Inspiring the future of work by unlocking innovation through chaos, creativity, and collaboration

Inspiring the future of work by unlocking innovation through chaos, creativity,
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Gangplank was created by two entrpreneurs in Chandler, AZ who loved their city, but felt that it lacked the culture to make creative ventures successful.  It was started just before the recession 4 years ago.  It started by trying to help technical entrepeneurs through seed funding and incubation, but quickly found the community needed so much more. In the last four years the space has increased from 2,500sqft to 14,000sqft and has opened three new locations.  It has partnered with two cities (Avondale, AZ and Chandler, AZ) and is activating creatives to get involved in government and their community.  Bringing fresh ideas and the concept of iterating through ideas to find success. Gangplank has started a collaborative workspace movement that was highlight this year as one of Entrepreneur Magazines 100 Most Innovative Companies.

Triggers

Arizona's economy says it all.  It a state ruled by land development and laden with horrific legistalation, the looming economic disaster was like a great haboob waiting to swallow the state.  Watching foreclosures rise and responsible government decline the state of busines in Arizona needed hope. 

Gangplank had recognized the culture problems and proactively started to rally creatives and work with local government to brace for the coming economic apocalypse.  This was a perfect storm because local government has been extremely open to iterating through ideas and becoming creative in providing solutions to complex problems.  More than anything they have begun to embrace the creative community and started to apply it to the civic community as well. 

Council members, mayors, educators and non-profits are for the first time looking to collaborate to solve problems instead of building silos of power and politics. 

Gangplank has put members on nearly every board and commission in the city and started work directly with economic development to show the power of the manifesto.  A list of ideals,values and principles that the creatives of the city put forth to make a difference. 

  • collaboration over competition
  • community over agendas
  • participation over observation
  • doing over saying
  • friendship over formality
  • boldness over assurance
  • learning over expertise
  • people over personalities

Key Innovations & Timeline

June 2007
Integrum technologies has additional office space and wants to surround itself with talented people.  In order to increase density of ideas invites Forty Agency to move in to their office at no cost.  Asking only for the social capital of agreeing to make Phoenix more awesome. 

August 2007
Integrum invites two more companies into the their office at no charge furthering the idea of social capital as payment and increasing concepts of collaboration. 

November 2007
Weekly brownbag speakers give presentations to growing audience of local creatives.  People attending now growing outside those that work in the building.  Many ask if they can stay and work at building after events. 

January 2008
Weekly hacknights instituted that invite anyone from the community to come and work on projects or get help with projects.  Artists and musicians also encouraged to attend.  Never sure if someone was going to start a company or a dance party was going to break out. 

June 2008
The companies currently working at the space are now exchanging work regularly, at times even exchanging freely employees services to grow their businesses.  It is apparent that this level of energy had not been seen in the local creative community and that it need to be shared.  Gangplank the entity was created. 

September 2008
Gangplank decides to fund three startups and incubate them in the collaborative space.  Each anchor company agrees to donate time in their area of expertise to help the incubated companies succeed.  Authority Labs, Simple Seating and Date Designer are all started and incubated over the next 180 days. 

December 2008
The space is beyond full.  The start of the real estate crash is looming.  In a serendipitous moment, the lease on our building was broken and we were able to move to industrial park and double space to 5,500sqft while keeping the expenses flat. 

June 2009
Eventhough space has been doubled, becoming a fixture in the community.  The ground zero of innovation in a community that had been far too disparate for too long.  At this point started working with various local government's to discuss what we were doing and how important it is to change the culture of how we work. 

September 2009
Gangplank Utah comes online at the University of Utah campus.  The concept and idea spread through Sorenson Media to the University and quickly adopted as a way to do business for its business students. 

December 2009
Executed a $1,000,000 agreement with the city to help them change the way they operate and handle economic development.  Making the city a prime example of an local government that is serious about creativity and collaboration in the fabric of how it operates. 

June 2010
Purchased building in downtown Chandler to take ideas and principles of revitalization of ideas to the next level.  Looking to push civic engagement and step outside of creative workplace and into changing the fabric of a city to embrace its humanity and reconnect with it's citizens. 

July 2010
Opened location in downtown Chandler and started several initiatives to change the place we live and work.

Academy
Educating transistioning adults and expanding workforce in ways not offerred by universitiy and at no cost to participants. 

Chandler
Getting people involved in the civic duties necessary for the city of the future.  Placing people on arts commission, downtown association, ecomonic development advisory board, parks and recreation board, etc.  Also, activiely working to plan the future of the city with officials.  

Community Outreach
Building and effecting change in the community itself.  Mainly events to get the community self aware and interacting. 

Studios
Music, art and everything in between. Free recording studio, podcast studio and art/music venue. 

Junior
Tackling radical education reform for children. 

Health & Fitness
Getting people mentally and physically healthy while exploring their community and interacting with each other.

Feb 2011
Partnering with Bookman's Entertainment Exchange to bring Gangplank Tucson to life. 

June 2011
The city of Avondale approaches the City of Chandler and asks for help getting engagement.  The city of Chandler actively collaborates with Avondale to help guide getting Gangplank Avondale to be a reality.  

During this time Gangplank actively has been assessing what works to unlock innovation.  We have found the formula to be... 

Chaos + Creativity + Collaboration surrounded by fun and excellence unlocks innovation. 

We have found that a density of diverse people put in a chaotic enviroment increases creativity.  When they are inspired to collaborate with each other over time new possibilities are unlocked.  A magic occurs that could only be explained as serendipity.  When immersed in a community of excellence those ideas are able to be monetized and innovation unlocked. 

We believe that our future is not about individuals innovating or about companies innovating.  Our next true evolution will come when we learn to innovate as an entire community.  In Chandler, AZ we now have a government that looks to it's people, companies and neighboring cities to raise the bar for success.  The question is no longer how can the city solve the problem but how can the community solve the problem?    

Challenges & Solutions

The challenges are listed in our manifesto competition, agendas, observation, saying, formality, assurance, expertise and personalities. We find these items to be the status quo and what prevent community building and innovation. Examples of disrupting the status quo.

Collaboration over Competition
We decided to tackle this one early. Integrum invited in other companies to build Gangplank collectively. Removing all financial obligations and getting back to the roots of barn buliding to help one another. We have pulled this into community by modeling collaborative behavior for institutions and organizations of all types.

We have businesses who are competitors that work at the same desk and cross train each others teams realizing that rising tides lift all boats. We have even had employees change companies without changing their desks.

Community over Agendas
Breaking down political silos has been one of biggest undertakings. We have effectively started to break down siloed thinking in government and brought parties to table to move the community forward. Whether this be helping fight unemployment with Gangplank Academy and Laid Off Camps or helping bring multiple school districts together to look at radical innovation in education.

Participation over Observation
We understand that sitting on the sidelines gets you know where. While observation is important participanting generates even more insight and prompts action. We have actively gotten creatives involved in key city boards and commissions while getting the city to participate in the creative community.

Doing over Saying
Stop saying and start doing. It is too easy ot sit back and analyze forever. Paralyzing from ever doing anything. Gangplank was built on a foundation that said regardless of resources do great things and others will follow. Not everything will work and that's okay. Failing and knowing what doesn't work is valuable too.

We have hosted City Camps (http://citycampaz.com), Laid Off Camps (http://laidoffcamphx.com) and Economic Development Open Spaces (http://vibrantphx.com) to get people collaborating and encourage people to start tackling problems. While other spaces are talking about creating jobs and helping people connect, Gangplank does it everyday.

Friendship over Formality
Not every deal needs a lawyer and complicated contract. Sometimes a handshake and your word is sufficient. Our entire space has multi million dollar companies working in a space without formal rent agreements or complicated work sharing agreements. Peoples reputation and need to belong offer a much stronger form of contract. One that the future can be built upon.

Boldness over Assurance
The tag line at Gangplank is "Be Dangerous". It means challenge every assumption. Say the things others wont. Stand up for the things that are right when others look the other way. Swim upstream and bring out the best in everyone around you. Rely on making a difference not in being told you are a good boy.

Challenging the status quo in education, economic development and politics has earned Gangplank a seat at many tables because it is fresh of breath air for many organizations to have fierce conversations that they have been avoiding for a long time.

Learning over Expertise
You don't have to be an expert to try something new. In fact, sometimes the baggage of too much experience can impede new and creative ideas. Encouraging cities to try new things and engage in new ways is part of building community.

People over Personalities
We all put our pants on one leg at a time. Titles and roles don't matter in a world where how you impact people is the real goal. We are teaching cities to restore humanity to the work they do. To see people as people with feelings, dreams and talents. Encouraging use of space and resources to bring the most out of those people so that they can give back to their community.

Examples of these principles in action can be found in our values series:

http://gangplankhq.com/category/values/
http://whatisgangplank.com

Benefits & Metrics

A state down on it's luck and without a roadmap for it's future is finding hope in it's people.  It is understanding that connecting it's people is the key to it's future. 

Gangplank has hosted more than 200 programs for the community last year alone.  Instituted a business network of mentors.  Raised local downtown tax revenue in a time where tax revenue everywhere else in state fell siginificantly.   

45% of anchor companies have hired a local community member as an employee and 73% of them have hired another anchor for a project. 

Gangplank is actively changing how cities view their citizens and how they run their governments.  Furthermore, Gangplank is setting the tone for how businesses of the future will operate.  

Lessons

Embrace Chaos
It is mandatory that everything not be polished and perfect.  The workplace has to feel like home.  It has to be okay to make a mess and clean it up.  People need inspiration to be creative.  Giving an atomosphere where people don't know what is coming next makes them open for possibility.  Nothing seems unachievable when you see crazy modeled everyday. 

Enable Creativity
Failure is imperative to the process.  It has to be okay to fail.  Furthermore, knowing you are going to fail means that you have to try a lot more.  Encouraging people to try and try again is necessary to allow thinking that is truly different.  Giving staff the ability to be self-organizing in their work and dusting them off when they fall down is important. 

Facilitate Collaboration
If the idea only comes from a single person or group, reject it until more people are involved.  Ideas don't get truly transformative until they have been vetted and built upon by multiple people.  Assume that this hasn't been done and encourage people to work people outside their comfort zone to refine their ideas.  Help make introductions and provide pathways for ideas to breath.  Help alleviate fears among those reluctant to share and reward them when they do. 

Instill Excellence
Never let someone settle for less than their best.  Raise the bar by having teams always hungry for performing at a higher level.  Let them push each other to new heights.  Not because they are competitive but because they are driven towards greatness as a collective. 

Promote Fun
That's right, make the journey an experience.  Make a day away from doing the job painfully sad because of the great times that are being missed.  Make people long for home.  Create a place where people want to be and share with others.

Look for Innovation
Put in place structure that harnesses the creativity and collaboration happening to bring it to market.  Allow it to impact and expand to others.  Have an eye for changing the future. 

Simply: Be dangerous. Stop talking, start doing.

Credits

  • Derek Neighbors
  • Jade Meskill
  • Katie Charland
  • Kim Kressaty
  • James Archer

Helpful Materials

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2 Comments

Robyn Bergeron's picture

Hooray, Arizona :)

LANJr4D's picture
Community Member

Well done, a nice timeline that I can use for helping the AvondaleGP get started, really looking forward to working within the mindset that Gangplank encourages.
Thanks to all as noted in the credits. www.lanjr4d.com

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