Roy van de Water, Clayton Lengel-Zigich, Jade Meskill, and Trish Gillam discuss the Gangplank Manifesto: People over Personalities
Jade Meskill: Hello, welcome to another episode of the “Dangercast.” We are going to talk about the culture and design of Gangplank. I’m Jade Meskill.
Roy van de Water: I’m Roy van de Water.
Clayton Lengel‑Zigich: I’m Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.
Trish Gillam: I’m Trish Gillam.
Jade: We are wrapping up our principles of the Agile manifesto. No, of the Gangplank manifesto.
Jade: We just did the Agile podcast a few minutes ago. We wanted to talk about people over personalities. Who’s ever met any personalities around Gangplank?
Clayton: I think I’ve seen a few. Usually you overhear them.
Jade: You overhear them?
Jade: That’s a good point. I remember when we were talking about this. We had a lot of very strong personalities in Gangplank, especially during the early times when it was this very raw unformed thing.
What we’re really trying to get at here is that we really value all of the people of Gangplank and not just certain personality types, or certain strong personalities that were in the community itself. Really the power lies within the whole community. Have you guys run into a situation where maybe there’s a dominating personality in the room? What effect does that have on a community?
Roy: I remember we did a podcast with some guests on “Agile Weekly” where we talked about the effect of when you have a certain type of personality in a company. They tend to hire other people that are that same personality. Soon enough you have a company filled with just that personality, and you have this homogeny of opinion, and it starts halting innovation and it starts halting all this other stuff now because everybody is just the same.
Clayton: I think more than anything with the personalities, especially at Gangplank, it seems to block everyone else out. So you get the one personality, and then there’s like the acolytes that are just trying to follow along. “Well, I kind of like this personality so I’m just going to do what they want,” and it kind of squashes the creativity and some of the new ideas that might have come about.
But they ended up not coming about because that’s not what the personality, or personalities, wanted.
Jade: What do we do when personalities are starting to get in the way?
Roy: Tea Party?
Jade: [laughs] Yeah.
Roy: I think when…I’m trying to think of examples for Gangplank. But it seems like with the way that we’ve handled that, Gangplank has kind of marginalized the personalities and made it so that it doesn’t matter if you have one. Like, that’s nice and all that you think you have this persona and that you are putting on this act every time you come into the space but that doesn’t matter, we don’t care about that.
I think that has worked pretty well. Some people are obviously pretty persistent with that, and they really try and, “No, you don’t understand, I am a really awesome personality,” and they want to keep going. But emphasizing the egalitarian nature of it all…
Clayton: That’s a word that’s way outside my vocal range.
Roy: The idea that you could just pluck anyone out of the Gangplank audience so to speak, and they would be a valid person for almost any task, or any activity you were getting into. It’s not about having the right personalities to do some activity or some event or to start…have an idea. You should be able to pick anyone and ask them their opinion about this, and that’s just as valid as anyone else.
Jade: I think you’re marginalizing the strong personality who’s trying to disrupt the culture. That is something that we’ve done quite a bit, I think unintentionally. It makes me think back to when we made one of our first terrible mistakes, which was allowing people to have their own private offices.
Jade: We had some very strong personalities. That was very integral to their participation in Gangplank. They needed to have that private office and private space. We realized how anti‑collaborative that was and really how much it violated our culture, and there were people that wouldn’t give it up.
We didn’t have a good way of resolving any of that conflict at the time, but we certainly started to marginalize those people’s influence and importance. Because, really, they had marginalized themselves, they had locked themselves away from the culture itself. When it finally did come to a head, some people chose not to participate anymore because of that particular issue.
Roy: I remember that specific example. Being in that office for some reason and thinking, “Am I allowed to be here?” I don’t think I ever really thought that about Gangplank. There was never anywhere in Gangplank that I would have been and thought, “Should I be here?” That even goes for the women’s restroom.
Roy: There was a point when it was cool to go in the women’s restroom.
Jade: That’s right, we did call it restroom number two.
Roy: I never felt like that, but here I am sitting in this person’s office and it’s like, this feels weird. I’d never experienced this before.
Jade: It was very much against the spirit of what we were trying to build. How else have you dealt with difficult or interesting personalities? Oh come on, Trish, I know you’ve got some good stories. Don’t hold out on us.
Trish: I think some of it’s, as far as dealing with difficult personalities, sometimes it feels like it varies by personality. But more often than not, it feels like it’s really just like they’re trying to push whatever their personality is. It’s letting the rest of the community know that they need to also get their input.
Jade: I think a lot of times it’s tied to their agenda, right?
Trish: Right, I was actually thinking, so this kind of relates to [inaudible 06:00] agendas, as well as learning about expertise because what it all reminded me of is that it’s not just about the personality. So anybody can come in and we give you that opportunity to learn, even though you’re not an expert. So, the same kind of idea, the personality doesn’t have to be already this persona of the expert. Anybody else can come in and give that opportunity a try.
Clayton: It seems to have formed a self correcting situation by virtue of not having the idea of titles and hierarchy. Because if I were to be a personality, I would be a personality for personalities sake, but I wouldn’t have that title to go along with it.
As soon as people get sick of my bullshit, they just stop listening to me and do something else. They don’t have to listen to me because there’s nothing other than them wanting to listen to me that causes them to.
Jade: So there’s no authority to worry about.
Jade: Because it’s not like we’ve gotten rid of personalities. They definitely still exist. Gangplank is not a bland place where everybody’s afraid to be themselves. That definitely doesn’t happen. But you’re right, there’s no advantage to, I guess, embracing some of the darker side of our personalities.
Roy: Like, you’re going to climb a curtain rail out of here? The only way to do that is by getting people to actually like you and the only way to do that is by being vulnerable and your genuine self.
Jade: Right, and by participating and doing and following all the other parts of the manifesto that come into play. I think that’s the interesting thing about the manifesto. All the values really do reinforce each other. They’re very highly dependent on each other.
What do you think about…When we talk about people, lets switch to the people side of the equation…
Roy: You mean resources?
Jade: Yes, human resources.
Jade: How does Gangplank value people? What does that mean to you?
Clayton: I like what Trish was saying about anyone can come in and learn expert stuff. One of the ways I see that Gangplank values people is just by the sheer fact that literally people that just wander in off the street and they get engaged in some conversation, or they talk to somebody about something they’re interested in.
I feel like that’s a very core human type thing of seeking connection and making a connection with another person.
That’s one of the ways I think is probably the most powerful, and it’s so easy to do. I think people get so worried about coming into Gangplank, and who am I going to talk to, and what am I going to say, and do I fit in.
I’ve seen so many times when people just show up and, even their first time, and 10 minutes into it, they stumble onto some conversation the third or fourth person they made a connection with, and now they’re talking about something they really care about. I think even just having that makes such a big difference. I think that’s a great representation of the people aspect.
Trish: We were talking earlier today, it came up in the community meeting people. It seems like everyone else liked the idea of a directory, and one of the things I was pointing about with the directory of, for me with Gangplank people walk in the door and you don’t know, are they the CEO of some huge company, or are they currently without a job.
One of the cool things for me with Gangplank is that people have to choose a person. They don’t know…a few minutes have a look at their LinkedIn profile. But typically they don’t know what you’re advertising yourself as, and really people just approach you as a person They may find later that you have a certain title or you have certain assets that can help them. But from the start, it’s just a conversation with another person.
Jade: Some of the proudest moments I’ve seen is when we’ve had one guy who is mentally handicapped kind thug that lives in the rough neighborhood behind Gangplank Chandler. He came in and people were very wary of what he was doing here. But some of the more interesting personalities at Gangplank really embraced him and treated him like a real person, and tried to help him out and did a bunch of things for him.
I thought that was a really cool thing to see. That really no matter what, you don’t have to be a geek, you don’t have to have money, you don’t really have to have really anything, and people will still treat you like a real genuine human being around here.
Clayton: One of my favorite stories like that was the time when I heard there was two people about how they had to get to Tucson but their car broke down, or they didn’t have a ride or something, and they had to go that night. Someone else in the space shouted out, “Is anybody going to Tucson later?” and some random guy raises his hand. “Will you give him a ride?” the guy was like, “Sure!”
Clayton: So just stuff like that, here’s this connection. I don’t know where else you could facilitate something like that, where people wouldn’t think that you were totally nuts. But in this space, that made sense. That’s a totally legit thing to do.
Jade: Anything else on people and personalities? I think we’re going to wrap up this discussion of the values of the Gangplank manifesto. Join us next week on the Dangercast.