Dangercast #8 – Learning Over Expertise

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


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

Ankit Sura:  I’m Ankit Sura.

Derek Neighbors:  And I’m Derek Neighbors.

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

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

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

Derek:  Perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jade:  And they do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ankit:  Go to…


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

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

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

I see some things happening there too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ankit:  You actually become better and better at it.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Ankit:  You have to get focused, right?

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

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

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

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

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

Jade:  It’s a burden to carry.

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


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

Ankit:  That’s like being dangerous, right?

Derek:  Yeah, sure.

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

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