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.


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.


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.


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.

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