Think Like a Pirate

(or Fifty Shades of Grey Crayola)

“Take what you can. Give nothing back.” 

Sounds like something that some sleazy salesman might say, right? Yet that line from Pirates of the Caribbean actually describes using the rhythm of the waves to help secure your ship to the dock. 

Managing perception is a tricky thing for pirates. 

Errol Flynn, buckling his swash

Say the word ‘clown’ in a room full of folks, and every one pictures a clown in their head. With no two alike, you get Krusty and Ronald McDonald and Bozo and the Juggalos and Pennywise - one and two. To have a meaningful clown conversation with this group, you probably want to define ‘your’ type of clown at the start. 

So for our conversation today, please picture a handsome, daring, swashbuckling pirate and not some dead Somali in a dingey with his head ventilated by a US Navy Seal. Still with me?

Next, with your pirate's image fixed somewhere between Errol Flynn and Captain Jack Sparrow, I’ll open my flip-top head and share how my inner pirate thinks. 

From a business perspective, pirates appear to be efficient, lean start-up merchants. Both have the following in common:

  1. Know the Customer
    Pirates focus not on innovation, but on ‘what the people want’

  2. Mind the Margins
    Pirates focus on high margin items, not commodities

  3. Cut the Costs 
    Pirate booty sells for pure profit, minus travel and manpower costs

Folks with fancy book-learnin’ recognize one and two from Retail 101. Some question number three until they learn where my ship is headed. 

My inner pirate is easy to find. His ragtop is headed straight to that fabled four-way stop in the middle of Kansas. With no traffic in sight, his foot is glued to the floorboard with the wind whipping through where his hair used to be. Pragmatism illuminates his handsome profile as he flies through the intersection, valuing the spirit of the law over the letter. 

Flynn as Robin Hood

An effective inner pirate has a strict moral compass. In the manner of Robin Hood, theft transforms into redistribution of wealth, a popular moral high-road, even today. Doing a wrong thing for the right reason, within reason, maybe? 

The Road Not Taken

All pirates are not so noble. Justifications like ‘they are insured’ or ‘they are so big they won’t miss it’ work for some. Privateers serve only themselves, where mercenaries may serve the greater good. 

In anticipation of being called up for the draft during the Vietnam War, I became a marksman. When the draft ended, the mercenary magazine Soldier of Fortune filled the void. I learned that soldiers were sometimes hired outright, not only drafted. Hmmm... could turn my tactical skill into a career?

The offer to join the Army of Rhodesia and getting paid monthly in gold was tempting, but the fear of my own ventilation meant I never became a mercenary*. Contrarily, pirates often served as mercenaries, hired by governments to do what their own troops or diplomats could not.

Thinking like a pirate can give you a competitive edge, but it may come with a price. There are many shades of grey, and the risk of collateral damage grows with the darkness of the Crayola that you choose. If you are not comfortable asking for forgiveness rather than permission, then this is not a tactic for for you.

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Things that make you go hmmmmmmmm...

2014-07-16 21.47.41.jpg
Aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn't know that so it goes on flying anyway.
Mary Kay Ash