“It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy.” – Steve Jobs
Here Be Dragons
Over the years, pirates have acquired a mythical status. They have been popularized and presented as pop-culture pastiches that don’t resemble the true picture. Be More Pirate looks past these clichés and analyses their innovations, organizational systems and team structures that have become a global standard of good governance and their pioneering work on branding and reputation management which predates the universal principles followed by best-in-class marketing and communications today.
We’ll learn the techniques of ground-breaking pirates of old like the ‘Pirate King’ Henry Avery, ‘Black’ Bartholomew Roberts and the legendary Anne Bonny, and compare them to their modern-day equivalents such as Elon Musk, Chance the Rapper and Malala Yousafzai. These figureheads, new and old, made their own way and amassed vast influence (and often vast fortunes) to make a huge and reverberating dent in the world around them.
It’s time to take courage. With those ideas of yours, that phone by your side and this book in your hands, you have all that you need at your fingertips. So forget your preconceptions of pirates and have no fear about what’s to come. If you’re going to reinvent your future, it won’t be by doing what you’re told but by rewriting your own rules and being more pirate.
Rebels with a Cause
When did you first stand up to power?
Give yourself a chance to let this one sink in.
It’s not something you might have thought about before in this way or might immediately remember, but give it time and you will.
Try to find the moment or moments when you first understood your own influence or when you clearly saw your own potential to create and shape the world around you.
In the Be More Pirate workshops, the answers are usually focused on a time when a person has stood up to something or someone they felt was being unjust, when they’ve pushed back, when they’ve fought their corner, held their nerve or just said no, and in return the world gave way, backed down, yielded or said sorry.
Often there’s an instance in life when someone has found their voice and others listened, or a moment when a relationship has shifted, or when someone has just point blank refused to do as they were told and got away with it.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the action was, what counts is that in that moment you realized your own power amidst the context of the world. The point is that we all have the power we need, and we’ve all felt it; we just allow it to be forgotten, we choose not to live with it, and as you’re going to be using it soon, it may need a kick-start. So first try to remember what it felt like, and then remind yourself to use it.
Rewrite Your Rules
If you could break any rule, what would it be? And how would you remake it?
There’s only one thing more stupid than stupid rules, and that’s the people who follow them. But it’s not always helpful just to go around breaking rules. Being more pirate is about questioning, challenging, bending, testing and ultimately writing better rules.
You don’t need to rewrite every rule; start with one that a simple tweak could make better. Rewriting rules isn’t about being anarchic for anarchy’s sake, it’s about improving the conditions we live in and the codes we live by, and it’s the right and responsible thing to do.
Who out there would you most like to take down?
Not take out, but take down, perhaps a peg or two, perhaps more. Who are the biggest possible rivals who have similar ideas or the same ambition? Whose crown would you like to see slip?
Who is your navy, pirate?
In workshops this challenge usually initiates an excited listing exercise, so make a note of as many as you want, but aim for a shortlist of three to five targets. Remain open as to who can be on there; individuals, institutions, organizations, platforms or businesses.
And don’t hold back; be brave, be ambitious, be imaginative, be unrealistic. If it’s the huge tech player that’s disrupted your whole industry, remember they were the disruptor once, and the next disruptor after them is actually their greatest fear. If it’s the people doing your idea, only faster and with more resources and less baggage, then watch, learn and bide your time. If it’s the hundred-year-old institution that shows no sign of moving, remember what happens to dinosaurs.
When it comes to power, how will you be more pirate? How will you share it out? How will you protect it and how will you protect yourself from it? What principles do you respect so much you’d take a risk for them? What values do you treasure so much that you’d be willing to suffer to protect them? And what ideals do you hold so dear that you’d be willing to lose something you love to defend them?
What principles, values or ideals are you willing to fight for?
That doesn’t have to be physical, it could be a fight with the system, it could be a professional conflict, a falling out with a friend or a row with a stranger. It could be a war of words, it could be a battle of wills or it could be lobbying, arguing, demonstrating or debating.
But whatever it is, it’s a real fight, one where you’re putting your neck on the line, you could get hurt, you’ve got something to lose, it could cost you your job, end a relationship, damage your reputation, or worse.
This one isn’t easy; if you get to five, you’ll have more than most people.
Retell Tall Tales
Dead men tell no tales. Welcome to the fifth of five rounds, and now for the knockout. From the last four steps you have an idea of how you can rebel against the status quo, rewrite the rules to make them better, reorganize yourself to achieve scale rather than pointless growth, and redistribute power to protect your principles. But what’s next? What’s the final step to being more pirate? It’s about how you tell your story so the world listens.
Pirates didn’t just tell stories, they creatively weaponized the art of storytelling. When they unfurled the pirate flag, the black background embellished with bones, skulls, skeletons, bleeding hearts and all manner of visual metaphors, they were taking the ultimate symbol of the Establishment, the flag (also the principal method of all maritime communications), and desecrating it so that it screamed rebellion and created a global icon. Pirates cultivated and curated their own myth, ably abetted by a new mass media hungry for great stories. They told fierce tales about themselves so that others would tell them again and again. Their stories wove into the fabric of culture and ordinary people’s imaginations. Using storytelling to pull together the last four steps of change, the pirates’ ideals infiltrated society and culture to influence the mainstream.
Pirates were people too; they were messy, complex, confused, mostly young and trying to make their mark, make some money and make a better way for themselves. Whilst there is something very special about these pirates that’s made their stories endure, there’s nothing they did that you can’t do. You have the same choice, and chance, as they did. You just need to find your truth, know what future you’d fight for and, after the dust settles, be sure what you treasure.
It’s time to choose. Turn pirate and begin your own rebellion, rewrite your own rules and work through the stages of being more pirate to change your world protected by your Pirate Code … or deny your truth and continue to pretend there is no other way than the way things are.