Roy van de Water, Jade Meskill, and Derek Neighbors discuss the Gangplank initiatives.
Jade Meskill: Hello, welcome to the “Dangercast,” where we talk about the culture and design of “Gangplank.” I am Jade Meskill.
Roy van de Water: I am Roy van de Water.
Derek Neighbors: And I’m Derek Neighbors.
Jade: Today, we wanted to talk about the different initiatives that we have going on around Gangplank. Where should we begin?
Derek: Maybe we could talk a little bit of what initiatives are. When I look at Gangplank, it started to boil down…What is it that we really need in a community to be successful? And so those became the initiatives.
These are the big broad strokes of ‑‑ these are the thing that a creative community needs to thrive and to grow and to continue to move forward. Those became the initiatives. The general rule of thumb is that anything that happens in Gangplank should align to one or more of the initiatives in Gangplank.
If it doesn’t we have to ask the question “Is it something Gangplank should really be doing or not doing”? Or “Is this something new enough that it needs a new initiative”? We’ve got enough out there, we probably are not going to find too many initiatives we need, they’re going to fall underneath them.
Which is not to be confused with programs. Programs are actual things, whether it be events, whether it be tracks, whether it be different implementations or tactical pieces. Think of as the strategy of Gangplank and programs under initiatives are the tactical implementation of “How do you make that initiative come to life”?
Jade: I just want to give a simple example.
Roy: Would the Brownbag be a program and it would fall into the Academy initiative?
Derek: That’s correct. Something that might happen on a regular basis or be an event or a different structured thing, that happens to be a program. Brownbags are a great example of…Brownbag happens every single week.
The goal of the program is to provide content to people in an informal learning environment that fits within their day. Short bite, onetime thing. You might only come to one a year, you might come to one a week, you might come to one a month.
It falls under the initiative of Gangplank Academy which is really about learning and doing those. The program should align to the initiative that is trying to be achieved in the area.
Jade: Just like having a podcast studio is a program that belongs under our studio’s initiatives.
Derek: That’s correct.
Jade: Let’s list off what initiatives we have at this moment. I’ll read them off. We’ve got Academy, Business, Health, Gangplank Junior, Labs, Studios, and Local.
Roy: Guessing off that, I’m assuming academies is learning‑based. About self‑betterment in the form of knowledge, like, increasing your own knowledge and skills?
Derek: If you remember, one of the manifestos items is learning over expertise. One of the things Academy was really designed to do was be two‑fold. One, yes it’s a learning piece, but the second thing it was designed to do is…
Right now, the educational system is kind of defunct in that you don’t have a lot…
Jade: Just kind of.
Derek: Yeah. You don’t have a whole lot of practical knowledge happening. It’s a lot of theory. One of the things Academy was trying to do was go out and get people in the real world who do this for their living to get them to come in and to teach other people in short, burstable formats.
So we get a lot of people who would like to learn something new, but they are not willing to sign up for a community college or a university program that’s 25 weeks long, or 20 weeks long, two to three nights a week, or one night a week. But they would gladly come in for a one‑hour session three times in a month, or come in for a single half‑hour session.
That was part of it. But also to get people who have real‑world experience. The second aspect of Academy was that a lot of the educational opportunities that exist are not progressive enough.
Meaning, if a new language, or node JS came out last year, you can’t go find a class on node JS in a community college because it takes on average about five years from the time somebody produces or promotes, creates something, to the time it’s approved. In a really good university, it’s three years.
We know in technology, especially, shit that’s three years old is dead a lot of times.
Roy: If you’re just now learning the stuff from three years ago…
Derek: Yeah. If you want a go programming language, you could probably find that in Academy, you’d have a hard time finding that at the major university.
It was also a way to do that. Then there are other things where maybe there are things people like but they’re not things that any university would really do.
Maybe I’m really into geocaching but I don’t know how it works. Somebody wants to give a geocaching workshop to show how geocaching works and go out and do an adventure on it, or do something.
It’s also to help provide those learning opportunities that a traditional institution would not be able to provide you.
Jade: What about Business?
Derek: Business, that’s the entrepreneurship one. It’s everything that is involved in supporting business.
When Gangplank came about, it was really a bunch of small business owners that put it together. One of the things that we really felt was we were getting a lot of support from each other. A big part of the business initiative is a mentoring program.
One of the programs inside of the business initiative is mentoring, which provides a number of opportunities to be paired with people who’ve been there and done that, and help support you in moving your business forward.
It also has programs whether it be start‑up weekends, lean start‑up camps, you name it, we use to say, “Hey, I have an idea, how do I take an idea into some form of implementation”? To pitch nights. “Hey, I’ve already got a product, how do I go about seeing how it stacks up to other products”?
Anything that would help you, basically, either start a business, grow a business, evolve a business. It’s everything from, “I have an idea,” and “How do I get moving,” to, “Hey, I’ve got an existing business, how do I grow it, or how do I get to a stage where I can sell it”?
Anything in between is really involved there. Anything about moving a particular business forward, or supporting a business owner would fall under the business initiative.
Jade: Health is next.
Roy: This one seems to be all about if Academy is about improving your mental capacity, Health would be about improving your physical self.
Jade: I think even more so than that it’s the whole person. Your physical, your mental, your emotional. Really taking the whole person into account.
Derek: Yeah, and it’s a lot about lifestyle. It’s trying to integrate, if you look at the programs around Gangplank Health, they’re generally are things that try to either promote awareness of, hey, maybe I could make some better lifestyle choices. Or they’re things that try to build patterns in you that become native, good, healthy choices.
A great program we have within Gangplank Health is the Gangplank Mile. Where, hey, you’ve got a bunch of people working in a space, sedentary, at a computer all day long, and every day at a certain time somebody gets up and says, “Hey, I’m going on the Gangplank Mile.”
You walk a quick mile, it takes 20 minutes or less. You come back. You got out from underneath your chair. You got to socialize with some other people.
What it’s trying to basically build in is it’s not healthy to sit in a chair for four, to six, to eight hours at a time without getting out and getting there. As part of that, it doesn’t have to be a hard‑core physical work out.
You could go have a good conversation. You could still be doing business, but not be doing it necessarily in your chair or behind a desk. So it’s trying to create those kind of lifestyle awareness pieces.
Everything from eating, to true, hardcore fitness to small lifestyle changes, as well as mental thinking. How do I deal with problem people in my life? How do I deal with…some of those overlap.
We see a lot of times initiatives overlap, where almost every initiative we have ends up having classes that are Academy classes. You get a lot of overlap.
Jade: Let’s skip over junior, come back to that one at the end, because it’s very different than the rest. Let’s talk about labs. Labs is really looking at the maker movement. Focusing on 3D printing and laser cutters, and Arduino…
Roy: It’s a lot about making things. I don’t even think it has to be a physical something. Just making.
Derek: A lot of the computer science stuff that’s in here as well. Which, early on it was really truly maker space, making stuff, but a lot of stuff, then, has started to come in after the fact. Whether it be a book club on how to be a better engineer?
Anything that is around trying to learn how to make things, whether they be digital things or whether they be physical things, the act of actual making is where lab sits. There’s a fairly large science component involved in that as well.
Jade: Also, had a lot of hacking. Hacking a quad copter, or hacking some different things. Making regular things do things they weren’t necessarily intended to do.
Roy: I think everybody is capable of coming up with awesome ideas, but everybody is also capable of making them if they are provided with the right support. Ideas have no value unless you execute them.
Derek: It’s really across the board. Tonight there was a science pub quiz here at Gangplank where a bunch of scientists got together and were having, basically, drinking, having trivia around science quiz ‑‑ a trivial pursuit for science nerds.
It’s embracing science and technology, and making and hacking, and all of those things and really trying to breathe that culture in. It’s about trying to create that hacker ethos within Gangplank, comes out of a labs initiative.
Jade: Studios is next. Probably one of our most misunderstood initiatives. We started a lot around music, but expanded to really encompass all of the creative arts.
Derek: Yes, all the studio arts, so whether it be sculpture, whether it be…
Jade: Painting, photography…
Derek: Painting, photography. You can probably hear a background noise. There’s an improvisation group literally happening next to the studio. All the giggle and laughter and yelling you hear is an improvisation group doing some improvisation training. It really is every art form. We got comedians that come in, you name it…
Derek: …The podcast studio that we’re doing right here is all part of the studio. We’ve got videographers.
Roy: [inaudible 11:22] is a makeshift green screen.
Derek: There’s some argument sometimes between the initiatives, so if I’m a crafter, is that part of Studios or is that part of Labs? Because technically, I’m making something physical because I’m needing but it’s…
Roy: There’s so much overlapping and so much a selected science that you mentioned earlier. Is that part of Labs or is that part of Academy?
Derek: Right. So we try not to be so particular, we try to say “Choose a primary channel to put it in.” But ultimately it’s going to probably bleed over and things like Academy and Business tend to cover a lot of them.
If I’m going at making something and now I want to turn it into business is part of that business? If we have a class on how to take your physically made goods and turn into a business on Etsy, the art…Is it a Studios thing? Is it a Lab thing? Is it a Business thing? Or is it an Academy thing? It’s probably all of those things.
Jade: Part of our ethos is collaboration. Those categories don’t exist to exclude each other, they’re there to help each other out. They are there to reflect…these are the things that we believe need to be happening, around a Gangplank community.
Derek: When we’re talking about these things, these things all are symbiotic to..they all are required to really change an economy and change a place. That’s what it’s really about, it’s the infrastructure.
The example I just gave “Let’s give a class on how to take your homemade product and sell it and make a living out of it.” If we don’t have the promotion infrastructure for classes that Academy has created, how do you get people to attend that class?
If you don’t have the classroom to teach it in, where do you teach it? It’s the infrastructure that’s created for Academy helps make that happen. But at the same time, if you’ve got a bunch of people making things and wanting to learn “How do I make a business out of it,” now you’ve created an audience to have that particular class.
If you don’t have somebody who’s business savvy, that can say “Hey, this is how you take that” and you don’t have a strong business program, who do you have teach the class? All of these things play well together, so that you can have much more of all the programming happen, because now the programming is not siloed by each one of these things.
We see the problem with so many either co‑working spaces or incubators or initiatives is they’re so siloed, you might find something that’s a really great maker house, but it has gotten no business sense and it’s got no ability to teach classes on it.
It’s got no ability to have experts in health or another area. Or you might see a really great business incubator, but they have no access to actually create physical things or they have no ability to teach. I think one thing we’re trying to say is we really need to be cross‑functional in that.
We really need to be able to say…We need people that are able to do the full stack, so that we can offer programming that nobody else can offer, because they only have access to one or two of those things, not all of those things.
Jade: We know that innovation happens when those worlds collide.
Derek: Yes. It goes back to the belief that we really think everybody is born a creator, and while we might create different things, one person might create music, another person might create scientific experiments, somebody else might create a physical good, somebody else might create a business.
Somebody else might create a new workout regimen and somebody else might create a curriculum for somebody. The reality is the process of creating is the same for everybody who creates regardless of what they are creating, and that is our common theme.
Our common theme isn’t what you create, it’s the fact that you go through a process of having to create. And that you can be inspired on…You see this all the time. A musician will watch an artist and get inspired to create new music after watching an artist create something.
Or a programmer can listen to music, or listen or watch the process of a musician creating something and be inspired to bring that back to their programming world or to their physical‑making world. It’s about how do we become muses for each other and some of that.
Jade: Let’s talk about Local. You’re pretty involved in Local, Derek.
Derek: To me Local was one that emerged after the fact. It’s that common thread of local pride in place, it’s one of the other big things around Gangplank. It’s why it’s not specifically about the place itself, the place becomes an epicenter, so to speak, of activity that happens to unlock some of this.
How do you create that beyond just the physical space? Gangplank by itself in the ether…It’s a just a small building, it’s not enough to change the community.
It starts to become ‑‑ how do you broadcast out the ethos of Gangplank to a community, as well as how do you take the awesome things that are happening in your community around education, around health, around all the initiatives, how do you start to bring those in or expose people coming through Gangplank that there is already good stuff happening in their community?
How do you help support small business? How do you help support your local library? How do you help support your local Fire and Police Department? How do you help evolve government to be more adaptable…to be dangerous?
It’s equal parts of “How do take be dangerous outside of the walls of Gangplank and outside the Gangplank community into your physical located community”? As well as “How do you take the people who are doing awesome stuff in your local community, and help expose that to the people inside of Gangplank”? It’s like the connective tissue between Gangplank philosophy and the outside world.
Jade: I know we can do a whole podcast on Junior, so let’s come back to that one in a different podcast. How do people get involved in this initiative? They might be really drawn to one of these particular things…How does somebody go about doing that?
Derek: Right now it sucks.
Jade: [laughs] I agree.
Derek: We don’t do that well. In an ideal world what’s happening is an abundance of programs are happening and all of these initiatives, then when somebody comes into a Gangplank, it’s very easy to discover the programs that they are passionate about.
They are able to partake in those and then they are able to very quickly ask “How can I help with this”? They are given their freedom and empowered instantly to be able to either create new programs that they are passionate about, or help further programs that they are interested in.
The problem right now is, in some of the Gangplanks not all of these initiatives have a lot of programming or very little programming. So people don’t even know they exist.
Or the other problem is, because we’re a non‑hierarchical structure, it’s very difficult that somebody comes in and says, “Hey, I’ve heard of about this, like, studio things. How do I get involved”? If the person doesn’t know right away like, “Hey, this is who you go to talk to about that,” they just get the shoulder shrug off, “I’m not sure,” and it dies on the vines. That’s something that we’re working about, and we’ll probably talk about in a different podcast.
The first part is getting it out, talking about this podcast that all these things exist in…If you want these in your community, if you don’t have a Gangplank, and this stuff sounds appealing to you, like, “This is how you start a Gangplank.”
If you take one of these initiatives, and you say, “This is really awesome, and I want to do that in my community,” and you start doing awesome stuff around it, and you start saying, “The really great thing is we need to be doing all these other things, and I need help because I can’t do all of these initiatives.” In reality, it’s difficult to do a single program really well, much less an initiative well, much less a Gangplank.
Which is the beauty of it, is you have to get to the point where you say, “I can’t do this shit by myself. I want my community to change. I can be a light for that change, but unless I can get other people in my community onboard with me, I can’t do this.” That’s the beauty of it. Once you get people onboard and doing it, it becomes a living organism that is really, really strong.
Jade: Awesome. Catch us on a future episode, we’ll talk to you a little bit more about Gangplank Junior, and some of the things we were doing to improve the situation. Thanks for listening.