or you can leverage other types of technologies that may have spun out into civic start‑ups which is something that we also really promote.

It’s an interesting part of our model and the way we help grow companies that can now become a part of the system of providing new service to government. Getting a piece of this 140 million dollar industry ‑‑ that is just huge for state and local IT spends.

Derek:  It’s really interesting that…I don’t think enough people choose to understand enough about how they’re governed to understand that cities, generally, are just giant companies that provide a number of services.

We tend to think of fire service and police service, that’s pretty easy to translate. It’s like having a plumber come out.

Jade:  It’s very tangible.

Derek:  Right, it’s very tangible. I understand that. I pick up a phone, I call it, somebody comes out, performs some service. I get that. But they don’t necessarily think of zoning, or planning, or code enforcement, or those type of things nearly being as service‑based as other things.

I find it very interesting that we do, Jade and I, both, do a lot of consulting in the start‑up or innovator space in technology. What I really hear you describing is a small start‑up team. You’ve got a designer, you’ve got a developer, and you’ve got a product person of some kind, whether it’s research or management. Whatever you’ve got.

Somebody looking out for the greater thing. You’re trying to attach them to a problem space within a service. How do we improve service delivery of some kind, either whether it be holistic service delivery, or an individual service delivery.

How do we basically create a mini‑startup around that in a short amount of time, and deliver and iterate on it?

To me, the thing that’s exciting is if we can start to get cities to start to believe this way, not only is there an opportunity for the private sector, but I there’s an opportunity for the public sector to start to say, instead of having these monolithic, siloed departments for service delivery, could we instead line up our organization, to say, what problems are we trying to solve?

Can we create these very small teams, maybe it’s not three people, maybe it’s five, people, six people that are focused on how do we best solve that problem. People need to do permitting, maybe we have a permitting team, and it’s their job to integrate technology and problem solving and design and a number of things to say, how do we make that a super easy in our city? How do we make that the best service possible?

So is part of that…what are some of the things you’ve seen developed in previous classes, or previous segments of Code for America in other states? What are some of the biggest successes or lessons learned that you’ve seen come out of that?

Luke:  Maybe I’ll talk a little bit about something that came out of Philadelphia, in part because you touched on some of the opportunity, then Nicole can definitely speak a little bit about what was built in Oakland and San Francisco.

You brought up planning as a function. A lot of really important decisions about cities and the way their built and the infrastructure that goes into those are made at small meetings where they’re at seven o’clock at night in a small room at City Hall, they’re not well publicized. Sometimes the room can’t accommodate more than 10 people, and they’re totally boring.


Luke:  In Philadelphia, which was a fellowship project in 2012, they basically said this is a problem that exists for us and other communities, so how can we fundamentally change the way that citizens interact with these planning decisions?

We looked at that and decided, what if we built something with really basic SMS‑based texting capabilities that overcome some of the issues of the digital divide? What about now asking people for input at the point of service where they’re encountering problems, or maybe where these decisions are actually going to impact.

If you now have this poster on a bus, or you’re at a line in City Hall, if you ask these questions now you can get really good, real time input from the people that are experiencing those problems.

By using just basic texting features ‑‑ and not smartphone enabled or having people go to a website ‑‑ you’re actually getting feedback from people that probably, A, would never have come to that city meeting, but more importantly people that probably would never have had the ability to ever know that they could provide feedback.

That’s a great example. We’ve done some incredible work in Oakland where Nicole actually was the city partner, and also did some really great stuff in San Francisco and San Mateo County this year as well.

Nicole:  In Oakland this year we were looking at access to information and what that looked like. As you touched on, the government provides service but we don’t necessarily always think of it as a service provider in the same way that you would imagine some of the private sector businesses would be.

Part of that is because we’ve got a monopoly on the service that we provide. There’s nobody else that is competing for this service delivery mechanism. So we don’t have anything to gauge ourselves towards except maybe other cities.

Something that was happening in Oakland a year ago when we were starting our Code for America fellowship, we had Occupy Oakland, there was a lot of requests for public information about how things were handled around the Occupy Oakland protests in Oakland. We were seeing a lot of backlash about people not feeling like they were being able to get the information that they needed about how things transpired and how the city was governing the town during this time.

So tons of service requests coming in, tons of public information requests coming in. People wanted copies of all emails over a certain period of time, things like that. The city wasn’t really providing those in a really timely manner.

We were getting a lot of press about how that was happening and it was hard on the city. It was a hard time for the city. So the fellows came in and they saw some of this tension and just this lack of trust between the citizens and the city, that was happening because of all of these that was happening at the time.

So they looked at how do we provide access to information in a more transparent, more easy‑to‑digest way? What they worked on was a public records request tracker basically and so you can submit a public records request. In the past, you submit a public records request, it gets thrown over a wall, you don’t really know where it’s going, who’s seeing it and when it’s going to be responded to.

They created a public view for that so that it was all transparent. So that you could see what requests were made, you can search on those requests, you can see the responses that came from the city. It really helped the city in ways that were great because the city is now able to actually see the different requests that are coming through, also and be able to monitor how it’s doing as a city as well.

In San Francisco we saw another application that was developed that was around food stamps. Basically what they noticed in San Francisco was that a lot of people were falling off food stamps and they didn’t even realize that that was happening until they were in line at the grocery store and they want to go and pay for their food, and they had their kids with them and all of a sudden they were ineligible for service.

They had been getting these letters in the mail but they were these long letters, they were very complicated letters. They were the kinds of things you kind of shove to the side until you have time to deal with.

They took a look at that letter and they thought, “OK, why is this happening? How do we notify people of this before they actually fall out of the system”? So they had started out wanting to make a Web application and then they realized that the people they were trying to target really weren’t using the Internet.

They didn’t really have smartphones and so they created a text message application. It’s a very simple application but it just goes out right before you’re about to fall off food stamps and you get a notification so that you can call and you can make the arrangements and you don’t fall off. It’s a very simple application but it’s going to do a ton for the city of San Francisco. It’s something that can be leveraged across cities.

Derek:  The thing that’s interesting is bringing up something that a lot of technologists forget. Which is, we tend to be the minority not the majority when it comes to our level of access to technology, to smartphones, to high speed Internet, to a number of those things. There are a lot of the services that are provided by cities aren’t available.

These are some of the design hacks or some of the hacks are how we do use older technology or how do we use things that we wouldn’t traditionally think of but can bring kind of that like hacker ethos. Sort of that technical bench to it to provide something that’s existed for a long time but people haven’t thought of it as a way to deliver it.

The other really interesting thing I heard you guys talking about earlier when we’d gone through the process of exploring for Chandler. One of the things that is unique about Code for America is it really requires a community partner as well as a city partner.

So it’s not just enough for a city to step up and say, “Hey, we want some fellows, let’s do this,” but I think that you guys recognize that there is need for community. So maybe you could tell us a little bit about why that decision is made and what some of the expectations are among the community partner side outside of essentially hoping for funding or what not but what is the expectation or why did you decide to include community and how do they fit into that process?

Luke:  Yeah, it’s really multi‑faceted. One of the reasons for that is often times, governments are doing really incredible really innovative things that there is not necessarily a communication channel for the city to share or there is not a lot of visibility into the community. So as we have community partners we have an opportunity to highlight some of the work that is really happening in cities that are making a difference.

The other part of it is we fundamentally want to engage citizens in the process of designing government and more importantly understanding how government can respond to their needs and how they can participate in their share of the economy. And so, as we have community partners we start to build a network of folks that are committed to demonstrating capacity we want to step up to that.

In some cities that we’re working in we have as many as 25 partners that are putting money on the table to say, “Help us bring Code for America to our city.” We are incredible fortunate here in the area to have ASU as the primary supporter of the project and I think that speaks volumes to not only who ASU is and the importance in value that they place on an innovation, but also the incredible access that they have to people, both academic students, community leaders across the region.

When you combine that with a really great forward‑looking, innovative group of folks in government, the success is just too incredible.

Derek:  Yeah, the thing that is interesting, Gangplank plays that role a lot of times for the cities that we are partners with. We see two things happen as we’ve seen a lot of people that tend to have distrust towards cities and so giving them like an intermediary where it’s easy to interface with Gangplank and there is a high level of trust there, then it bridges like a friend of a friend, like we can make the introduction and help get involved there.

But it also comes back the other direction and a lot of times the city ‑‑ they’re not techy enough or they don’t hit the right creative community but they’re OK telling their story to somebody who gets a snail mail water bill, or goes to the library on a regular basis or the senior center, but they’re not so good at the really busy fast‑paced person who like gets all of their consumption through email, or Twitter, or Facebook, or different things and so it’s sometimes nice to be able to submit those things back.

We definitely see a much higher level of engagement in people that participate in Gangplank and that all we’re really doing is rebroadcasting stuff that’s already coming straight out of the PR department or the city staff or what not.

It’s just stuff that they would never ever see because it’s released in a press release that nobody will read, oppose to, a 140‑character tweet with a link to a newspaper article or something somewhere.

I think it’s a great strategy, I mean I love what you guys are doing.

Jade:  We’re going to wrap this up but I am going to ask you a really hard question first before we close. The Gangplank, our core philosophy is that we need a radical transformation of how communities are built and grown and developed and the thing I am curious to hear from you guys is what does it look like when you’ve accomplished what you want to accomplish with Code for America?

How does the world look if that happens?

Luke:  Yeah, that’s definitely a tough question. I think it looks like a totally different environment that we live in, right? Where there’s higher levels of trust between citizens and government that’s driven by transparency and engagement on both sides.

We’re doing a lot of work around, “What are the principles that 21st‑century cities look like”? Those include a lot of things.

They are engaging in technology‑led innovation. They’re creating a culture of innovation. They’re leveraging partnerships both with public and private institutions, but also around multi‑jurisdictional or multi‑municipality type things.

Fundamentally it’s going to change all of the ways that a lot of us think about government, while they’re still providing these core services. I think what it’s going to change is more the attitudinal response that all of us have to government.

I think that the most aspirational role is ‑‑ what if people could love their government as much as they love their iPhone and their Android device?

When you think about that as the aspirational goal, that gets you there.

Jade:  That was an excellent on‑the‑spot response. I like that. All right, that sums it up. Thank you guys so much for coming out and recording with us.

Luke:  Thanks for having us.

Jade:  Yeah. We’ll catch you next time on the Dangercast.


Dangercast #10 – Initiatives

Roy van de Water, Jade Meskill, and Derek Neighbors discuss the Gangplank initiatives.


Jade Meskill:  Hello, welcome to the “Dangercast,” where we talk about the culture and design of “Gangplank.” I am Jade Meskill.

Roy van de Water:  I am Roy van de Water.

Derek Neighbors:  And I’m Derek Neighbors.

Jade:  Today, we wanted to talk about the different initiatives that we have going on around Gangplank. Where should we begin?

Derek:  Maybe we could talk a little bit of what initiatives are. When I look at Gangplank, it started to boil down…What is it that we really need in a community to be successful? And so those became the initiatives.

These are the big broad strokes of ‑‑ these are the thing that a creative community needs to thrive and to grow and to continue to move forward. Those became the initiatives. The general rule of thumb is that anything that happens in Gangplank should align to one or more of the initiatives in Gangplank.

If it doesn’t we have to ask the question “Is it something Gangplank should really be doing or not doing”? Or “Is this something new enough that it needs a new initiative”? We’ve got enough out there, we probably are not going to find too many initiatives we need, they’re going to fall underneath them.

Which is not to be confused with programs. Programs are actual things, whether it be events, whether it be tracks, whether it be different implementations or tactical pieces. Think of as the strategy of Gangplank and programs under initiatives are the tactical implementation of “How do you make that initiative come to life”?


Jade:  I just want to give a simple example.

Roy:  Would the Brownbag be a program and it would fall into the Academy initiative?

Derek:  That’s correct. Something that might happen on a regular basis or be an event or a different structured thing, that happens to be a program. Brownbags are a great example of…Brownbag happens every single week.

The goal of the program is to provide content to people in an informal learning environment that fits within their day. Short bite, onetime thing. You might only come to one a year, you might come to one a week, you might come to one a month.

It falls under the initiative of Gangplank Academy which is really about learning and doing those. The program should align to the initiative that is trying to be achieved in the area.

Jade:  Just like having a podcast studio is a program that belongs under our studio’s initiatives.

Derek:  That’s correct.

Jade:  Let’s list off what initiatives we have at this moment. I’ll read them off. We’ve got Academy, Business, Health, Gangplank Junior, Labs, Studios, and Local.

Roy:  Guessing off that, I’m assuming academies is learning‑based. About self‑betterment in the form of knowledge, like, increasing your own knowledge and skills?

Derek:  If you remember, one of the manifestos items is learning over expertise. One of the things Academy was really designed to do was be two‑fold. One, yes it’s a learning piece, but the second thing it was designed to do is…

Right now, the educational system is kind of defunct in that you don’t have a lot…

Jade:  Just kind of.

Derek:  Yeah. You don’t have a whole lot of practical knowledge happening. It’s a lot of theory. One of the things Academy was trying to do was go out and get people in the real world who do this for their living to get them to come in and to teach other people in short, burstable formats.

So we get a lot of people who would like to learn something new, but they are not willing to sign up for a community college or a university program that’s 25 weeks long, or 20 weeks long, two to three nights a week, or one night a week. But they would gladly come in for a one‑hour session three times in a month, or come in for a single half‑hour session.

That was part of it. But also to get people who have real‑world experience. The second aspect of Academy was that a lot of the educational opportunities that exist are not progressive enough.

Meaning, if a new language, or node JS came out last year, you can’t go find a class on node JS in a community college because it takes on average about five years from the time somebody produces or promotes, creates something, to the time it’s approved. In a really good university, it’s three years.

We know in technology, especially, shit that’s three years old is dead a lot of times.


Roy:  If you’re just now learning the stuff from three years ago…

Derek:  Yeah. If you want a go programming language, you could probably find that in Academy, you’d have a hard time finding that at the major university.

It was also a way to do that. Then there are other things where maybe there are things people like but they’re not things that any university would really do.

Maybe I’m really into geocaching but I don’t know how it works. Somebody wants to give a geocaching workshop to show how geocaching works and go out and do an adventure on it, or do something.

It’s also to help provide those learning opportunities that a traditional institution would not be able to provide you.

Jade:  What about Business?

Derek:  Business, that’s the entrepreneurship one. It’s everything that is involved in supporting business.

When Gangplank came about, it was really a bunch of small business owners that put it together. One of the things that we really felt was we were getting a lot of support from each other. A big part of the business initiative is a mentoring program.

One of the programs inside of the business initiative is mentoring, which provides a number of opportunities to be paired with people who’ve been there and done that, and help support you in moving your business forward.

It also has programs whether it be start‑up weekends, lean start‑up camps, you name it, we use to say, “Hey, I have an idea, how do I take an idea into some form of implementation”? To pitch nights. “Hey, I’ve already got a product, how do I go about seeing how it stacks up to other products”?

Anything that would help you, basically, either start a business, grow a business, evolve a business. It’s everything from, “I have an idea,” and “How do I get moving,” to, “Hey, I’ve got an existing business, how do I grow it, or how do I get to a stage where I can sell it”?

Anything in between is really involved there. Anything about moving a particular business forward, or supporting a business owner would fall under the business initiative.

Jade:  Health is next.

Roy:  This one seems to be all about if Academy is about improving your mental capacity, Health would be about improving your physical self.

Jade:  I think even more so than that it’s the whole person. Your physical, your mental, your emotional. Really taking the whole person into account.

Derek:  Yeah, and it’s a lot about lifestyle. It’s trying to integrate, if you look at the programs around Gangplank Health, they’re generally are things that try to either promote awareness of, hey, maybe I could make some better lifestyle choices. Or they’re things that try to build patterns in you that become native, good, healthy choices.

A great program we have within Gangplank Health is the Gangplank Mile. Where, hey, you’ve got a bunch of people working in a space, sedentary, at a computer all day long, and every day at a certain time somebody gets up and says, “Hey, I’m going on the Gangplank Mile.”

You walk a quick mile, it takes 20 minutes or less. You come back. You got out from underneath your chair. You got to socialize with some other people.

What it’s trying to basically build in is it’s not healthy to sit in a chair for four, to six, to eight hours at a time without getting out and getting there. As part of that, it doesn’t have to be a hard‑core physical work out.

You could go have a good conversation. You could still be doing business, but not be doing it necessarily in your chair or behind a desk. So it’s trying to create those kind of lifestyle awareness pieces.

Everything from eating, to true, hardcore fitness to small lifestyle changes, as well as mental thinking. How do I deal with problem people in my life? How do I deal with…some of those overlap.

We see a lot of times initiatives overlap, where almost every initiative we have ends up having classes that are Academy classes. You get a lot of overlap.

Jade:  Let’s skip over junior, come back to that one at the end, because it’s very different than the rest. Let’s talk about labs. Labs is really looking at the maker movement. Focusing on 3D printing and laser cutters, and Arduino…

Roy:  It’s a lot about making things. I don’t even think it has to be a physical something. Just making.

Derek:  A lot of the computer science stuff that’s in here as well. Which, early on it was really truly maker space, making stuff, but a lot of stuff, then, has started to come in after the fact. Whether it be a book club on how to be a better engineer?

Anything that is around trying to learn how to make things, whether they be digital things or whether they be physical things, the act of actual making is where lab sits. There’s a fairly large science component involved in that as well.

Jade:  Also, had a lot of hacking. Hacking a quad copter, or hacking some different things. Making regular things do things they weren’t necessarily intended to do.

Roy:  I think everybody is capable of coming up with awesome ideas, but everybody is also capable of making them if they are provided with the right support. Ideas have no value unless you execute them.

Derek:  It’s really across the board. Tonight there was a science pub quiz here at Gangplank where a bunch of scientists got together and were having, basically, drinking, having trivia around science quiz ‑‑ a trivial pursuit for science nerds.

It’s embracing science and technology, and making and hacking, and all of those things and really trying to breathe that culture in. It’s about trying to create that hacker ethos within Gangplank, comes out of a labs initiative.

Jade:  Studios is next. Probably one of our most misunderstood initiatives. We started a lot around music, but expanded to really encompass all of the creative arts.

Derek:  Yes, all the studio arts, so whether it be sculpture, whether it be…

Jade:  Painting, photography…

Derek:  Painting, photography. You can probably hear a background noise. There’s an improvisation group literally happening next to the studio. All the giggle and laughter and yelling you hear is an improvisation group doing some improvisation training. It really is every art form. We got comedians that come in, you name it…

Jade:  Writers.

Roy:  Artists.

Derek:  …The podcast studio that we’re doing right here is all part of the studio. We’ve got videographers.

Roy:  [inaudible 11:22] is a makeshift green screen.


Derek:  There’s some argument sometimes between the initiatives, so if I’m a crafter, is that part of Studios or is that part of Labs? Because technically, I’m making something physical because I’m needing but it’s…

Roy:  There’s so much overlapping and so much a selected science that you mentioned earlier. Is that part of Labs or is that part of Academy?

Derek:  Right. So we try not to be so particular, we try to say “Choose a primary channel to put it in.” But ultimately it’s going to probably bleed over and things like Academy and Business tend to cover a lot of them.

If I’m going at making something and now I want to turn it into business is part of that business? If we have a class on how to take your physically made goods and turn into a business on Etsy, the art…Is it a Studios thing? Is it a Lab thing? Is it a Business thing? Or is it an Academy thing? It’s probably all of those things.

Jade:  Part of our ethos is collaboration. Those categories don’t exist to exclude each other, they’re there to help each other out. They are there to reflect…these are the things that we believe need to be happening, around a Gangplank community.

Derek:  When we’re talking about these things, these things all are symbiotic to..they all are required to really change an economy and change a place. That’s what it’s really about, it’s the infrastructure.

The example I just gave “Let’s give a class on how to take your homemade product and sell it and make a living out of it.” If we don’t have the promotion infrastructure for classes that Academy has created, how do you get people to attend that class?

If you don’t have the classroom to teach it in, where do you teach it? It’s the infrastructure that’s created for Academy helps make that happen. But at the same time, if you’ve got a bunch of people making things and wanting to learn “How do I make a business out of it,” now you’ve created an audience to have that particular class.

If you don’t have somebody who’s business savvy, that can say “Hey, this is how you take that” and you don’t have a strong business program, who do you have teach the class? All of these things play well together, so that you can have much more of all the programming happen, because now the programming is not siloed by each one of these things.

We see the problem with so many either co‑working spaces or incubators or initiatives is they’re so siloed, you might find something that’s a really great maker house, but it has gotten no business sense and it’s got no ability to teach classes on it.

It’s got no ability to have experts in health or another area. Or you might see a really great business incubator, but they have no access to actually create physical things or they have no ability to teach. I think one thing we’re trying to say is we really need to be cross‑functional in that.

We really need to be able to say…We need people that are able to do the full stack, so that we can offer programming that nobody else can offer, because they only have access to one or two of those things, not all of those things.

Jade:  We know that innovation happens when those worlds collide.

Derek:  Yes. It goes back to the belief that we really think everybody is born a creator, and while we might create different things, one person might create music, another person might create scientific experiments, somebody else might create a physical good, somebody else might create a business.

Somebody else might create a new workout regimen and somebody else might create a curriculum for somebody. The reality is the process of creating is the same for everybody who creates regardless of what they are creating, and that is our common theme.

Our common theme isn’t what you create, it’s the fact that you go through a process of having to create. And that you can be inspired on…You see this all the time. A musician will watch an artist and get inspired to create new music after watching an artist create something.

Or a programmer can listen to music, or listen or watch the process of a musician creating something and be inspired to bring that back to their programming world or to their physical‑making world. It’s about how do we become muses for each other and some of that.

Jade:  Let’s talk about Local. You’re pretty involved in Local, Derek.

Derek:  To me Local was one that emerged after the fact. It’s that common thread of local pride in place, it’s one of the other big things around Gangplank. It’s why it’s not specifically about the place itself, the place becomes an epicenter, so to speak, of activity that happens to unlock some of this.

How do you create that beyond just the physical space? Gangplank by itself in the ether…It’s a just a small building, it’s not enough to change the community.

It starts to become ‑‑ how do you broadcast out the ethos of Gangplank to a community, as well as how do you take the awesome things that are happening in your community around education, around health, around all the initiatives, how do you start to bring those in or expose people coming through Gangplank that there is already good stuff happening in their community?

How do you help support small business? How do you help support your local library? How do you help support your local Fire and Police Department? How do you help evolve government to be more adaptable…to be dangerous?

It’s equal parts of “How do take be dangerous outside of the walls of Gangplank and outside the Gangplank community into your physical located community”? As well as “How do you take the people who are doing awesome stuff in your local community, and help expose that to the people inside of Gangplank”? It’s like the connective tissue between Gangplank philosophy and the outside world.

Jade:  I know we can do a whole podcast on Junior, so let’s come back to that one in a different podcast. How do people get involved in this initiative? They might be really drawn to one of these particular things…How does somebody go about doing that?

Derek:  Right now it sucks.

Jade:  [laughs] I agree.

Derek:  We don’t do that well. In an ideal world what’s happening is an abundance of programs are happening and all of these initiatives, then when somebody comes into a Gangplank, it’s very easy to discover the programs that they are passionate about.

They are able to partake in those and then they are able to very quickly ask “How can I help with this”? They are given their freedom and empowered instantly to be able to either create new programs that they are passionate about, or help further programs that they are interested in.

The problem right now is, in some of the Gangplanks not all of these initiatives have a lot of programming or very little programming. So people don’t even know they exist.

Or the other problem is, because we’re a non‑hierarchical structure, it’s very difficult that somebody comes in and says, “Hey, I’ve heard of about this, like, studio things. How do I get involved”? If the person doesn’t know right away like, “Hey, this is who you go to talk to about that,” they just get the shoulder shrug off, “I’m not sure,” and it dies on the vines. That’s something that we’re working about, and we’ll probably talk about in a different podcast.

The first part is getting it out, talking about this podcast that all these things exist in…If you want these in your community, if you don’t have a Gangplank, and this stuff sounds appealing to you, like, “This is how you start a Gangplank.”

If you take one of these initiatives, and you say, “This is really awesome, and I want to do that in my community,” and you start doing awesome stuff around it, and you start saying, “The really great thing is we need to be doing all these other things, and I need help because I can’t do all of these initiatives.” In reality, it’s difficult to do a single program really well, much less an initiative well, much less a Gangplank.

Which is the beauty of it, is you have to get to the point where you say, “I can’t do this shit by myself. I want my community to change. I can be a light for that change, but unless I can get other people in my community onboard with me, I can’t do this.” That’s the beauty of it. Once you get people onboard and doing it, it becomes a living organism that is really, really strong.

Jade:  Awesome. Catch us on a future episode, we’ll talk to you a little bit more about Gangplank Junior, and some of the things we were doing to improve the situation. Thanks for listening.


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