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.


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?


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!


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…”


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


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.


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

Roy: No, I did not.



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.


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.

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