Sam Conniff Allende, author of Be More Pirate, wants everyone to become a pirate. Not the swashbuckling variety with a parrot and a peg leg, but a pirate in the sense of someone who challenges the status quo to rewrite the rules – although unlike the bloodthirsty buccaneers of the Spanish Main, not for gold and plunder but for the greater good.
Voted FT business book of the month, Conniff Allende’s pirate manifesto defines this new-age hero as someone who dares to defy the rigid structures of society and business, and reinvent them accordingly. “Over centuries the benefits of a pirate state of mind have become apparent,” says Conniff Allende when Business Reporter pays a visit to his South London office.
“It happens when social inequality rises. When there are abject market failures, when audience needs are not met. When economies stagnate, when society slows down. In these times, pirates come onto the horizon – they challenge the status quo, they challenge the rules, and they write new rules in doing so.”
According to Conniff Allende, when business models fail, people look to the edges, and more extreme ideas start to gain traction. At the moment, he says, the framework for business is stuck in the 20th century, by adopting this “pirate” state of mind employees can help organisational change to slowly begin to take place. “Modern mutiny is a new executive skill, and a fast track way of creating professional change,” he says.
The modern-day rebels
Conniff Allende, who is also founder of youth-led creative network Livity, tells Business Reporter that bitcoin and blockchain are examples of this modern-day mutiny of organisational change.
“In bitcoin, you see an example of the kind of rebellion [through blockchain],” say Conniff Allende. “The promise of blockchain is inherently rebellious… [It is a] framework for doing things completely differently.”
Bitcoin is a decentralised digital currency system, where all transactions are recorded on a blockchain and kept on a public distributed ledger. Nothing can be changed unless all computers on the network agree.
The rebellion of bitcoin can be seen on the first block of its blockchain, explains Conniff Allende. This contains the headline from a Times front page from January 2009 during the financial crash, that reads: “Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”.
He calls this bitcoin’s pirate flag and compares current attitudes to cryptocurrency to how people felt about pirates back in the 17th century. They are asking the same questions about cryptocurrency: “Is it a threat? Is it dark and out to get us, or is it really exciting and promises immense and inordinate wealth?”
Although the jury is still out on cryptocurrencies themselves, the blockchain technology behind them has contributed to industry disruption in other areas. “The middle men, who have broken so many rules themselves, deserve to be removed,” says Conniff Allende. “[Blockchain] has already disrupted industry, and the chances are it is going to continue to disrupt industry. It is purposeful rebellion.”
Another modern-day pirate on Conniff Allende’s list is American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. “She is someone who has deliberately stayed at a tiny label, so effectively she could be not just the figure head but really the boss,” he says. “Her business acumen is profound. Look how many artists have been following in her footsteps – not just in the business sense, but from a marketing point of view, she has rewritten the game absolutely incredibly.”
Think like a pirate
At Livity, he runs a pirate workshop, where participants are challenged to think like a pirate and challenge a rule they disagree with.
“One that frustrates you, one that aggravates you, one that you think there could be a better way of doing things,” he explains. “Mull on it and think of what you would prefer it to be. Then break it every day for a while and feel how good it is.”
One executive decided to stop mid-term budgeting after this exercise, Conniff Allende points out. “The common thing, no matter the level or scale, is that the individual is empowered. There’s something very accountable when you say, I’m not doing that anymore, I am doing this. It is not handed down to you by the bosses. It is not in the rule book. It is your own rule. Then it is up to you to make it a success.”
In fact, Conniff Allende reckons rule-breaking is as essential a skill to the 21st century workplace as digital skills were a few years ago.
“The rules are there and we all think we have to follow them,” he says. “We are all kind of wedded into this notion of the way things are, the way things have to be. Yet find out, test it, break a rule. What you usually find it is like paper walls – you can just push your finger through it.”