What pirate history can teach us about changing the world

Be More Pirate author Sam Conniff Allende on everything we didn’t know about pirates - and what it can teach us about changing the status quo


In my book, Be More Pirate, I invite you to consider these people as role models for tackling the similarly turbulent times we live in. There’s a whole lot of trouble and injustice out there, and a lot of us are getting sick of feeling powerless and anxious about it. Take your pick from a range of threats: rising living costs and falling incomes; an ageing population that stubbornly refuses to let go of power; ever-worsening inequality of wealth and opportunity; the coming of the robots; climate change, potential food wars and mass migrations… there’s plenty to be done on our own doorsteps and all over the world. And the sooner we get our heads around the fact that nobody is coming to save us, the better. I’m here to introduce a potentially surprising source of inspiration, with some practical strategies for taking on the old guard and creating change – whether you want to change your own future, or the future of the world.

Maybe you’re thinking, ‘Pirates, really? I’m supposed to see Captain Pugwash as some kind of role model?’ Or perhaps it’s more, ‘Captain Pugwash isn’t the problem. Actually those guys were total b*stards. What about all the plank-walking?’

I hear you. To the first point, the pirates’ true story of pioneering social innovation was suppressed at the time by the establishment they threatened, and subsequently diluted so that the pirates of popular culture are now little more than caricatures. But that just goes to show how much their successful brand radicalism rattled the powers that be.  

Be More Pirate

Nearly two hundred years before any ‘commoners’ got the vote in Great Britain, pirates were operating universal suffrage.

As far as the second point goes, there were definitely some dark deeds, but a lot of their reputation comes more from spin than from reality. Pirates were brilliant at self-promotion – just look at the invention of the skull and crossbones motif, which was basically the first-ever piece of global branding. And the truth about pirates is that they were less, not more, violent than the times they operated in.

Here’s one surprising example of what I mean. When pirates captured an enemy ship, they interviewed the crew to find out how they’d been treated. If they’d been well treated, their captain was rewarded and recruited; if not, he was marooned somewhere remote. (Not so nice, I know. I’m not saying they were angels.) But the point is that pirate ships were run on aone crew member, one vote basis. The captain could be voted out by the crew. Nearly two hundred years before any ‘commoners’ got the vote in Great Britain, pirates were operating universal suffrage. And that went for women and black people, too. (Yup, there were both on board the pirate ships. Told you they were surprisingly radical.)

So forget what you think you know about pirates, and help yourself to some fresh ideas for how to step outside the conventional, and do things on your own terms. I’ve mined the pirates’ history and studied their strategies to create a five-step programme you can use to channel your inner pirate.

The first step is to rebel against the status quo.

The second is to rewrite the rules.

Third is to reorganise the way you do things

Fourth is to redistribute power

And the fifth and final step is to retell your story so powerfully that your act of rebellion transforms into massive far-reaching change and you attain myth-like status in your own lifetime. (Okay, I’m not promising that last bit.)

Whether you want to start a new social enterprise or a campaign, shake up your organisation or simply tweak the way your business operates, being more pirate can give you the edge over the competition and enable you to embed the change you want to see.  In Be More Pirate, I’ve set the original pirates alongside their successors such as Elon Musk, Chance the Rapper and Malala Yousafzai, to illustrate the way pirate principles work in our hyper-connected and fast-moving world.

It doesn’t matter whether you aspire to be a world-class change-maker or you’d just like a new career; whether you’re trying to make your name, up your game, strike it rich or strike a blow to the system _Be More Pirate will help you be more courageous, more principled, more daring, effective, mischievous, cunning, creative and innovative as we sail into the uncharted waters of the mid twenty-first century.

Welcome aboard. We need you.

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