Dangercast #12 – Leadership in Gangplank

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

 

Transcript

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

Derek Neighbors:  I’m Derek Neighbors.

Trish Gillam:  I’m Trish Gillam.

Chris Lee:  And I’m Chris Lee.

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

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

Jade:  What does it mean?

Derek:  Oh, what does it mean?

Jade:  Yeah.

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

[laughter]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jade:  That’s positional authority.

Derek:  Positional authority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jade:  It’s a meritocracy?

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

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

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

Derek:  Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jade:  Exclusive domain over something?

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

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

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

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

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

Jade:  How have we dealt with that problem?

Derek:  We suck at dealing with that problem.

Jade:  How should deal with that problem?

[laughter]

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

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

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

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

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

Jade:  Autonomous.

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

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

[crosstalk]

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

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

Derek:  Yeah.

[laughter]

Derek:  He could do all sorts of stupid stuff…

[laughter]

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

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

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

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

Trish:  Right.

Jade:  Because it’s your fault.

Trish:  Yeah.

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

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

Jade:  So how do we fix that problem?

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

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

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

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

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

Trish:  Could we do a podcast on each initiative?

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

Trish:  OK.

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

play audio Dangercast #12   Leadership in Gangplank

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 #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