Dangercast #1 – Collaboration over Competition

In our inaugural episode of the Dangercast, Jade Meskill, Derek Neighbors and Roy van de Water talk about the first value of the Gangplank Manifesto: Collaboration over Competition.


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

Derek Neighbors: I am Derek Neighbors.

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

Jade: This is our inaugural episode. Thanks for listening. We wanted to talk about the Gangplank Manifesto. We are not going to get into the history that’s documented in other places. What we want to do is dissect the manifesto and really talk about some of the things that we mean, some of the nuance, details behind the points of the manifesto. If you are not familiar with the Gangplank Manifesto, you can check it out at gangplankmanifesto.com.

The first point of the Gangplank Manifesto, the first value that we list, is Collaboration over Competition. Derek, what does that mean to you?

Derek: I think it’s important when we are looking at the manifesto that there’s things on the left and there’s things on the right. It doesn’t mean that the things on the right are bad things. It just means that we prefer the things on the left.

A little bit of the way we came to some of this is, is we talked about what is hurting our communities and those are things that were on the right or the things that hurt our communities. Then we would say what are the things that would neutralize that?

Competition was a big one, and I think what happens when there’s competition is it breeds scarcity. It says that the only way to be successful is to put somebody else down, put somebody else’s ideas down or put them out of business, where when you have a mental model of it says that we operate in abundance, which means if I am successful, you can be successful.

I think that that’s a much better model to operate in and a good way to think about this. I think when we were dealing in an industry that was say, the automobile industry or the industrial industry, and we were both trying to get steel.

Steel is a scarce resource. There’s only so much steel available, and so if I am taking steel, that means there’s less steel for you. But when we look at knowledge industries, and we look at creative industries, when we look at industries around creation, there is very rarely scarcity, because what happens with idea is if I have an idea and I share the idea with you, I don’t lose that idea. I still have the idea but you have it too.

I think the concept here was collaboration is all about saying how do we share ideas. How do we share the things that we are doing so that we have an abundance of those things and people can build on them?

If I do something really great and I share with you and allow you to do it, and then somebody takes what you are doing and builds on it, and we continue to build on that, we have something much more magnificent than if I was trying to push you out of business with my idea.

I think a lot of these values for me, or this value for me came a lot from doing a lot with Free Software Foundation and looking at Patent Law, Copyright Law, number of things that say the best innovation actually tends to come when you allow people to build on other people’s works.

I think that that was a lot of it. The other thing is it really became petty. I mean people would be just stupid on purpose because it was so fulfilling to go hurt a competitor and then…

Jade: Even sometimes at your own expense.

Derek: At your own expense, right. See, the problem is you start to become stupid, because it’s like well, keeping Jade from getting the work is better. I don’t even care if I get it, as long as I keep him from getting it.

It’s like what a waste of energy is that? I mean to starve you out doesn’t do me any good. If I go on, I just kick ass, then I don’t need to worry about that, and if you’re kicking ass too, then awesome. If we’re both kicking ass, we are going to attract a whole bunch of other stuff.

A lot of this at the time for us was talking around talent. It was talking about funding and if you look at the areas that attract the most talent, look at the areas that have the most funding, it’s because there’s a lot of awesome stuff happening there.

It’s not because “Oh, the one person is in-charge,” or the one company has the lion’s share of what’s going on.

Jade: It’s like having a great restaurant that is surrounded by other great restaurants.

Derek: Right.

Jade: Right. That doesn’t detract from you. That actually is an attractor for more people to experience the greatness of your restaurant. But we don’t see that happen in real life.

People get way more territorial than that. They have a hard time understanding that concept. I remember us having that problem a lot very early on in the Gangplank days where I am a web developer, and you run a web development company and the customer becomes the imagined scarcity.

There were battles and wars and things happening inside of Gangplank because I was afraid you were going to come steal my customer set. I remember having to constantly harp on people say, “No, there’s plenty of customers for all. If we were all doing great work, we would all have an abundance of customers.”

Derek: I see this in the power networking groups, and it’s even evolved into a lot of co-working spaces I see, and a lot of mindsets of freelancers. It’s like, I am the PR guy and I don’t think that another PR guy should be able to have a desk in our space.

Jade: We need the exclusivity agreement.

Derek: Right. Like if I am going to be here, I need to be the only PR guy, because when I bring clients and I don’t want people to know who my clients are because they are just going to try to steal my clients.

That is a lot of the mentality that I think we were really fighting against, fast-forward to a point where we had multiple instances. We still have instances of companies merging together that were inside of Gangplank.

We’ve had instances where employees have left one company inside of Gangplank, started a competing business that does almost the exact same thing in Gangplank, next to the company that they left. Those companies collaborate on customers and ideas and help train each other.

Jade: Yeah, and we’ve helped people with that. We’ve given them examples of our contracts of our former employees who moved to one desk over to start their own company.

Derek: Yeah, I think it was Mike Binder who said it really well. In Silicon Valley they have the really awesome saying of, “I switched my job, but I didn’t switch my parking lot,” and Binder said, “I switched my job, and I didn’t switch my desk,” like trump that, right?

Roy: Yeah. I think there’s something too about focusing on the wrong problems when you start worrying too much about competition. If you are really focusing on your customer and focusing on making their lives better, ultimately it doesn’t matter if you are the one who gets to help them or if it’s the better alternative that’s also available.

When you insist on doing great things, you start focusing on delighting people and not on making money, and that making money happens to be a side effect of that. It almost becomes irrelevant at that point because that’s given where if you do great things.

I feel like that’s part of the problem as well that you are just too focused on making money, that you just try to compete with everybody all the time instead of trying to make the people that really matter, happy.

Jade: I think this is very easy to understand on the lowest level that we can see that there’s direct competition between businesses, and it shouldn’t have to be that way. But I think this statement of Collaboration over Competition also exists at a higher level.

When we talk about multiple Gangplank locations or cities working together, government, things like that, how do you see this value holding true at that next level out?

Derek: I think it scales the same way. People just tend to not think about that way. You have cities and you’ve got one city next to another city, and they are fighting for the next company that comes in and lands in their city.

In reality, what they really should be thinking of is the region. In reality, more often than not, the person that works at the company that you are trying to attract, may or may not live, or go to school, or have a wife that works, or a husband that works, or a spouse that works in the same city.

The more opportunity a region has, the more attractive it is to somebody. I think a lot of times we get very shortsighted in that as well. The other part that I think starts to be a little bit silly is we don’t recognize, we all have our unique DNA, whether we’re individuals, whether we’re companies or whether we’re cities or corporations. When we play to our strengths of our DNA instead of worrying about what the competition is, I think we open up the ability to do really magnificent things.

We can start to say, “Hey, if we work together on this, we can do something that is so much better than if we weren’t doing something together.” I firmly believe that you will see this principle in play at some time in my lifetime, bar I live another 20 years or 30 years, where you will see companies working, and when I say companies, I mean bigger companies working out of the same buildings or sharing the same resources and blending to the point where you don’t know which employee belongs to what company, and they are in the same space.

Jade: What would that mean for those companies?

Derek: I think it would mean that they would be able to advance things much quicker. Think of if I was doing an automobile assembly line or I was doing an advanced chip manufacturing plant. The capital costs in doing those things are still fairly expensive.

If we were sharing that line, or sharing that resource of some kind, and it could be any resource, it doesn’t have to necessarily be a physical piece like that, and I had access to really bright engineers and really bright folks.

Some of them maybe work for me, and some of them maybe work for you, and then some of them maybe work for both of us. Maybe they had a really specialized skill that we only needed for a small amount of time during chip production or maybe there’s only few months of time.

If I have them it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because the best of their talent is not being used and if you have them, the best of their talent is not being used. But if we are kind of sharing them back and forth, that allows us to continue to riff and build on common things that are really commodities.

You see this time and time in markets place, the things that are hot commodities in scarcity at some point become commodities. But then when you have those commodities, people build on them and launch stuff into the stratosphere.

We look at the free software where a web server would be an example of this. Like at one time the Netscape web server was extremely expensive, really hard to configure, all sorts of problems with it.

As Apache came in, as other things started to come in, and we’re made commodities, where they didn’t really cost anything. They are really easy to do. Look at how it exploded entire new economies that didn’t exist before.

I think that’s what we are really talking about is if we can get to the point where we are going fast enough that stuff that is valuable today is a commodity three days later. That means the innovation cycle is just fucking insane, whereas if stuff that is scarce today is scarce 20 years from now. That means our innovation cycle is really slow.

What does it cost? Can any of us go to the moon today? The answer is no. But if we got to the point where owning a spaceship, and going to the moon cost the same thing as owning a car, and putting gas in the car tank, think of what would happen, all of the new industry that would blow up out of having that capacity.

I think it’s as much about capacity building. In my mind it is like once you break the scarcity model. You open up a capacity model and once you have capacity model like you’re enabling things that humanity can’t even think of right now.

Jade: How does that kind of collaboration work? How do we envision people embracing collaboration at that level?

Derek: Oh, you tell me.


Jade: We’ve been experimenting with some different things in the leadership structure and just kind of the interactions of how Gangplank functions at a higher level. We struggled with authority and hierarchy, things like that.

One of the things that we found that is the most important for real collaboration is true alignment, and that requires a whole lot of things including some level of intimacy, trust, all of those things.

If we are going to be too large corporations sharing this very precious resource, we better have a very deep and trusting relationship in order to make that be successful.

Derek: Yeah, I think for me the big factor is right now companies are focused solely on bottom lines, and they are focused on profits. Because of that, that becomes a scarcity model for them, because I want to dominate the market, I want the position. I want everything about that because that means more money for me.

What that means is less innovation for everybody else. This is proven time and time again and this is why we have Monopoly Law. When there’s somebody that has monopoly, innovation goes down significantly because there’s no new ideas coming to the table. Any new ideas gets washed out.

I think we are starting to see that. If we look at the millennial generation and the generation coming after them, I think they are far less focused on what’s the bottom line dollar and they are far more concerned with making massive impact to the universe.

When you get people that their goal is to make a dent in the universe, not that clearly people have to be able to make paychecks. They have to be able to eat. They have to have their needs met.

When people start to say, “What fulfills me is doing incredible stuff that nobody has ever seen before, that moves the market forward,” then, a lot of those difficult discussions about sharing resources go away. Because we’re not worried about a bottom line, we are worried about getting it further.

Whether you get further or whether I get further, at the end of the day, we both win. If you get it so that we can get on the moon for the price of a car, I win too. If I do it, you win too because it’s not about like how do I squeeze the bottom dollar out of doing that. I think that’s a mindset shift that is happening that I don’t think Wall Street even wants to talk about.

But look at the distrust that people have in the banking system, the funding system. Look at the number of people that are choosing to work independently or to have no loyalty to a company.

I think what they are saying is, “My personal happiness and my personal fulfillment is more important to me than a really big paycheck.” I think some of the brightest people in the world are having that viewpoint.

It’s only going to take one or two companies that have really bright people that operate that way and achieve extraordinary results before that becomes the de facto standard. That goes back to the commodity problem, like once we’re able to do it and they make things a commodity, how do you compete with them?

Jade: Yeah. That’s all the time we have for today. Join us on our next podcast when we talk about “Community over Agendas.” Thanks for listening.

play audio Dangercast #1   Collaboration over Competition