We are all familiar with the age-old adage that nothing in life is certain. With today’s fast-paced developments in technology and business, not to mention general political unrest, it’s easy to feel uneasy. This situation, however, is not unique to our generation. It has happened before and led to various responses at the time. The one dealt with in this book summary is the Golden Age of Piracy.
Although it may seem hard to believe, the Golden Age of Piracy actually holds many similarities to what we are experiencing today. They were anxious about the uncertainties of the future and had had enough of the establishment that had only its own interest at heart. So, what happened? A band of rebels decided to hit back on those who had been exploiting the working class. These rebels were pirates. The pirates that existed during the Golden Age of Piracy did not resemble the pirates we have grown accustomed to in movies. No, they were men and women of skills – strategic minds with a colourful network of associates. Even the crews of pirate ships exhibited democracy and progressiveness that did not exist elsewhere at the time. In this respect, pirates can teach us a thing or two. Are you ready to be more like a pirate?
In this summary readers will discover:
- The five great attributes of Golden Age pirates
- The steps to adopting the pirate mindset
- The Pirate Code
Key lesson one: The five great attributes of Golden Age Pirates
Pirates, unfortunately, have gotten the short end of the straw. They have become known as the drunk, murderous bad guys who pillage and kill on the high seas. Surprisingly, many Golden Age pirates were actually fighting for justice and fair pay. They thrived from about 1690 to 1725 rebelling against the unfair laws which were imposed on them. Pirates of this age had many progressive ideas which we can learn from, but five great attributes stand out.
- Fair pay
Many pirates were actually former Naval officers and were used to being treated unfairly. They were often paid less than originally promised and much later than expected. This is why, as pirates, they practised fair pay for their entire crew. To go into detail, captains and quartermasters got three to four shares of pirated booty, doctors and gunners two and the rest of the crew got one share each. This is ratio of 4 to 1 between the captain and crew is much better than what we see today. At best, progressive companies can be about 10 to 1 between the CEO and the lowest-paid member. This ratio can even be as bad as 384 to 1 in some companies so it’s safe to say pirates were pretty fair in divvying up the booty.
- Protection against the abuse of power
If pirates were former Navy sailors, they were all too familiar with dictating commanders. So, as pirates, they had quartermasters to keep captains in check. Quartermasters were given more power than was traditionally heard off and were responsible for keeping the crew happy and reporting back to the captain. Captains assumed the responsibility of planning and strategizing thus forming dual governance on board.
- Democracy and voting
All shipmates aboard a pirate ship had suffrage. It did no matter what race, sex or station they held, every pirate had a vote in how things were done. Once again, this was quite different from things in the Navy at the time. Even in countries like the US and the UK, it would take another 230 years or so before women would be able to vote and still a few decades after that before black people were given suffrage.
- Health care and worker compensation
So, you know how pirates in movies tend to have a peg leg or a hook for a hand? Turns out there is some truth to it! Being a pirate had certain risks and if crew members were injured in a raid, to be fair, they were compensated. Each limb or part of the body had a value. The monetary system at the time was called pieces of eight and you got 800 of them for losing a leg, 600 for an arm and 100 for an eye. To top this, if you were so badly injured on duty that you could no longer partake in future raids, they found you another position to work in on the ship!
You can’t talk about pirates and not mention alcohol. It was actually Sir Francis Drake who is said to have added sugar and juice to rum to concoct the world’s first cocktail. This was 300 years before the Old fashioned was made in New York. This alcoholic innovation is an attribute of pirates that cannot be forgotten.
These five attributes of pirates are by no means their only attributes but they are the ones we can learn from. They were rebels with principles who refused to be exploited by governments who were too focused on colonizing others at the time to care.
Key lesson two: The steps to adopting the pirate mindset
To think and act like a pirate you have to first find a cause for your rebellion and then go out and cause some good trouble. Good trouble comes from trying to right a wrong, fighting injustice or simply trying to fix a problem. It is this good trouble that will bring about change.
With this comes a change of attitude. You have to be ready for confrontation and resistance to the norm. Your inner pirate has to fuel your drive for change and making the world a better place in some small way.
Take England in the early 1960s. BBC Radio was severely limited and tightly controlled leaving rock ‘n’ roll fans unhappy at the lack of music. So, some very industrious people launched boats into international waters and sent out their own radio signal. Thus, the first pirate radio DJs were born! It was estimated in 1964 that almost 15 million people were tuning in to these pirate radio stations and the BBC created four new radio stations in response to get listeners back. This is a pretty extreme example of rebellion, but a great one nonetheless. It’s all about finding your cause and acting upon it. Do not let fear hold you back.
Once you have identified your cause, the next step you should find your new way of doing things. To put it in pirate terms, begin your mutiny. In order to make a change, you will already have an alternative in mind. One of the biggest pirates around today is Elon Musk. He called for changes in energy production and transportation and put his own money into research to drive these changes bringing forth Tesla cars, Solar City energy and the Hyperloop. His projects all stem from rewriting the rules and finding new ways of doing things.
Next, to be a pirate you need to avoid mindless growth. In order to remain agile and flexible, you need to focus instead on making strong connections. These connections are where your strengths will lie. When you find yourself in a tough situation, you can tap into your network for help. Blackbeard, one of the most famous pirates, kept an average crew size of around 80 people. If he was planning a big raid, he just sent out a call to his pirate network and could scale up his crew to hundreds. A modern-day example of this is the online activist group, Avaaz. It is run by a small and diverse crew but it has approximately 44 million users worldwide. When these users are called upon, they can help make anything happen from freeing journalists to protecting endangered species.
Once you start making your rebellious changes, always remember to stay true to your values. When you start succeeding, the very institutions you were rebelling against will come to you to make an offer. You have to maintain your integrity and remember why you decided to rebel in the first place. Just as pirates did, you have to distribute power amongst your crew, have strong principles, keep the wage gap low and ensure democracy. Social enterprises have exhibited these characteristics making them modern-day pirate ships. Innovation and predicting future trends are their goals whilst still keeping their values rooted in social and environmental issues.
The last thing you need to achieve pirate status is to ensure you establish a strong brand. Who doesn’t know what the Jolly Rodger represents? But did you know pirates came up with the Jolly Rodger and wild stories about themselves in order to avoid violence? They spread the word about their frightening escapades so when people saw them approaching, they would not dare to fight back. This is why pirates attacked head-on – displaying their fearlessness and confidence.
Key lesson three: The Pirate Code
Pirates lived by a code. They had strict rules which everyone had to abide by if they wanted to avoid walking the plank. You too should get your own pirate code to help you stay on course. A good pirate code reflects who you are, what you care about and the positive change you are trying to make.
However you choose to come up with it, your code needs to be enforced. This means if anyone breaks the code, there need to be consequences. Modern-day consequences could involve buying coffee for the rest of the team for a week which is much better than walking the plank. Either way, it allows your crew to stay focused and remember that above all, the code is what will make you all stronger.
The key takeaway from Be More Pirate is:
Pirates are not the drunken, violent hooligans that they were made out to be. That was actually part of their branding to avoid violence. They were actually groups of diverse men and women who were tired of being exploited by others in power and decided to rebel. The formation of their crews and principles is something we can all learn from. Thinking and behaving like a pirate will leave you following a code of integrity, democracy and innovation which will inevitably make positive changes in the world.
How can I implement the lessons learned in Be More Pirate:
Develop your own pirate code. Begin with listing the things that matter most to you and how you want to achieve positive change. Ensure that your code is something that reflects your values and will keep you and your crew from being distracted from your goals.