Demonising the Gainsayers — Corporate Pirates


“All human advances occur in the outlaw area” — Buckminster Fuller

gainsay: “contradict,” c.1300, literally “say against,” from Old English gegn- “against”

This week’s guest on the Innovation show is social entrepreneur Sam Conniff Allende, author of ‘Be More Pirate’. Sam tells us capitalism creates normal ways to generate scale and industry, but we need “Pirates” to force innovation, invention and alternative methods of value creation. Piracy went through a Golden Age, yet for the majority of us are pirates represent criminal pillagers, the dregs of society, outlaws.

As you will read today (and hear on the show), this was not always the case, piracy was a way to achieve a better life.

Outside the Rules

“All human development, no matter what form it takes, must be outside the rules; otherwise we would never have anything new.” — Charles Kettering

Winston Churchill once said “History is written by the victors.” The status quo is often the victor. The status quo does not like proactive citizens thinking too much for themselves, so the status quo paints those who swim outside predefined swim lanes in a poor light.

In the case of pirates, the establishment wrote the annals of pirate history to portray scoundrel pirates as “enemies of humanity”. By doing this, the masses were diverted from the new models of society which pirates were prototyping. Such exploration included societal innovations such as diversity, fair pay, bonuses, compensation packages for the injured. We must bear in mind this is in the late 1600’s when slavery was a sound investment and thievery was rife.

New pirate communities were the social innovation labs of their time. “Pirates and other social bandits adopted social mechanisms which can be summarised as libertarian, democratic, federal, egalitarian, fraternal, and communal. These ‘floating commonwealths’ were examples of pre-Enlightenment radicalism.” The guardians of the old way feared that these prototype democracies would gain momentum and attract increasing numbers of otherwise “programmed” citizens.

In 1718, a Colonel Benjamin Bennet reported his findings back to the Council of Trade and Plantations, he stated:

“I fear they will soon multiply for so many are willing to joyn with them when taken … The prospect of plunder and ready money, the food and the drink, the camaraderie, the democracy, equality, and justice, and the promise of care for the injured.”

Appealing eh? Colonel Bennet writes a mean job spec there.

This is why I share this quote and this is the goal of Sam Conniff in writing ‘Be More Pirate’, pirates were the rebels, the changemakers, the mavericks of days gone by. Today we have similar pirates, but we can also become pirates if we choose to.

In Search of a Better Way — Counter Culture, but Pro Society

When I retired from rugby and joined the workforce, I was struck by how so many people either disliked their self-proclaimed meaningless jobs or held their employer in contempt for giving them a meaningless job. It is as if they were conditioned to believe there is/was no alternative. I get it, it is hard to leave a fur-lined mousetrap, when you are well paid / have a comfortable role / have a nest egg vesting in the stock exchange. It is hard to jump ship (excuse the pun) and see what else is out there. It is hard when you have young kids / a mortgage / an unsupportive partner. When we consider how little time we actually have on this earth, is it worth it to simply exist rather than to fully live? Every job has a degree of monotony, but it shouldn’t crush our souls.

No-one forces us to stay, no-one thrusts a meaningless role upon us, we decide to stay.

Pirates were the brave ones of their era. This is not excuse the acts of violence in which they partook, for the sake of this Thursday Thought, let’s look at the societal options of the time.

“I’d rather be pirate than join the navy” — Steve Jobs

Conditions in the navy were appalling. sailors were treated like animals and “recruits” were often press-ganged (violently forced) into “enlisting”. They were drugged and kidnapped and would wake up at sea with nowhere to go, except overboard that is. Meanwhile, employment options on the land were quite bleak with poverty and disease widespread and a government who treated people as subjects rather than citizens.

In contrast, most pirates voluntarily chose a different way of life. Many came from the lowest social classes and went out to sea in search of a better way. They were revolting against the oppressors of their time: the governments and those in power. Pirate democracy was a counter-culture, created by common men and women of every colour and orientation.

Pirates challenged the society, social entrepreneurs challenge society.

Pirates challenged the way things are done, gainsayers challenge the way things are done.

Pirates were vilified by the authorities, gainsayers are vilified by traditional organisations.

Think for a moment about a gainsayer / changemaker / maverick who left (voluntarily or otherwise) your organisation. They leave because the culture is too toxic, the task unsupported, change not prioritised. They are rejected like a bad skin graft (as we discussed last week). What is the story left behind?

Those who were threatened by change will pour poison in the well and tell a story of how that person was the problem.

Those who supported change will tell how that person drove change.

Unfortunately in most cases the latter group follow suit and leave, following the footsteps of the gainsayer.

“Ignore the naysayers. I think it is natural when you have a big vision and big dreams and you have big goals, that people are going to say around you. I don’t think that can be done. I think it’s impossible ” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

For change to take hold we must change mental models before business models.

For change to take hold we must realise not all jobs are permanent, we must evolve roles as the company evolves. Modern-day pirate Elon Musk recently let go a cohort of Tesla staff, his reason? Those roles now overlapped with other roles, the company has evolved, so too must the roles, if there is no roles for certain people, then don’t keep them on as they will lack meaning and they will stop learning.

Ultimately, for change to take hold we must have support (and air cover) from leadership, we must have embedding from management and we must have movement from everyone. Change starts from every angle.

As Sam Coniff shares this profound quote on this week’s show:

“Good and evil increase at compound interest. That’s why the little decisions we make every day are of infinite importance. the smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may go on to victories you never dreamed of”. — C.S. Lewis

Change starts with a start.

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EP 107 of the Innovation Show is “Be More Pirate” with social entrepreneur and author Sam Conniff Allende

From rogues to role models: Be More Pirate reveals the radical strategies of Golden Age pirates, and updates them into clear solutions for making your mark on the 21st Century.

Be More Pirate draws parallels between the strategy and innovation of legends like Henry Morgan with modern-day rebels, like Elon Musk, Malala and Blockchain, and reveals how to apply their tactics to life and work today.

Sam shares the parallels and the principles we can draw to make a difference in our world today for the generations of tomorrow with 5 key principles practised by pirates, which we can use today:

  1. Rebel — stand up to status quo
  2. Rewrite — bend and rewrite rules
  3. Reorganise — collaborate to achieve scale
  4. Redistribute — fairness, share power
  5. Retell — weaponise your story to establish and spread their legacy

Have a listen






iHeart Radio

You can find out more about Sam and “Be More Pirate” here:

Sam Conniff Allende, Be More Pirate, Livity, Rebel, Rewrite rules, Disruption, Innovation, Social Entrepreneur, Social Entrepreneurship, Storytelling, Lessons from Pirates, Golden Age pirates, modern-day rebels

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