Whether you’re leading a startup, logging time in an office, or dreaming of something different, this author says you should be learning lessons from history’s last wave of young, disruptive entrepreneurs – get ready to have your timbers shivered with what we learned from ‘Be More Pirate’…
Pirates Are Radical
The Golden Age of Piracy was around 1690-1725. It was the time of the rockstar pirates Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, and Captain Henry Morgan. What have they got to do with being an entrepreneur in our current age of disruption? Quite a lot, according to Sam Conniff Allende, who points out that they were frustrated young professionals – ex professional sailors with an average age of 28 – in a world disrupted by ideologically influenced, international conflict.
‘The rules of the day favoured an elite few and for the majority of people life was unclear, unfair and unfulfilling,’ writes Conniff Allende. ‘They decided to break the rules and then remake the rules. Along the way they came up with a new social code based on purposeful principles such as fair pay, fair say, social equality, freedom and justice.’ These Golden Age pirates effectively had a ‘manifesto jam’ and came up with the Pirate Code, which included equal shares of the loot, equal votes, and compensation for injuries sustained in battle.
‘All it takes is self belief and an internet connection to spark a movement or begin a company’
The world has already been disrupted, which is good news for you if you want to mutiny and start something new because the traditional ‘build a business plan, convince the bank manager, get incorporated’ process is dead in a world of e-commerce and Kickstarter, where testing an idea is easier than ever before, allowing for ‘fast fails’. ‘Now, in the preotyping age, all it takes is self belief and an internet connection to spark a movement, begin a project, make a difference or even start a company,’ says Conniff Allende, who recommends looking up Alberto Savoia’s Pretotype Manifesto as a guide ‘to embracing the tools around us to invent the stuff of the future without needing to invest much money or time.’
No, not the oars kind, the Results Only Working approach from productivity consultants Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. ‘In a ROW you are you own boss as long as you deliver the results,’ just like a pirate, says Conniff Allende. He points out that traditional workplaces with their emails, meetings about meetings and working to someone else’s ‘hours’ have been shown to be really unproductive, because that way of working doesn’t fulfil our human need for ‘self-direction, autonomy and accountability.’ We’re just not into it, basically.
In addition, science has shown multitasking to to be a fail, while connected tech and pinging notifications have made things worse. ‘I stopped responding to emails until midday,’ says Conniff. ‘Unless there is an emergency this sounds like a long time but it’s a small chunk of the day, and whilst scary to do, immediately became the most productive, and then enjoyable part of it.’
‘Being more pirate permits you to find creativity through destruction’
Pirates Know How To Remix
The Golden Age pirates may have changed the game and altered the course of history, but they didn’t just burn it all down – they sought to disrupt a broken model to rewrite the rules to their advantage, using the Pirate Code. ‘Being more pirate permits you to find creativity through destruction,’ says Conniff Allende, who adds that there’s a parallel between the way pirates worked and the style in which RZA ‘remixed’ the rules of the music industry. When the Wu Tang Clan was being approached by major record labels, RZA had one revolutionary condition that they all balked at: that once their debut album was released each member would be free to sign their own solo deals with other labels. Loud Records eventually came on board with this condition and the rest is history.
‘In keeping with his pirate predecessors, RZA laid the foundations of a shared ownership model. Each individual artist’s album was always made in partnership with the group, and every release paid into a collective pot, allowing them to start a range of additional enterprises including the multi-million dollar earning Wu Wear fashion range.’
Pirates Tell The Best Stories
Something people often wonder about the ultimate rebels is why pirates seemed so damn eager to be recognised. Surely if you were a renegade plying the open seas in search of fortune, you’d be better off going under the radar and being more, well, ninja? In fact, the Golden Age Pirates were early masters of reputation management and The Jolly Roger is an example of excellent branding.
‘A powerful brand is an emotional tool that demands the mental availability of its audience to signal a clear message. In their case, the pirate flag said ‘surrender or die’… Pirates flew it in order to be less violent and command the seas with dear, not fighting,’ says Conniff Allende. He gives the example of the Blackbeard, who built a the most baddass, bloodthirsty reputation of them all, despite not even being the most successful, or the richest Golden Age pirate – in fact he’s not actually verified to have killed anyone at all. Conniff Allende identifies these three rules of branding to follow: ‘1. Find the singular message and make it unignorable; 2. Don’t just live the brand, be the brand; 3. Protect your reputation – give people something to gossip about.’
Pirates Weaponise Diversity
In the words of ex-advertising guru Cindy Gallop: ‘Diversity raises the fucking bar.’ During the Golden Age of Piracy, 25-30% of pirates were black and in 1718, 60% of Blackbeard’s famous crew were believed to be black. According to the 2017 McKinsey report Why Diversity Matters, organisations with a diverse workforce are 35% more likely to outperform their less diverse competitors.
Forward thinking people know that diversity is the right thing to achieve in their teams, but as Blackbeard showed us 300 years ago it is also the most effective thing to do.
Pirates Don’t Scale
Because pirates didn’t weigh themselves down with the heavy infrastructure, processes and complex hierarchies of their enemies, they were able to be agile and responsive, making fast decisions based on the Pirate Code, which on occasion meant they could win against odds of 50-1, says Conniff Allende. ‘Chasing scale for scale’s sake is so 20th Century,’ he adds, pointing out that change requires speed.
WHAT NEXT? Watch Sam Conniff Allende present 5 Steps On How To Be More Pirate…
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