Dangercast #9 – People Over Personalities

Roy van de Water, Clayton Lengel-Zigich, Jade Meskill, and Trish Gillam discuss the Gangplank Manifesto: People over Personalities

Transcript:

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.

[laughter]

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?

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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:  Exactly.

[laughter]

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.

Clayton:  Right.

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.

[laughter]

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!”

[laughter]

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.

play audio Dangercast #9   People Over Personalities

Dangercast #8 – Learning Over Expertise

Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, and Ankit Sura discuss the Gangplank Manifesto: Learning over Expertise

Transcript:

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

Ankit Sura:  I’m Ankit Sura.

Derek Neighbors:  And I’m Derek Neighbors.

Jade:  Today we wanted to talk about…continuing to talk about the Gangplank manifesto. We’re up to “Learning over Expertise.”

Derek:  Do we have an expert to talk about this?

Ankit:  I’m just learning what’s happening around here.

Derek:  Perfect.

Jade:  We came up with this. We were faced with a lot of people who like to project themselves as the experts. The problem with experts is they tend to shut down conversation and exploration for other people who don’t feel that comfortable.

Just like the other values of the manifesto, it’s not that we don’t value expertise. It is very important. It’s something that we think is useful. It’s that we value learning so much more than somebody who claims to be an expert.

Derek:  A lot of it goes back to some of our work with agility and the concept of inspect and adapt. If you’re constantly challenging the status quo it means that you’re doing stuff there are no experts on. You can only be an expert on something that already exists and already has a large body of work.

If you want to do something new that nobody else has really done before, by default you can’t really be an expert because everybody is learning what that is. The second thing we wanted to push in is, a lot of times when you are exposed to something and an expert is the one teaching it to you, not only do you feel inferior, but oftentimes you will not actually learn.

You’ll take it from rote memory. “Give me the cheat sheet, I’ll just use the cheat sheet that the expert gave me,” instead of taking the time to really learn what that is and master it yourself. We wanted to reinforce that the culture we want to create is that you should always be learning.

It goes back to “Be Dangerous.” Be Dangerous is always doing stuff that is so new to you that you feel uncomfortable, that’s part of being dangerous. The only way you can do that is be in learning mode all the time. If you’re in a situation, you’re like, “I totally got this, no sweat, no problem. I’m not challenging myself.” You’re not challenging yourself, that’s the problem.

Ankit:  On this note, actually, something very interesting comes into my head. “The Learning Organization” by Peter Senge, I forgot the name.

How do we create an enterprise, an organization which is constantly learning, but coming to a space where people are working in different settings? How to facilitate learning between different people in a space requires a culture, and probably this ethos that we are emphasizing over here is trying to cultivate that. That’s how I feel.

Jade:  There is no expert of how to be in Gangplank. It’s never been done before, we’re doing new things. We have to build that into the culture. It has to be based around teaching other people to be comfortable with learning new things, or we’re never going to go anywhere.

Derek:  Some of that is part of the culture is rewarding people who learn. When people take risks and say, “I’m not the expert, but I’m willing to learn it,” we should be rewarding that. The culture should reinforce that behavior and say, “That’s good, do more of that.” We try to put things in place where we don’t hold people’s hands a lot.

When you walk into Gangplank for the first time, it’s kind of scary. You don’t know what to do. You have to learn how to go through even that process. Just to engage in Gangplank is a learning thing, and you see it in people’s eyes. They walk in the door. They look around a little bit. “Maybe I’m supposed to fill this out, maybe I’m not supposed to do this…”

But they learn, and they figure it out. It’s how do we create interactions, how do we create mindsets that propagate that? If you come in here and you’re like, “I’m the expert at this, and you should listen to me because I’m the expert,” people should reject that almost instantly, and you see that.

Jade:  And they do.

Derek:  When we see [indecipherable 04:34] speakers come in, or prisoners come in, and they come off with that ego of, “I know everything.” People round here are like, “Yeah, their ideas are tired and old. They think they know everything. Let’s move onto something more important.” Which I think is great.

Jade:  So you’re pretty new to the community and you said you’re still learning some things. How have you felt? When you walked into the Gangplank community for the first time, could you feel that learning was very important around here?

Ankit:  Let me build on what Derek just mentioned. When you go in the process of learning itself, stepping in the door, it happened with me too. I just read Gangplank, on the website, what it was. It’s a free co‑working space. I couldn’t believe it then, all the beautiful stuff that was there. I came over here and entered.

Someone walked up to me that was Brian at that time. He walked up to me, leaving his work, and said, “Are you new over here? Do you want a tour?” Gave me the feel of the space, what the space is all about. When I got the feel, and afterward they’re summarizing it with the manifesto, introducing me to what they believe in, what this is all ‑‑ why does he hear, why?

When I understood that, it just clicked. Then you just have to get to know people, introduce yourself, what you do and what they do. Learn about the people, get to know them. That’s where the relationship building process starts. Learning happens with good relationships that you’re building on.

Derek:  That’s a great point. I think one of the things that we’re building is a culture of sharing. If you see somebody struggling, the deer in the headlights, you see that, that you’re willing to help teach. If you’re going to build an organization that says we value learning, you also have to build a culture that says that we value people teaching new things.

That goes hand in hand. You see it a lot when people come in. They’ll say, “I need this.” Usually people won’t say, “I’ll give you that,” they’ll say, “I can teach you how to do that,” which is a very different thing. If you’re willing to own learning how to do it, I’ll help you. If you just want me to do it for you, I’m not really interested in that.

That is a big part of the culture and building those relationships. I think the other part of having a strong learning culture is that people understand and collect who knows what. “Hey, maybe I don’t know Spanish, but I know so‑and‑so talks Spanish. If you want to learn Spanish, you should maybe talk to so‑and‑so.”

Ankit:  Go to…

[crosstalk]

Derek:  Yeah. It fosters or propagates learning. When you do that through relationships…If Jade wants something and I know you know how to do it, and I say, “You want to learn that?” I make that introduction, Jade is more likely to teach you it because there’s a relationship there, even though maybe you two don’t know each other.

Those are all corresponding things within Gangplank. When we talk about Gangplank the collective, that’s what we’re really talking about. How do we start to connect nodes on the system? Whether they be physically in or outside of the buildings that we have, how do we connect those nodes to continue learning, and to foster even more deep connection and learning?

Ankit:  Derek, since you have been with Gangplank ‑‑ and Jade, you two have been with Gangplank for a very long time. I’m a very new person in this enormous, beautiful concept. Could you give me an idea of how the offline physical learning, physical interaction is happening and how are you building on the virtual learning, learning that’s happening in virtual spaces? What’s happening there, how are you doing that?

I see some things happening there too.

Jade:  That’s something that we still haven’t mastered. We’re definitely not experts in that area. We were very focused on the physical connections and face‑to‑face for a very long time because it is critical to building a strong community. Now we’re starting to experiment with some other ways of connecting.

Now we have multiple Gangplank locations, we have communities that are starting to be built that don’t have a physical location. We’re experimenting with a whole bunch of different ways of helping them to learn and teach each other. Really, it comes down to having presence with each other. We’re experimenting a lot in those areas.

We are learning a ton on what is working, what isn’t working. We are certainly not experts in this area, and I think some of the unique nature of Gangplank itself ‑‑ there really are no experts at all for what we’re trying to build because this is a very unique thing. To tie that back into the teaching thing, my favorite way of learning ‑‑ and I love to learn ‑‑ is by teaching people.

When you’re truly teaching, you’re not just dumping knowledge into their head. You’re exploring, together, what the possibilities are. I usually learn so much when I’m helping someone to learn something new. They’re always teaching me something.

Ankit:  That’s actually true. When someone teaches, they actually learn themselves.

Jade:  Of course. I find no better way. To really know something, I need to be able to teach it to someone.

Ankit:  You actually become better and better at it.

Jade:  Somebody who doesn’t know anything, they can ask the questions that you can’t think of any more when you think that you know something.

Derek:  Or they need it explained in a way that is difficult for you, which opens up new ways for how you think about it. I also think there’s a lot to be said on helping somebody to do something. Maybe I know how to do it, I don’t do it for them, but I have them do it and I help them do it. That tends to unlock a couple of things. It tends to unlock a better understanding.

Watching somebody else do something that I know how to do makes me understand how even I do it better, because I have to explain to them the intricacies that are committed to my memory, or my muscle reflex, that I don’t think about. You see this when a guitarist that’s really experienced teaches someone who’s not experienced.

They’re like, “Just do this.” When the person doesn’t get it, you can see their head think…

[crosstalk]

Jade:  …Just do a G‑shaped bar chord, and then blah, blah, blah….

Ankit:  This is like implicit and explicit knowledge, something, something.

Derek:  The other thing it does is it really creates a bond or connection between the teacher and the student. That bond is part of what really makes Gangplank. It builds that vulnerability and trust. It takes an enormous amount of vulnerability to say, “I don’t know to do something. I’m an infant, I don’t know to eat, I don’t know how to drink.”

Even if it’s, “I don’t know how to play guitar,” I have to admit that and say, “I’m totally at your mercy. I don’t know how to do this.” Taking that responsibility and walking in that person’s vulnerability to help show them how to do it and grow with them creates this event between the participants that then carries on to other things.

Ankit:  Gangplank is a great place to start just coming over here and learning. Learning is a lifelong process and it just goes on. This environment that I have experienced over a short period is that learning can never end, because there is so much somebody knows.

Different people know different things, and you can just go on talking about different things, learning new things, having new experiences, through other people’s experiences.

Jade:  One of the things we’ve tried to do from the very beginning is make it OK, and make it easy, to fail. That’s a fast track to learning. If I can try something and find out that it doesn’t work, I’ve learned a whole lot along that way. Now I have the confidence to try something else because I tried it and it didn’t work, but it wasn’t really that painful, right?

I failed, but now all these people know I want to do this and they’re all going to help me, teach me. I’m going to learn new things.

Derek:  The other thing, too, is it allows people to try new things. Sometimes it’s not even that I fail. I might even be doing OK at it, but it’s like, “I really thought I wanted to play guitar, and then I went to some lessons, and that’s not really want I want to do. What I really want to do is digital music and mess with things with the computer.”

It gives people that ability to not have a whole lot of pressure. When you have this expert coming up and telling you all this, and it’s all really formal, it’s a lot harder to say, “This isn’t really for me.” It’s like opening up a book, reading the first chapter, and saying, “I don’t really care for this book, but because I bought the book, I’m going to read the whole thing anyway.”

[laughter]

Derek:  The same thing happens when you get too formalized in learning. “I already paid for the class, I’m two classes in, I’m just going to stick it out because…Whatever.” If it’s a much more informal thing, it’s like, “That wasn’t really for me, but this other tangential thing is,” and nobody really looks down on you on it.

“Oh my gosh, you didn’t get the degree in whatever it is you were wanting to learn?” Doesn’t matter. Just move on and explore what you want to explore. That’s another part of it, is exploring. I think Gangplank creates a culture where it really encourages you to explore. I almost think of it as like temptation heaven for people that want to learn.

[laughter]

Derek:  There’s so much stuff going on that is interesting. You walk in here and it’s like, “But I want to learn that, and this, and I only have an hour here! How am I going to…I want to build a 3D model, I want to print, do music and I want to hear this podcast…”

Ankit:  You have to get focused, right?

Derek:  Now I have to choose, right? When my son comes here, that’s one thing he really articulates. There’s so much to do, it leaves him a hunger for “I want to come back because there’s other stuff I want to try.” If you don’t have that learning environment built in, it’s all about becoming the expert. If you don’t do that immediately it just sucks, it’s like a grind.

Jade:  We’ve been doing this for a long time and I still feel that every week. There’re still new things for me to learn, new things for me to try. It never runs out.

Ankit:  It’s fun, actually. Learning is fun.

Jade:  Great fun. I would’ve quit a long time ago if there wasn’t more opportunities to learn.

Derek:  It’s funny you say learning is fun, because I don’t know if we’ve got anything around fun in the manifesto. I don’t believe we necessarily do, but I think at least for Jade and I, learning is fun. For us, that was a big part of ‑‑ being the expert feels like the suit and tie kind of…

Jade:  It’s a burden to carry.

Derek:  It’s a burden. Learning implies when you make a mistake, nobody can criticize it because, “Hey man, I’m learning. I didn’t know any better.”

[laughter]

Derek:  ”I’m sorry I blew up the car, I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to cross those two wires.” I think that some of the element of Gangplank’s fun is that playful curiosity of a young child learning. I think that’s in the spirit of the culture as well, is that it’s OK to play. Learning is playing and playing is learning, so play a lot.

Ankit:  That’s like being dangerous, right?

Derek:  Yeah, sure.

Jade:  Awesome. Well, that’s all the time we have. Join us again next week, when we talk about “People over Personalities.” Thanks.

play audio Dangercast #8   Learning Over Expertise

Dangercast #6 – How Gangplank Works with Municipal Governments

Roy van de Water, Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, and special guest Trey Keeler discuss the some common questions we get asked about how Gangplank works with municipal governments.

Transcript

Jade Meskill:  Hello and welcome to the DangerCast where we talk about Gangplank culture and design. I’m Jade Meskill. Today, we have a special interview with Trey Keeler. He was asking us some common questions that we get asked about how we work with local municipal governments. We thought it would make a really great podcast so we recorded the interview. We thought our listeners would be interested in hearing some of the answers. Hope you enjoy it.

Trey Keeler:  Cool. I guess the biggest question I had for you is, I was talking to Gangplank RVA. I met with these guys at that day. I talked to a guy named David Walizer. Usually nice and I spoke to him about what Gangplank is all about. It was really awesome, because Gangplank is new to the Richmond area, so a lot of people are just kind of learning about it right now.

We’re visiting a lot of different coworking spaces because we’re doing this project on different coworking models. I spoke to him and the project that we’re working on is with an organization that has city government funding to do sort of a similar idea. At least the mission or the goals they have are very similar to sort of what Gangplank has already done.

I was kind of picking his brain and he had mentioned that Gangplank in Phoenix had some sort of relationship with the local government, or somehow interacted. I don’t know at what levels.

Derek:  Yes.

Trey:  That’s why I was calling you guys to figure out how that works and how that all started.

Derek:  Yes, perfect. So, I think there’s a couple of different ways that we’ve done Gangplanks. Maybe I’ll just go over those, and one of the second two would probably be one that would be applicable to what you’re talking about from a government relationship perspective.

The first way was the way that Gangplank was originally funded, which was really the altruistic model or the benefactor model. Where a company has extra space or extra resources and really wants to invest in their community. So they give time, and/or space, or resources to the community and say, implement a Gangplank in our space. I think that’s the current model that Richmond is going under. They have a provider, a space, a company that’s got some extra spaces letting them use that space in exchange for being around smart, creative people.

The second model that we operate under is doing a service‑based agreement with a municipality of some kind where we provide a number of services. It’s a service contract just as any other service provider would do. They then would pay us for those services. Those services would be put directly back into the Gangplank in that location. So, what normally happens there is a number of services are created in a contract that says we will deliver these 20 services or these 50 services.

A lot of those services are the things that Gangplank natively provides whether that be brown bags, entrepreneurship programs, coworking space, maker space, all of those type of things. Then, the funding that is created goes back to basically pay for the rent, the Internet, the electricity. And then, what we do is we basically give all of the resources away at no monetary cost, but the people that participate in the programming, we ask that they give back through social capital to basically provide the services that we’re under contract for.

So it’s like the city kicks‑starts or the municipality kicks‑starts the program by providing the building, and in exchange for that building they get a bunch of services back. And what happens is all of the programming is provided by the people who are freely partaking in the services, right?

So, instead of charging for those services, we say the only way you can pay for them with is your time, which actually connects people back more deeply that of the community which is kind of the whole goal, is to basically jumpstart communities.

Trey:  Exactly, so in the past when you were talking about the city or the municipality paying for services. Traditionally, that has been through allowing you the use of the space or building, or has it actually been monetary?

Derek:  So, the second way that I was talking about just now was that’s through monetary. Maybe the municipality doesn’t have an existing structure, or an existing building that they can put a Gangplank in, but they do have budget. So what they’ll do is they’ll say, “Hey, we’ll allot this budget, and the budget is pretty much magically equal to the amount that it costs to rent a space, and to provide electricity for a space, and provide Internet for a space, and in return we get these services.”

The third model that we have is a model where a municipality or a government organization actually has physical space, where they own the space. They say, “Hey, for a dollar‑a‑year rent, or a dollar‑a‑month rent, what we would like to do is provide you this space, we’ll provide you the electricity, the maintenance, the physical property to basically run your programming out. And in return, you’ll offer these services for us.”

When it comes to working with local government, we can do it either one of those ways. We can either do it as a you don’t have a space and you’re providing funding, and we take that funding and we basically rent the space with that funding. Or, if you have physical property we can just do it in exchange for that physical property. We do it both ways.

Trey:  I guess the case I’m working on that is a organization that has the physical space and probably lacks the resources and the human capital.

Derek:  Right, so that’s perfect for Gangplank. That’s what it’s made for.

Trey:  So in a case like that, how do you guys keep the culture of Gangplank a Gangplank, and how does the municipality feel like they’re actually benefiting from it? Cause municipalities as always like to take credit for things and kind of toot their own horn. How do you sort of create that balance?

Derek:  I think that’s the beautiful thing in Gangplank. One of the things that cities really struggle with is being dangerous, right? Like they have to do everything by the book which is totally anti‑entrepreneurial, totally anti‑place making, What happens is we enter into a relationship where pretty much they’re able to say Gangplank go do the stuff we’re not necessarily allowed to do, or that our PR is not necessarily comfortable doing, and if it works and it’s awesome, we’re going to share in the credit.

We’re going to say, “Hey, we fund that. We do that. That’s part of us. Aren’t we cool?” And if it’s something where it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know. That’s a little too dangerous for us.”

They can easily go, “Oh, that’s those Gangplank people that’s not a city thing.” It kind of gives, especially politicians, it gives them a way to adopt the wins, and distance themselves from the things that are maybe scary to them.

What we find more often than not, maybe they don’t embrace something because it’s scary but it actually turns into a win and they adopt it after the fact. For us, we don’t care. It doesn’t matter to us. We just want good stuff to happen in the community. We don’t care who gets credit for it. I think that that is one of the biggest benefits that we give cities, is we give them an ability to be like a startup without having to go through like a bunch of pomp and circumstance every time they want to do anything.

Trey:  Very cool. So you guys I guess are on paper more or less a tenant and then if things work out beneficially for the city then they can sort of jump in.

Derek:  Yeah, we’re a service provider. So it’s if it’s not working out they can fire us just like they can fire any other service provider.

Trey:  OK. Very cool. I guess the next question I have is that the entity that we’re working with is, when you think about the coworking, obviously people think about coders, designers, more of the creative class or I guess what popular culture decides what the creative class is. Have you guys ever worked with somebody that has a small business in the classic sense of a small business? Say somebody is a plumber, or a contractor, or somebody has an idea to sell ribs on the side of the road. Do you get to that sort of granular level or is everything have to be sort of trendy‑business business?

Jade:  [laughs] We’re not interested in being trendy at all. What we’re really interested in is that cross section of people who are creators. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in the creative class, it means that they are really interested in doing things, making things happen, trying new things. Like Derek said being dangerous.

We’ve met plenty of people who are chefs, or running a restaurant, you know doing these very mundane things, but they’re doing it in very unique and interesting ways that makes them part of that Gangplank culture. You don’t have to be a hacker to be here, but somebody who probably has taken on some of the that hacker mentality and applied it to whatever it is that they’re doing, they’re going to fit in very well with the Gangplank culture.

Trey:  Cool.

Derek:  We’ve seen everything from somebody who was really inspired by Gangplank and how it works and likes the collaborative nature of it. They were really into baking cupcakes, and cakes, and pastries, and they actually went out and started the equivalent of a Gangplank that was for bakers. Where they would share kitchen time, and they would create things, and they were basically starting businesses around cooking or baking.

We’ve seen things like that launched out of Gangplank. We’ve seen one of our current companies that is in Gangplank Chandler, great example, is they’re a coffee distributor, a coffee grinder. One of the things they do is they actually are in the business of investing in coffee refineries in third world countries, teaching them how to grow coffee, process coffee, and bring it back and then distribute it here.

That’s about as non‑high tech as it gets, it’s almost farming. “Chow Locally” is sponsored out of here, which is a way to get farm to table type of stuff why that’s kind of a trendy thing that’s happening right now, it’s certainly not what I would consider your normal high‑tech artsy incubator type of stuff that’s happening.

Jade:  We have another group that’s involved in social services. They’re trying some new interesting things and they fit right in.

Trey:  Very cool, very cool. In the past the Gangplank models that have partnered with government entities, what sort of a process been you as approaching them or they approach you, and how does that relationships ever grow?

Derek:  I think to date they’ve always approached us. I think we do two things as part of that. The first thing we do is, are they a good culture fit for us, because we’re very culture‑driven. We look at cities or municipalities that will be strong partners and let us be who we are, and really jumpstart their community. So it’s usually municipalities who say, “We want something radically different and we know we can’t. We know our culture will eat us alive if we try that, but we would like to partner with you so that you can be the culture we want in our city without us having to change our entire structure.”

Which is I think is a big upside when they approach us. It means they’re ready to have those kind of conversations opposed to if we’re approaching them. I think once that’s in place, I think the next thing is we assess is the community ready for it. Meaning, do they have a community leader that’s willing to really promote and move forward, because there’s no paid positions in Gangplank. It really is like bootstrap, raw, community‑driven stuff.

Do you have people that are hungry enough to build a city and build a community within a city that they’ll invest their time in doing it? If they have those two things, it’s usually pretty easy. We’ve done this enough times that we’ve got boiler stuff that’s city‑approved. Multiple cities have done it, so we can usually give that to a legal team and say, “Here’s a start point, mark it up. However, you need it to be to fit with your organization.”

We can usually put them in a touch with a number of mayors, council members, and economic developers, at places that we’re at who they can talk to and get their questions answered at a very real level. I think, once the matchmaking part is done, the execution of it is usually pretty easy to do.

Trey:  Very cool. What city, what Gangplanks are using this sort of private/public partnership right now?

Derek:  Avondale and City of Chandler are currently using this model.

Jade:  There’s a couple others exploring, they’re in the early stages of going this direction.

Derek:  Yeah, our Sault, our branch in Ontario, who also is currently undergoing. They’ll probably finalize something here in the next 30 days.

Trey:  Cool. This is all really, really awesome.

play audio Dangercast #6   How Gangplank Works with Municipal Governments

Dangercast #5 – Some Gangplank History

Roy van de Water, Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, and Trish Gillam discuss the some of the Gangplank history, Gangplank Jr., and Gangplank Labs.

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.

Trish Gillam: I’m Trish Gillam.

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

Jade: So today, we have some questions that a loyal listener has sent to us. And, we’re going to… We’re just going to answer those questions. Some of it is about the history of Gangplank and some of the reasons why we started this whole thing.

Derek: It’s like an inquiring minds want to know kind of thing.

Jade: Yeah.

Roy: So, the first question is “When was Gangplank started and by whom? Why did you feel that it was necessary to start off a Gangplank?”

Jade: Oh wait, wait, you’re asking too many questions.

Roy: This is the first question.

[laughter]

Derek: One at a time.

Jade: [laughs] We’re not very smart.

Roy: “When was Gangplank started and by whom?” Do you guys, Do you guys know the original creators of Gangplank?

Jade: I do, yeah, yeah. We stole the Gangplank from them.

Roy: OK

Jade: [laughs] it was like Mad Max…

Jade: No, we started Gangplank in what about like formally in about 2008…

Roy: OK. Who as we?

Jade: Oh, that’s the next question…

Roy: No, that’s the first question actually…

Jade: …Oh, Derek and I are I guess through like the formal people who started Gangplank…but it’s really started by a group of people that we were connected to…

Derek: Yeah. I think…for those closer was Ward Andrews James Archer Josh Strebel…

[crosstalk]

Derek: [inaudible 01:28] Jade, myself and then the some of the original companies that we incubated which were basically [inaudible 01:39] Beau Frusetta Steve Swedler and Chase Granberry.

Roy: And, how long ago was this?

Jade: …by 2008.

Roy: 2008, so why did you guys feel it was necessary to start of with Gangplank?

Jade: So it really started from a desire to we had a consulting and development company, and we want to find more great people to work for us and work with us. That was really the original intent that we started out with…I think we realize very early on is that we were interested in solving problems that were much greater than just that.
We really want to be around excellent people that were doing all kinds of different things. They didn’t have to be working for us or work with our company in any direct way to perform. We really want to be around the best people in phoenix.

Derek: I mean I think we’re doing other things that were unusual for a company out of size at the time, we had a real both Jade and I’ve a real love for learning and exploring and creating. Internally, our company was doing a hack night every week, where we were working on projects that were outside of our normal work.

There’s just fun stuff to work on, or stuff we thought was interesting. All of our employees would give a brown bag every week, where they would talk about a new topic, or a new technique, or a new technology, something.

We already had some things that were happening that were, really easy for other people to gravitate towards, and I think we both have done a lot of work for the Free Software Foundation, so we’ve got very much like a culture of sharing and of openness, and like “Ideas want to be free.”

When people would stop by and say, “Hey, this looks really cool. Do you mind if I sit through the brown bag”?
I say “Yeah, sure. Awesome. That’d be great, in fact would you want to do one sometime? You know a whole lot about this topic, and we would love to learn from you.” I think that just started to build that community up.

Roy: How does that differ Gangplank from what most people think of as a coworking space? Because I think that’s what most people who don’t really know per se Gangplank has a co working space. I don’t know if that applies, but how is it different?

Jade: Our intention was never to rent people desks. We don’t have a business plan. We weren’t trying to make money off Gangplank. We were trying to solve other, more visceral needs that we had to be around interesting and creative people all the time.

Derek: That’s correct. I think originally Gangplank was doing a lot of…Gangplank entity…was doing some incubator activity, which I think did have some potential motives, to do some financial stuff, but I think all of the community stuff was really separate from that.

I think we transitioned fairly quickly away from incubation, and translated it into all community work. I think we changed from an LLC to a non profit, to represent that change as well. The two big ways we’re different is, number one, we’re vision based, and it’s all about a shared community. It’s not about a desk, so it’s not like “Here’s a space, and go ahead and do it.”

The second way that we’re radically different is, we’ve always taken more toward companies and teams, than individuals. So most coworking spaces tend to like really struggle with what happens if a company of four people comes in. They’re really more targeted forward freelancers, and why we totally love freelancers, and we have tons of them around. That’s not how we see the future economy working is a bunch of freelancers working for themselves by themselves.

We see the world as a bunch of small, talented teams working to change the world and buying into a very opinionated culture about how things should be done. I would say we’re very culture based and very non-transactional based.

Roy: If I’m a member of the Gangplank community, what kind of perks and benefits and offers do I get with that? What’s my signup package look like?

Jade: [laughs] It’s a good question. I think the perks that you get are you get to be around other really interesting, like minded people.

Derek: You’re going to change the world.

Jade: Yeah.

Roy: Get any coupons?

Jade: You have one free coupon to change the world.

Derek: We don’t have any paid membership. Membership itself is like this weird thing for us. We have people who are literally in the space more than once a week who feel like they are not members because they are waiting for the check marks, like “Where do I check the box to say that I’m a member”?

I think if you’re participating, you’re a member. There are people who consider themselves Gangplankers who maybe have never stepped into a physical Gangplank before. I think that’s another way that we are radically different than coworking spaces.

We’re really about community and about doing the work. A physical place is just a way to rally around that work, where a coworking space tends to be all about the space. Doing something outside of the space would seem foreign.

Jade: I’ve taken to saying that you can be a Gangplanker anywhere. As long as you believe the philosophy of Gangplank, that makes you a Gangplanker. A physical Gangplank location is just a manifestation of the Gangplank philosophy in a place and time.

Derek: Yeah. I think a good way to do this, and maybe we’ll do a podcast with this group. We have had a number of Gangplankers who have moved to other places. Whether that be Seattle, whether that be Portland, whether that be San Francisco. What tends to happen is one or two of them will move out.

The first thing they’ll say is, “Man, I can’t find anything that’s like a Gangplank. I’ve been to a bunch of coworking spaces, but it’s not the same.” Because what they’re saying they’re missing is not the physical place. They miss the people.

Portland is a great example where we’ve got about 10 or 15 ex Gangplankers. It’s not uncommon that they’ll meet up together to try to experience the fellowship of being Gangplankers, even though they don’t have a physical space. I think that that is really really different.

If I was just a coworking space and I dropped in, it’s like I could go to any other city and probably find another desk, pay my money for it, and we’re totally good to go. It feels fine because I never really deeply interact with people anyway. I’m just there for Internet, power, and a place to work and a conference room.

Jade: There are co workingspaces with strong culture. We’re not trying to…

Derek: Yeah. Shout out to Indy Hall and New Work City. They are two, I think, that are really pushing the bounds of changing what contemporary coworking looks like from a community perspective.

Jade: I just think our culture is different.

Derek: Yes.

Roy: More than ever before, the economic sustainability of a community is based on a workforce that is able to change, adapt, and acquire new skills. How does Gangplank and Gangplank Academy help in acquiring these new skills every week?

Jade: Gangplank is all about change, embracing uncertainty. It’s just build right into the culture. People who interact with Gangplank, people who drink the Kool Aid, I guess, they become part of…

Derek: Sorry, we’ve got a fly buzzing around the studio.

Jade: [laughs] It just flew right in my face, straight into my mouth.

Derek: It’s really harassing the person who happens to be speaking at any point.

Jade: [laughs] I don’t even know what I was saying. Let’s see.

Trish: Something about chaos.

Jade: Yeah. Really Gangplank is about embracing chaos, and that really is the future of the new workforces. We are entering very uncertain times that are unlike the last 50 years. It’s going to be highly critical for people to have the skills to be able to change and adapt.

I think just by participating in this very strange different culture already gives you a leg up that you are willing to be a part of that. I think we’re taking steps further where we’re very much obsessed with learning new things and obtaining different skills. Roy, you talked the other day, “I want to learn this thing. I have no idea what I’m going to use it for, but I just want to learn how to use a CNC machine or do these other things…”

Roy: In my case, it’s arc welding.

Jade: Yeah, arc welding. We want to give people opportunities to learn those skills, even though they don’t know how they’re going to apply it just yet in their life.

Derek: I think there’s a digital blue collar coming right? So, we’re seeing a ton of, I mean, this is no different than when we made a major shift a few hundred years ago from an agricultural society to an industrial society.
You had farmers that started to get displaced because, with modern machinery, what took hundred of farmers to produce, a single farmer could produce with high fangled machinery.

You had farmers starting to say, “OK, great! I don’t need to be a farmer anymore. There’s not a lot of economic viability for me. I need to branch out and do something else. Maybe I need to learn, can I transfer my skills to be an assembly worker at Ford? Can I you know, learn some other skills to move forward.”

I think we’re seeing that right now where you’re getting a lot of displacement when you have industrial manufacturing, really being able to be replaced by smart equipment, robots. Right? And you’ve got factory workers, you’ve got, certain things, even when you look at like, construction.

A lot of construction that happens now, the walls and the roofs and the trusses are all built in a plant somewhere they’re like manufactured and brought in on a truck, and you just need a few people to basically stand them up and put the nails in, to you know, put them together. You’re not talking raw construction like, I’m taking a 2 by 4 and do everything like step by step.

So what happens to people that maybe have some skills, right? But they don’t know how to translate those skills into meaningful work for the next century. So Gangplank tries to get people and tell them like, there is opportunity there, right?

It’s all about your mindset. If you have a mindset that I can learn new things, most of the stuff that’s out there in digital blue color isn’t all that difficult to learn. It just takes the ability to say, I’m capable in learning something new.

I think that’s what academy tries to do as it tries to do, basically it, no cost, no risk, other than your time, give you the confidence and the ability to try new things that you normally wouldn’t try and see if you can find out what’s the right thing you really want to pursue.

Jade: I think we refuse to put people on a box. So, we’re not teaching you how to be a dot net developer or a clay pot maker. You might be acquiring a lot of those skills to be able to do some of those things. But we’re not saying that you are defined by just that one particular skill.

Roy: So, you guys have been doing a lot of stuff with junior programs as well, right? Like first legal league and the junior journalism program, and DangerScouts. How has that been benefiting the kids that we’re attending these programs?

Jade: I think it has benefited the adult even more than the kids. Working with kids is an amazing, enchanting experience, you know? They’re just little learning machines. They soak up information so quick, they ask you really hard questions. Trying to teach them something helps you learn so much more about what is it that you’re teaching.
For us really, at least for me, my kids are the future, right? Everything I do for Gangplank is for them. To make a different, better future, possible for them. You know, some of the things that we’ve tried have been grand experiments, some have gone so great. Some have gone fantastically well but all of them, we learned a lot of things on how to work with kids, what kids need to work in the Gangplank environment.

You drop these kids into the Gangplank culture and they totally thrive. They come alive because there are, the boundaries are so few and far between that they have every opportunity to learn and experiment and really just be happy with all of the new awesome stuff that they’re able to try out.

Derek: Yeah, what it really is is trying to bend the way how we think about we teach kids. I think all the programming we do for junior, at least the majority of the programming within our, it tends to say like, whatever a normal school would do, don’t do it here. So if you’re not allowed to play with fire at school, let them play with fire here.

Jade: [laughs]

Derek: If you’re not allowed to have a sharp instrument, give them a sharp instrument. Right? If they’re not allowed to touch the keyboard, force them to touch the keyboard.
Whatever your school says to do, do the exact opposite of that in you’re doing in Gangplank junior. Some of the benefits that we’ve seen from this like, for me, the three experiences to me that just do it, for me, for Gangplank junior that says this is our future.

One is we had a, they do fall on summer break, out where we’re at, and that gets, basically a week or two off for the kids. It’s very difficult for parents sometime to find what they’re going to do with their kids.
So, we said, hey, why don’t we just have a day, a couple days where the kids can come in and we’ve got the LEGO robotics competition going on. We’ve got all the boards set up, we’ve got all the electronics. We’ve got art supplies. We’ve got all sorts of, just bring, bring your kids in to work, whatever and we’ll do something for them. Hahaha, let’s put a program together.

Well, the program consists of all the kids here, all the stuffs you’re allowed you know, that’s here, you can do whatever you want with it. Let us know when it’s lunch time and we had kids from eighth grade down to probably four years old.
What was amazing to me is, nobody told them what to do, they just said like here’s a podcast, here’s a video recorder, here’s robot. Five days straight, eight hours a day, they totally figured that out, never came and ask for help. But what was amazing was you had eighth grader making sure that the fifth grader was included, or the five year old was included.

You had the, third grader helping the forth grader learn some topic they hadn’t learn yet. Right? It’s just like this total organic, raw learning and exchanging information.

Jade: The kids were teaching each other Geometry and computer programming and all kinds of stuff without any adult back there telling them what to do.

Derek: Yeah, it was just crazy, and like their diverse interests, right? Like, I mean.

Roy: Just because like, they just felt like teaching each other Geometry? Or?

Derek: Well, no.

Jade: They were playing with robots and trying to make the robot do certain thing, and they had to understand ingles to get there.

Derek: Right, so like, I want the robot to turn and I’ve need the, to turn the radius, to turn that. And so, like, I don’t know, I’m twelve and you’re nine, how do I explain radius to you. I can’t use the word radius, so I get on a board and I start to draw a circle and I start to, so I’m teaching somebody Geometry but all I’m trying to teach them is this is what you do to make the wheel turn so that the robot turns, right?

Jade: Uh hmm.

Derek: And it’s awesome to see that kind of stuff. Another one that I think it’s just totally awesome is during robotic competition. One of the things we had with all of our instructors for robotics, we basically said “You’re never allowed to solve a problem for a student and you’re never allowed to touch a keyboard.” Those are the two rules.

Everything, there are so many times these kids are doing something wrong. Like, oh my God, you’re solving this in the most stupid way ever. I totally want to tell you how to solve this because it’s, and so we drop hints like, “Man, do you think that’s going to be reliable?” OK let it fail much.

What was great, they go into a competition, they end up having a challenge that fails where they did like 6 things all in 1 run. So, they program the robot, it does six things before it comes back. The forth thing in fails.
The robot comes back, they’re almost out of time, they’re ready to go, and they want to get the points for that thing. You see the two kids start to argue with each other and all of us were like, “What are you doing? What are you doing? Do something!” They put the robot down. They run one of the other programs it wasn’t designed to do and they go and get their points.

They totally because they understood the point values, they understood how the robot worked, they understood the programs they totally improvised in the face of complete failure.

Nobody else at the competition saw that but us as coaches were like “Holy shit! They did it! They did it! They’re thinking for themselves. They’re solving problems on the fly, under pressure with a clock going down on them.” That was huge.

In the last one, obviously I’m very passionate about Junior and what’s going on here. The last one is, I had my son come in for an entire summer and said, “here’s a list of stuff that you need to learn. Nobody’s going to tell you how to do it. You can ask for help. There are plenty of people in this space that will teach you how to do it.”

He did that. He did program Minecraft with Python on a raspberry pie. He created music videos. He learned songs.

Jade: He learned WordPress and HTML.

Derek: He learned WordPress, HTML, went through all the code academy. All this stuff isn’t what was impressive to me. What was impressive to me was at the end he said, “Dad, do I have to go back to school?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I come here and I learn so much more and I have so much more fun. Can I just go to school at Gangplank?”

That just told me how…I mean, my son does really well in school. He gets straight A’s. All his teachers love him. It’s not like, “I’m having problems in school and I want to avoid school.” It was literally, “I learn here and I want to learn here. Why can’t I do this more often?”

I think that we’re hurting our future generations by not letting them be who they are. Not letting them learn the way they’re capable of learning.

Roy: You guys have this concept called Innovation Labs, right?

Jade: Gangplank Labs.

Roy: Gangplank Labs, OK. What are some of the most innovative projects that have come out of GangPlank Labs?

Jade: Some of the most fun ones have been solving real problems. Gangplank has a very limited number of toilets.

Roy: That number is one.

Trish: For the males only.

Jade: We have a large male population. We had a serious problem in that it’s a pain in the butt to get up…

Derek: Literally.

[laughter]

Jade: …yes, you’re already feeling a little urgency. You’ve got to get up walk all the way down to the hallway, go to the bathroom, walk in the door, realize that, “Nope. Everything’s full.” Walk out the door, stand in the hall looking like an idiot sometimes for ten or fifteen minutes.

Derek: Words with Friends is your worst enemy when you only have one toilet.

Jade: That’s right. So we created a really awesome system to show people whether the bathroom was occupied or not. It involved all this, we had a bunch of Arduinos. We had a bunch of wireless stuff. We ran to Wal Mart and bought all these crazy parts because we were trying to figure out how could we easily detect if the stall door is open or closed.

We ended up building a really awesome system that would light up a light out in the main space if the bathroom was full or occupied. It would turn off the light. We also have a urinal in the men’s room too, so it could detect if you were standing at the urinal or not. So we had a number one and number two sign that would light up. It provided a lot of really great information.

We had a ton of other people in co working spaces wanting to buy the system from us because they were all suffering from the same exact problem. That was bringing together a ton of different things: open source, a ton of different programming skills, hardware, sensors, and really fascinating stuff just to solve our bathroom problem that we got really frustrated with.

We open sourced all the code and all that stuff.

Derek: There’s been some good stuff coming through. There’s a guy that does a bunch of these battle bots for kids that are really cool. We had a guy coming through recently basically doing a guitar effects pedal that fits in the sole of your shoe. So if you’re a musician, you basically just drop this thing in your shoe and you have a full guitar effects pedal everywhere you go.

Almost like the flip flops that have the beer opener in them, only for a musician you have a nice built in effects pedal.

Roy: I’d add a beer opener too.

Jade: That was really cool because they were working with people who knew about the 3D printers, people who knew about audio modeling, they were applying these complex algorithms to the sound that was coming in. They were testing it out with a bunch of different people. They pulled in musicians to try out their stuff and play around with it.
That was a really cool cross section of a lot of different people at Gangplank.

Roy: Lastly, how difficult was it to scale up Gangplank from just a coworking space to a place where you not only space but also vision?

Jade: Gangplank never started out as a coworking space. I think very early on we created the manifesto. We realized we had a whole lot of vision for what we wanted that maybe wasn’t expressed in a way that was consumable for other people.

It helped very early on to put our values down and say, “These are the things that make Gangplank, Gangplank,” even though they might be hard to understand sometimes or lacking some context for people who weren’t there. Those are the things that keep Gangplank honest with itself.

Derek: I’d say scaling the original location was easy because we’re just us. We just let the values organically come from the people who were in the space and what was happening in the space. I think we talk about spreading Gangplank to other spaces, that became a little harder.

We can’t transfer us, we can’t transfer the values everywhere. Those are the kinds of things we’re dealing with now.

We’ve got this really strong culture, how do we get to the point where we can pick that up and basically put it down somewhere else, and let it flourish, and then let someone else pick it up from there, and let it flourish.

Those are the problems we’re currently dealing with. We keep going back to it’s really about having a strong culture and if that happens, good stuff happens. When we start new Gangplanks it’s all about getting the right people seated at the beginning that understand the culture and are permeators or carriers of that culture. When that happens we get really phenomenal results.

Roy: Cool. That’s all my questions.

Jade: All right. Thanks for listening to the Danger Cast. We’ll talk to you later.

[music]

play audio Dangercast #5   Some Gangplank History

Dangercast #4 – Friendship over Formality

Roy van de Water, Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, and Trish Gillam discuss the Gangplank Manifesto: Friendship over Formality.

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

Derek Neighbors: I’m Derek Neighbors.

Trish Gillam: I’m Trish Gillam.

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

Jade: Today we want to talk about more about the Gangplank Manifesto. We are on “Friendship over Formality,” and if you haven’t read the Gangplank Manifesto, check it out, gangplankmanifesto.com.

Friendship over formality. We were just talking about this before the podcast started. What does that mean, in Gangplank terms?

Roy: I’m thinking contracts, so talking to people and speaking to them, and making a deal over a handshake, rather than in triplicate.

Derek: I’ll say that where this one came from, because I remember exactly where this one came from. I’m pretty old, and I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember where this one came from.

When we were first wanting to do Gangplank, we had reached out. We’re not even Gangplank. We want to invite some people into our office, to be near some cool people. We had started a dialogue with James Archer, who was with Forty, who had recently merged with another company.

They’d gotten kicked out of their garage, because you couldn’t start companies in garages, that would be un-kosher. We invited them in, and as part of that, we said, “We just want you to go ahead and come in for free. Just take an office. We’ve got an office, we just want you to take it.”

I don’t know if it was our lawyer, or our landlord at the time, said “I don’t know about this, you really need to talk to the lawyer,” so we talked to the lawyer and said, “What do you think?” They said, “You can’t do anything for free! If you do it for free, you can’t have a legal and binding contract.”

We’re like, “We don’t want anything,” They are really convincing us to charge a dollar. They said, “You have to at least charge a dollar. You have to exchange something of value, in order for there to be a legal contract.”

Jade: First, they said, “It is totally unsafe to do any of this. You shouldn’t do anything. Shut it down, don’t do this.”

Derek: Yeah, “Why would you ever invite somebody in?”

Jade: “But if you must do it, then…”

Derek: “Then you must have a contract. In order to have a contract, the only way that contract is legal and binding is if it has something of value tied to it.” We started to say, “OK, what about a dollar?” The lawyer’s like, “I think that’s a really horrible idea, but yeah, that would be legal and binding.”

We had a go-around for about a week, two weeks.

Jade: Yeah, we debated for a long time.

Derek: We’re like, “This is just stupid. Why the fuck would we do this for a dollar?” At some point, let’s just stick it to the Man, and so we just said, “We’re not doing it.” I think that’s where this really came…

Roy: By “We’re not doing it,” you mean we’re not charging a dollar, right?

Derek: We’re not charging a dollar!

Jade: We’re not doing Gangplank.

[laughter]

Jade: You’re not even listening to this podcast.

Derek: Because we didn’t want the contract. It wasn’t about the dollar, it was about the contract. The way that we summed it up internally is, “Think of this like you have a kid brother, or a sister, or an aunt, or a parent, and they found themselves homeless. You said, ‘I want to do a good deed for you, and I would like to let you stay in my house.’ Sure. Go ahead and move in for a little bit.”

I’m not going to make you sign a lease agreement and sign it for a dollar so that I have a way to evict you, because we’re family.

Jade: Do you know what kind of risk you’re taking on, Derek?

Derek: We’re taking a huge risk, right. But I can assume that if you’re being a jerk, at some point I can just pack your crap up, and throw it out the front door and say, “Get out,” and I can get some police help with that, actually because I — don’t — have a contract with you.

Jade: So you’re trespassing.

Roy: What you guys are saying is, you don’t charge your family a dollar each to come over for dinner?

[laughter]

Derek: That’s correct.

Derek: I think that became the spirit, once we did that, is, “Why don’t we treat more stuff like that? Why do we have to be so formal, with committees and policies, and contracts?” I think that doesn’t mean, “Be irresponsible, and never ever sign a legal contract.” I think it’s, “Be smart where you need to be smart, and where you can be friends, be friends.”

If you’re friends with somebody, let’s do things over a handshake when we can do things over a handshake, and when we can’t, then we’re probably getting further and further away from where we want to be. Means there’s probably a level of distrust there.

Jade: We see a lot of people who come across Gangplank, or maybe they’re even part of Gangplank, that really struggle with this idea of friendship over formality. Why do you think that is?

Derek: Some if it’s control. If you have some kind of formality, you’ve got some control. “I’ve got you on the hook.” That’s why the lawyer wanted it. “You need a contract, and you need to execute that contract, so when something goes wrong, you can really stick it to them.” Force that contract.

Roy: I bet a lot of it’s fear too, because those lawyers have made a business of…American culture too, of people getting sued for all sorts of crazy reasons, and being charged ridiculous sums of money.

I think people are just plain scared of lawyers, and anything to do with legality. They’d rather give in and do the legal, safe thing. Even if it’s a crap-ton of extra work, because they are so afraid of the consequences.

Trish: Yeah, I think it’s a safety thing, the fear. Just in general, if we have defined our relationship, and we’ve said “You’re going to do this and I’m going to do this,” and we have this defined role, there’s less fear in that.

Roy: It’s probably less ambiguous too, because that way they know the expectation is. If I do a handshake deal to help you out with something, Jade, does that mean I’m helping you out for the rest of eternity? Or does that mean I’m helping out for the next 10 days, or what?

Reasonable human beings would say, “I’m helping you out until it becomes absurd, and then I’m cutting you off, and I’m going to talk to you about it.” People aren’t used to that, because that means I’m going to have to talk to you about it. That’s going to be a conflict. I’d much rather point to the contract, and be like, “We’re done.”

Jade: The contract becomes the arbiter of the conflict, instead of having a conversation.

Derek: Exactly.

Jade: What are some examples that we’ve seen the negative side of this play out?

Derek: Where bad stuff is happening?

Jade: Where people want formality over friendship.

Derek: One that comes to mind is, art is a particularly difficult topic. It’s a difficult subject, in the sense of…There’s a lot in that world that is very formalized, which you wouldn’t really think.

But when you start to show art, when you start to do things with art…At one point we had…In a space, there was a lot of concern about, “We want to hang some people’s art that’s not ours. We haven’t purchased it. What do we do with that?” We really struggled with that.

We came up with some, not liability waivers, but some kind of waivers. “If you want to put your art here, and you want to sell it, that’s great, but we’re not really liable for it.” I think as you start to escalate, you get more expensive art, you get artists that are used to dealing with art houses. There’s a lot of formality that goes for how do I deal with that?

I think any time where we see where people want indemnity, or they want process, they start to really creep up on formality. They really start to get into anything that there’s an existing norm around it. “When I normally do this, this thing happens. How come Gangplank’s different?”

Jade: If I host an event…

Derek: We have this coming up with somebody who’s doing a pretty big event. They’re taking a bunch of space, not just the main space. Some of the space is space that’s not necessarily Gangplank space, and they’re concerned.

They’re like, “I want some document that demands that I get what I want, no matter what. I need to make sure that I have this space for my event, or bad things will happen, and I want you to guarantee that.”

Roy: It is people that are getting the space for free?

Derek: Yes.

Roy: [indecipherable 07:56]

Derek: Yes.

Jade: [laughs]

Derek: I think that’s one of those, “That’s really nice. Here’s what we can do. We’re not going to say, ‘If you don’t get the space, we’re going to refund you thousands of dollars that you didn’t pay,’” but it’s very difficult.

Roy: We will give you a full refund!

[laughter]

Jade: The problem is though, it really burns our social capital, which is hard to get back.

Derek: When we actually do end up reneging on a contract.

Jade: If we do something like this, yeah.

Derek: I think that some of the friendship part of it, though, is, if we’re really getting into process with you, if we’re crawling into bed with you, we both look bad if the event doesn’t happen. The only way we would not provide you space is if something really bad happened that we weren’t able to provide you space.

It’s not like we would just, “Oh well, because you didn’t pay anything, ha ha, too bad.” If you’ve got 1,000 people coming to a Gangplank and last minute it gets canceled because something happens, we’re not doing that because we like to look stupid.

Maybe the building caught on fire, or maybe there was a flood. There’s going to be some reason for it. We’re not going to reimburse you for that, when you didn’t pay for space.

Roy: We’ll probably work with you to try to help you out with the problem anyway.

Derek: Yeah, exactly.

Jade: Because we’re friends.

Derek: I think what comes up is, “If I were renting space at a hotel, they would provide me that.” It’s like, “Then maybe you need to rent space at a hotel. If you absolutely have to have that kind of formality, maybe Gangplank’s not the right facility for you.” It’s hard for people.

Jade: Friendship comes with a lot of uncertainty.

Derek: I think some of it, especially in the case of liability, the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught up to this. We’re still very litigious, or however you want to say it. I don’t know how to pronounce it.

Jade: You got it right.

Derek: People still really like to sue people over stupid stuff. People want a lot of formality around anything that has any amount of liability to it. I think that’s another place where we get a lot of concern.

Another place that I think we see this a lot are if there’s normally something that has a lot of process to it. This is why I fucking hate the concept of anchors, because the first thing anchors do is they feel special. When they feel special, they start to exclude.

When they start to exclude they build rules to exclude others, and they start to add all sorts of formal process into place about, “Everything becomes a vote,” and then, “How do you get your vote? If you’re here on the first Thursday of the second Monday and your hair is blond, you get a vote, but if not, you don’t get a vote.”

Jade: Hey, Roy, you’re in.

Derek: All right! I get a vote!

Jade: [laughs] like a lot of formality.

Derek: It gets really formal.

Roy: I think I think that’s the same thing as with the contract, as in you’re allowing the formality to be the arbiter.

Derek: Yeah.

Roy: “It’s not us.”

Jade: “It’s not us. It’s the rules.”

Derek: “I would totally allow you to vote, but everybody says, ‘Only people here on Thursday that are blonde…

Jade: [laughs]

Derek: …like myself, are allowed to vote on Thursday.”

Trish: Hey, it’s not Thursday. No voting.

Jade: It’s Thursday somewhere.

Derek: You get a ton of policy in there as well. To me it’s, anytime I start to see people wanting to make a bunch of policies, it’s like, “You have a culture problem.” Because Gangplank is all about culture in a very, very, very strong culture, that you should be able to look at the norms in the values to make decisions. You shouldn’t need policy to make decisions.

What I see is people tend to want to use policy incrementally to devalue values, and to override culture. If we say the “Friendship over formality,” it’s like “OK, yeah. I totally get that, I totally agree with that. But this one small little section over here? This little bitty slice? I’d like a slight policy. Oh, no policy? OK, I want a committee to decide that stuff. OK great.”

Then that grows, and grows, and grows and grows. Then when somebody goes “Man, that doesn’t match your manifesto,” somebody goes “It’s the policy. I’m sorry, that’s just how it works now.” That’s how culture gets redefined, is when people start to pull policy out. To enforce what they want, instead of what the culture wants.

Jade: Right, and for me that doesn’t scale.

Derek: No.

Jade: It doesn’t scale at all to the level that, that we would like to see Gangplank permeate the world. Especially the philosophy and, like you said, the culture of Gangplank. We can’t have a bunch of policies. It slows things down so much.

Roy: It prevents people from being rational, because you can no longer have a discussion about it, because every response is just, “I’m sorry. I understand that this is an exception, and I totally agree with you, but this is policy, so we’ve got to follow policy.”

Derek: What it turns is, the only people that can get anything done are the people that have the better lawyers. That whoever is better at the legalism is the one who gets what they want, at that point.

You don’t do the right things, you do the things that are either the path of least resistance, or you do the things where you have support from somebody who can out-legal-maneuver the other policy person.

Roy: I could see some great some television spot, totally. “Today in Gangplank court…”

[laughter]

Derek: That’s what we need, we need the People’s Court for Gangplank.

[laughter]

Jade: That could be fun.

Derek: We need a Judge Wapner. Maybe Francine could be Judge Wapner.

Jade: Have we run into occasions where formality was warranted?

Derek: Sure. We have, say, trademarks on our logos, and on Gangplank. The problem there is that somebody outside of our culture could take and do something with that, and so it’s a defensive ability to say, “Hey, if you’re starting to step outside of the bounds of that, we have legal agreements in order to work with cities.”

Jade: To lease the space.

Derek: Yeah, to lease space.

Roy: Haven’t we even, in the past, rented space for a dollar?

Derek: Yeah, sure we have. I think that the other things that will generally have some formality around them, we do carry liability coverage. It’s about not being stupid on purpose.

I think where it is is the better friends you are, the less formality you need. The less friends you are, the more formality you need. So it’s not an “either or.” I think we try to side on the side of friendship as much as possible. If we feel like we need the formality, we should default to, “How do we strengthen our friendship?”

If my gut reaction is, “I want you to sign something, I don’t trust you, and I want this thing,” maybe I should say, “Maybe we don’t do that yet, maybe we should become better friends. We become better friends, then maybe this wont matter.”

Jade: Where most that formality exists is people who aren’t bound by our culture?

Derek: Correct.

Jade: When we’re dealing with people who are completely outside of the Gangplank influence?

Derek: That’s correct.

Roy: That’s interesting though, cause it’s a matter of expectation, not necessarily a fear of the consequences, often times it drives people towards formality. Totally going back on what I was talking about earlier.

I was trying to think of an example of last weekend, when I was at a rock climbing festival. I was climbing on a wall, and I set up this anchor at the top, which means that you’re putting pieces into the wall. It’s kind of dangerous because, you’re setting up an anchor that everybody is going to be hanging off of.

People walk by, and are like, “Hey, do you mind if I jump on this climb real quick?” Because you’re saving them a bunch of work.

[crosstalk]

Derek: You had them sign a disclosure form, right?

Roy: No, I did not.

[laughter]

[crosstalk]

Roy: They totally hop right on, and it’s no big deal. This is somebody I’ve never met before in my life, and they eyeballed it, and said “That looks fine.” and hop on.

But then I took a clinic with a class that was all on the ground, and they were just teaching us stuff. Because the class was being run by a local climbing shop, they had us all sign waivers ahead of time to acknowledge that the information we were leaning was dangerous. It felt so weird and out of place.

Jade: The person actually risking their life had no assurance from you.

Roy: Exactly. They had the consequences, but then it felt totally fine for me to be signing a form for a class, even though I was never in any danger at all, because I was just sitting there.

Derek: I think that’s a perfect analogy. The reason I say it’s the perfect analogy is, you’re hanging a thousand feet up from a rock. You put a clip in, and you hang from it. You put your life in that clip.

If I come behind you and say, “Do you mind if I put my life in that clip?” I’m pretty sure that you’ve done something pretty reasonable, because you put your own life into it.

Roy: That’s true.

Derek: I think if I walk into the rock climber shop, I’m expecting you to be the expert, but I have no ability to know if you’re really an expert. You could be telling me something that is total crap, because I am not seeing you put your life on the line for it. I might be a little more likely to come after you as an expert.

I think that’s one of the things that happens in Gangplank, is when we’re doing things…If we partner with an event, and you’ve got a thousand people coming, we’re in it together. “You’re putting your reputation into this as much as I am, so I don’t need this formal document.”

Whereas if somebody off the street, who doesn’t know us, we don’t know them, says, “I want to do a thousand-person event,” we say “Yeah, sure, great. You can have it.” We’re not putting our name behind it, we’re not endorsing it, we’re not putting social capital into it. I could understand why they would say “I want some assurance that this is really going to happen.”

I think that that’s a good way to look at it. If you are in it to together, it’s a hell of a lot easier to not be formal about it. When you’re not in it together and you’re faceless about it, you tend to want that, because you want some reassurance.

Jade: So really, it just comes down to trust.

Derek: I think so. And pragmatism.

Jade: We can talk about that later. All right, that’s about all the time we have. Thanks for listening to the Dangercast.

[music]

Singer: Arrrrrr. Arrrdy harrr. Arr, it’s Gangplank, they’re a creative bunch. Come and bring your laptop, and drink the fruit punch. Arr arggghhhhhh. With some rum.

play audio Dangercast #4   Friendship over Formality

Dangercast #3 – Participation over Observation and Doing over Saying

Roy van de Water, Derek Neighbors, Jade Meskill, and Greg Taylor discuss the Gangplank Manifesto: Participation over Observation and Doing over Saying.

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:  This week, we wanted to talk about the third value of the Gangplank manifesto which is participation over observation. Why did we come up with this?

Roy:  This totally puts an image in my head of a high school dance where everybody is just standing around the wall around the outside of the dance but nobody’s actually dancing.

Derek:  You went to every event circa 2005 in the Phoenix Metro area.

[laughter]

Jade:  I think that’s exactly why we came up with this.

Derek:  Bunch of wallflowers.

Jade:  There was a lot of that.

Derek:  So I think a lot of this was in our communities, in particular, there’s always incessant bitching about how this wasn’t right and that wasn’t right and how this wasn’t perfect and if only we had this. It’s like, “What are you doing about it? What are you contributing to it?” Always the answer was a big fat goose egg of, “Wo…Oh…” I think that really became part of the Gangplank mantra.

I can’t tell you how many times people tried to slow us down. We had no marketing campaign, we had no agenda. We’re just going to do cool stuff with cool people and we’re just doing it. And every time, we say, “Oh, did you talk to so and so about that?” Why the fuck would I talk to so and so about doing that?

Ed and Francine, I love you but I call you out on it. It’s not your fault, it was the community.

Jade:  This is the Dangercast today!

Derek:  One of the things that people told us early on was, “Oh man, have you talked to Ed and Francine yet?” “No.” They’re like, “You should.” “We’re here doing shit every week, if they want to come, they’re welcome to show up and come and check it out.” That probably took about six weeks, a month, whatever, I don’t know what the timeframe was.

They came and we had this great conversation. We’ve been great friends since and everything else. That was very indicative of the culture of, “You can’t do something at all without going through the 65 check proof process and, “Did you get approval from these people?” Why do I need approval to do something? I’m going to do it. I think that kind of stuff was the exact thing that was like…

Another one, Evo, this goes out to you. I remember we were talking about podcasts at one point and I think he had mentioned, “Oh, you guys should do a podcast during Hack night or something,” and I said, “Great, why don’t you do that?” He was, “Uh…” and I was like, “Well, you can’t just sit around and bitch that you wish there was a place to podcast if you don’t do any…”

Next week, he showed up and he had a little mixing board and a head deck thing and Jade brought some stuff in. Within a couple of weeks, there were two or three podcasts being recorded every Wednesday night, and to this day, some of that same equipment’s probably still floating around here.

Roy:  We’re using it right now! [laughs]

Derek:  But I think that was the exact kind of spirit at the time and still today was, “Don’t say something unless you plan on doing it because you will be humiliated by everybody that you say it to if you don’t do it.”

Jade:  So the next value is doing over saying, how are these different? How is participation or observation different from doing over saying?

Greg:  In my mind, everybody asks me, people who walk through the door, “How do you get involved with Gangplank? How do you do this?” I say, “You come in, you pull up a chair and you get things done, you talk to people and you just do.”

We’ve had a lot of conversations recently from anchors and community members, “Where’s the handbook for being an anchor? How do I find out all this stuff?” Well, you participate and you find out. You talk to the person next to you and that’s how you find out.

Roy:  It’s interesting because if you’ve seen it, and the way you explain it, it sounds so simple, and it is so simple. If you just show up and help out and there’s enough stuff to do, it’ll be appreciated.

Greg:  And there’ll be a place for you.

Roy:  But it is so unusual that it’s hard to believe. If I want to participate in anything else, I don’t know if I’d have the same confidence. Let’s say, show up at the public library and just start helping out. Now that I think about it, they’d probably take my help and figure out something to do with it.

Jade:  For me, the difference between doing over saying and participation over observation is the fact that Gangplank is for everyone who comes. It’s open for you to jump in and be a part of whatever’s happening. There’re so many different things happening.

Greg:  In whatever way you see fit.

Jade:  Yeah. I think that really the intent is that Gangplank is not for sitting back and watching. If you show up and you sit quietly in the corner, that might be all right but you’re not going to get the full benefit out of Gangplank. I think doing over saying is really for the people who complain a lot, “We wish we had this and we wish we had that.”

Derek:  To me, I think they’re linked in ways that are almost inseparable. One of the things I would say about participation over observation is I think a big part of the mantra here is that if you leave unsatisfied, it’s only on you. If you come in and you don’t participate in getting that result, you only have yourself to blame for the result you got. I think that that is something that is wildly fantastically different thinking for most people.

We had a guy that had come in to one of the Hack nights. There were probably 100 people here. There was music going on, there was a DJ, there was video games, there was codeine, there was paint. It was one of the Hack nights where it was virtually bumping, everything going. This guy’s, “Hey, I’m going to come down to Hack night. It’s going to be my first time. What time does it start?” somebody tells him, Twitter, email.

About six hours later, there’s violent email or blog posts, I don’t remember which one goes out. “I can’t believe it. I drove two hours from Lake Pleasant to come down to Chandler and I came in and there were hundreds of people there. I came in and I sat down and not one person introduced themselves to me. Nobody asked me at all to do anything with them.

I sat there for 45 minutes and only one person even asked my name. I can’t believe that you guys run a place like this. This is so horrible, I’m never coming back. You guys are going to fail. Your customer service is horrible.” All of us were, “There was some dude in here?”

Jade:  I’m pretty sure that story was the direct inspiration for this line of the manifesto.

Derek:  Yeah but if you drive two hours to something and you can’t even muster up the guts to say, “Hi, my name is Derek.” You’d better expect pretty crappy results. I think that’s just the expectation.

The reason I say doing and participation are interlinked is I think the corollary is, if you can’t find something that interests you to participate, then you need to create it. If there’s stuff that interests you, if you show up to a meet‑up, if you show up to the Ruby group or if I show up to a start‑up event or if I show up to an art event or a music event, and I’m interested in that. I choose not to participate and I don’t like the result, that’s on me. That’s not on the pursuit, which is very different than I think how most spaces or events think about.

Then I think it rolled into a leadership role. We came up with a showupocracy. So decisions were being made and you’d have people that would only come in, anchors only come in every three days or something. Somebody would move something or do something. “Oh, how come you guys did that?” It’s like, “Hey, man.” Show up if you care about that stuff. If you’re not going to be active in the space, if you’re not going to participate, you lose your voice and I think that’s another element.

The people that are participating are the people that are driving. There’s nothing wrong with being an observer, being a passenger but don’t get in the back seat and then bitch about the direction the cars going in if somebody offers to let you drive.

Jade:  I fully sympathize with how difficult this is to is to participate over observe. I’m very much an introvert. I don’t like unstructured social interaction. That’s just like you said, Derek, if I go to an event and have a bad time, it’s probably on me, that I chose to have a bad time.

The awesome thing about Gangplank in its many manifestations is there probably is the right thing for you to come and participate in. It might not be Hack night. It might not be some of the other things that we have going on. But there is something that you can participate in.

Greg:  And if you think that there’s not, make it. [laughs]

Jade:  Yes, these things are so linked. Let’s go into doing over saying. We’ve touched on it here and there. We created that because people were complaining that there’s not this and there’s not that. How has that changed the Gangplank community?

Derek:  It goes back to even our previous conversation which was really about community over agendas. I think one of the things that you see, just how we said when you connect other people, your note gets more powerful. More so, than if you’re just trying to connect people to you.

In the same way, one of the most influential things you can do is do and participate. People get behind people who are getting things done. People get behind people who are giving them a voice and participating in a voice.

I cannot tell you how many council meetings I have been to where you’ve got one crazy nut that comes up and says something. And the council will think twice before they do something because they’re definitely afraid, “Man, if there’s somebody who cares enough to come up to one of our boring ass meetings and throw a tantrum and sit here for two hours to wait to throw that tantrum, how many people are sitting at home with the exact same thought? I’m going to maybe think about not doing this because I want to get re‑elected.”

Jade:  Especially when that guy’s name is Derek Neighbors.

Derek:  I think when you’re talking about people who are representing hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes all it takes is one or two voices from them to say, “I’m going to pause and think about this.” Think about the power of that. The power of participation.

I think that’s one of the things we’re trying to do too, not only participate in Gangplank, not only participate in the community but participate in everything you do. When you go to work, participate. Be a voice in what you’re doing, what you’re creating. In your community, in your civic duties, participate and be a voice in what you’re doing. There’s so much power in that, it’s so attractive to people.

Roy:  But it’s so difficult because if I participate and screw up, now it’s my fault. Before, I could blame you.

Derek:  I think that’s why most people don’t participate. I’d rather not vote and bitch about the person who’s in office than to actually vote and have to say why I voted for this person. Or, hey, the person even got elected and now I’m not really liking what they’re doing and I’ve got to admit that. You have to stand up for it.

Greg:  I always think about my days working in the skate park business. Skate parks were built because people went to city meetings and said, “We want this.” The city council probably shut them down the first 10 times they showed up. But then when they showed up and said, “We raised x amount of dollars. We want this in our city,” a movement starts.

Derek:  Absolutely.

Greg:  People are listening. I always think around here, if I want something done, it’s on me to start. Actions speak louder than words.

Derek:  I think that’s it, right there. That’s why I think these things are so linked, because if it’s not happening it’s your responsibility to do it. Once somebody takes the charge and starts doing it, if you care about it, it’s your responsibility to participate and to help them move it forward.

It takes somebody to do it, to move the ball forward, and it takes people to participate to help keeping it go forward. It’s just stuff that you don’t see. Everybody likes to say how great they’re going to be. Nobody likes to do the work. Everybody’s got great ideas, everybody’s got great ways to implement them. But the number of people that really want to do the work to be great is pretty small.

That’s where doing over saying thing comes. It’s really easy to talk shit about how awesome you’re going to be. It’s really hard to be awesome.

Jade:  This directly applies to myself. I’ll use this to make a confession, I really like to complain, really like it, a lot. The thing I’ve figured out is, it never makes me happy. Ever. I could complain forever and I’ll get some perverse joy out of it, but I’ll never be truly happy.

Making this part of the core DNA of Gangplank has forced me to reconsider that position. When I find myself complaining, the only thing that’s ever made me happy is to do something about it. I’ve created so much more ever since we’ve made that a part of what we do than I ever would have before. I’ve never been happier with myself or the things that are going on around me.

Derek:  I will say that the best part about doing over saying is that it is probably the only value we have that comes in with a built‑in meter. It has a meter that is so strong and so in tune, you can tell whether you’re doing, by how pissed off you’re making people.

[laughter]

Derek:  What I mean by that is, if you sit around and complain, everybody and their fucking brother will join in with you and complain and sing praises with you. But if you go out there and you start to do, boy, wait until you see those complainers fucking get pissed off about you should have done it. Because man, does the complain go to 2000 because what you’re showing them is that they had the power all along to get what they wanted and they chose not to do it. Boy, does that piss them off.

If you are doing stuff, and if you’re doing good stuff especially, expect the community to just roast you like a marshmallow because they are insanely jealous that you’re getting what you want and they’re not.

Jade:  I’ve said it for a long time, if nobody hates you, you’re not doing anything worth caring about. That wraps up our time.

Derek:  Two for one at that.

Jade:  Next week, we’ll be talking friendship over formality.

Roy:  We’ve got to find friends to get that one done.

Jade:  These are values, not necessarily reality.

Derek:  Maybe we can hire some friends?

Greg:  And wear ties.

Jade:  [laughs] All right, we’ll catch you next time on the Dangercast.

play audio Dangercast #3   Participation over Observation and Doing over Saying

Dangercast #2 – Community over Agendas

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…

play audio Dangercast #2   Community over Agendas