Corp Raider flag from Monty Python's Meaning of Life.

Corp Raider flag from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.

Hollywood has not done a great job showing what Pirate are, and what a Pirate’s life is like. It was not all ‘yo ho ho and a bottle of rum’.  In fact, Pirates were some of the most organized, democratic and creative people of their time. However, despite being so organized, they were still Pirates which means that anything they wanted, they had to hunt it down themselves and take it.  Including their ships.

So how did Pirates get their ships in the first place?  Since there was not a Pirate ship yard, they had to steal them.  Most often a Pirate would capture a larger ship and leave behind the smaller or inferior one.  More successful Pirates will keep both ships and build a small flotilla. Once they got a new ship, they went about improving it.  Adding more cannon, especially small anti personal guns on the deck, converting cargo areas into living quarters and re-rigging the ship for faster speed.

Keep in mind bigger was not always better.  A good Pirate ship had to have 3 characteristics:  It had to be strong.  There were plenty of storms, especially in the Caribbean and the best ports to wait it out were not open to Pirates, so often they had to ride it out.  Second they had to be fast.  Pirate’s ships are designed to hunt down merchant ships. They also had to be fast enough to get away from Pirate hunter and naval ships of the line. Finally, they need to be well armed to capture its prey and hold off other ships long enough to get away.  And bigger is not always better, the advantage of smaller ships, better maneuverability and ability to hide in shallow waters.

Now think about your company or department.  Is it strong enough to ride out a storm?  What if suddenly one project had to slip back 2 weeks and now you do not have enough people to handle all the work.  Do you have a line of people you can call to handle the overflow? If you cannot get more people, are your processes streamed lined enough to run at maximum speed? Does your team have the firepower to not only hold your own, but go after new opportunities no matter when they appear?

A good Pirate knows what his crew and ship can and cannot do and sometimes take the ship to that edge and sometimes beyond.  But never too far.  You cannot lose a battle as a Pirate, there is no fallback position, but at the same time you cannot be too timid.  Remember, survival is dependent on the ability to hunt and capture your prey. So if you think your firm is not quite large enough for that project you got an RFP for, then you are already falling behind.

There is another layer to being a Pirate that many people do not think about.  A good Pirate ship had to be strong, fast, powerful, and any technology that can give them an advantage was used.  Often when pirates attached a ship, it’s not only gold and silver they want.  Maps were just as valuable to the Captain as the treasure. Pirate also needed supplies, food, water and other drinks, soap, spare sails, pot and pans. Newer ships would be examined for improvements in technology; rigging, hull design, rudder control, etc…  In one case Blackbeard with 4 ships attacked and blockaded Charlton, South Carolina just to get Gold and Silver, but medicine and dental chests for his crew.  He even forced some medics to go aboard and service his crew.

This is applicable to your firm as well.  I’m not suggesting you invade another firm and steal their technology and techniques (unless you think you can get away with it) but instead you should always be looking around at what others are doing.  No matter how well you think you organization is set and running, there will be improvement just around the corner. Good enough is not good enough. Although there is never enough time in the day, you have to make time to read up on the latest thinking about process improvement.  You need to sure your dev’s have enough time to play with the latest development techniques. What are the latest trends in fashion, music, art?  Can that provide a hint for the next wave of design innovation for your next presentation or website?

Look for innovation in unusual places.  Displays are becoming more common in new cars.  Research them.  What seem to work and what does not?  How did the designers deal with limited screen space and restrictions for distracted driving? Ever watch TED talks?  You should. Not only are they great for technical innovation but innovation on new thinking around process, psychology and even philosophy and could apply to you. And not all innovations require grand technologies or process changes. For example, Pirates didn’t invent the eye patch or ware them because they lost their eyes, but instead will keep one eye covered so that when they attacked inside the ship itself, they would not be blind in the dark waiting for their eyes to adjust to the low light condition.  This was not a new technique but gave them an edge in battle moving from above to below deck over the defending crew that did not have them on.

Pirates were also experts at deception.  In one case Sir Francis Drake in the Golden Hind had his crew tie a bunch of junk and throw it overboard to make his ship look like a lumbering merchant ship.  As the Spanish Ship Senora, which was the heaviest armed merchant ship of its time came near to investigate, The Hind quickly spin about and released a full cannon broadside.  The Spanish sailors were so shocked that the Hind was able to close and board before they could put any kind of defense together.  The take from the Spanish ship was so large that it was equivalent to one year of England’s total income.

Now I’m not suggesting you engage in deception, but I relate this factoid more to illustrate how to look at problems you client brings you.  Often a client will come to you with a problem and perhaps a proposed solution like; our website is slow, we think we need a code rewrite and move to new servers. Or we are trying to reach a younger demographic so we need a more flashing ad campaign. In either example this may not be the case.  The website could be slow because of an issue with the database environment settings.  Depending on the product, you may find you’re more successful by questioning the messages instead of how the message is presented. Always try to look at all angles of a situation, not just what it appears on the surface and do not be afraid to bring that up.

Interesting side note, the Spanish were so mad at Drake that every Spanish ship up and down the pacific coast was looking for him.  This forced Drake to sail west across the pacific to reach Europe making the Hind the second ship to circumnavigate the globe, and Drake the first captain to survive the whole voyage.

A move so bold, only a Pirate would attempt it.

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