The Beauty of Pirate Ships

pirate ship If I had to distill a strategy for navigating the permanent whitewater experience of the coming months and the foreseeable 2009 time frame, I’d say plan on the “means to an end” way that pirates used their vessels. You see, they weren’t as worried about the details of the operation and maintenance of their existing infrastructure. Instead, they had a fierce passion for their goal of acquiring a living from other vessels on the seas. How does this apply to what we/you do? This game is going to get crazy (has already become crazy). We need to focus harder on the goals than we do the infrastructure, the excuses, the labels, and everything else that gets between us and a goal.

We can reframe this any way you want, but the point is this: get hungry. Figure out the goal, that thing you’re going to claw your way towards, and set that goal on FIRE. Make it a blazing beacon that guides you in all decisions. And now, for the hard part.

Throw away all the excuses. Here’s where we tie in the pirate ships. Pirates didn’t give a rat’s ass what their ship looked like, or even whether it was their ship in the first place. They took whatever floated and could carry cannons and men, and they lobbed themselves at targets. It was messy. It was ugly. It was warfare, but they weren’t ones to fret or struggle with their infrastructure. What defined a pirate ship? That the pirates were aboard it. That’s about it.

Can an enterprise do that? Can they lob themselves at targets without worrying about their infrastructure? Not sure. Look at all the burning debris in the “water” of the last few months’ financial turmoil. Big companies are in the wreckage.

In the coming months, there are strategies one can follow to try and survive. Some companies are hunkering down, cutting their spending, tightening their expenditures. Some are laying off, getting lean. Others are slashing their projects and sticking with what they’d been doing for the next year, shifting their efforts into preserving what they have instead of pushing forward.

I think that’s the worst plan in the world. Forget the ship. Don’t preserve the ship. Go after the prize. Take on the far more dangerous-but-rewarding stance of seeking the treasure. If you’re a company, set the targets and launch your ships. If you’re one of the pirates, look for the reward, not the larger story.

Should there be loyalty? Hell, yes. This isn’t about abandoning ship or throwing a mutiny. This is about breaking your perspective open and pointing it towards the REAL goals.

If you’re in marketing, maybe that means going after some big companies while your competitors retrench to support the existing companies. If you’re a software company, this is your call to see where the real goal is, and set course. If you’re a realtor, especially commercial, find the leverage, find the people seriously navigating, and make the deals. If you’re a freelancer out there, do you need an alliance? Do you need a floating armada? Make for the brightest goal, and let all the “rethinkers and re-trenchers” behind you.

This isn’t about chaos. It’s not about throwing everything away. It’s about knowing which parts are vital to moving through the waters, versus the pieces we keep around because that’s what we always did. I wouldn’t always advise something of this nature, and it’s not the right plan for everyone. But me? I’ve got the Jolly Rogers heading up the flag pole soon, and will fire all the guns as soon as my target is in sight.

A lot more fun than moaning about the economy at least. And you, Dread Pirates?

Quick disclaimer: historically, pirates were quite savage, quite brutal, and their “treasure” was often nothing more sexy than things like soap, food, and alcohol. If you’re going to crap on my analogy, it’s okay not to include the history lesson. I know.

Photo credit, earcos

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  • http://www.nathanhangen.com/blog Nathan

    Cool way to think about it Chris. Besides, pirates are awesome.

    Seriously though, I think you have found an interesting angle. People worry too much about maintaining rather than risk taking and goal seeking. I have my eyes on the prize, but that’s just because I had to steal a dingy to get started. Some people moving around in these yachts are too worried about keeping the pain shiny rather than getting somewhere new. Being reckless is in my nature, so maybe I can use it to my advantage.

  • http://www.nathanhangen.com/blog Nathan

    Cool way to think about it Chris. Besides, pirates are awesome.

    Seriously though, I think you have found an interesting angle. People worry too much about maintaining rather than risk taking and goal seeking. I have my eyes on the prize, but that’s just because I had to steal a dingy to get started. Some people moving around in these yachts are too worried about keeping the pain shiny rather than getting somewhere new. Being reckless is in my nature, so maybe I can use it to my advantage.

  • http://nickbroom.blogspot.com/ Nick Broom

    Ahoy!
    Superb article and analogy Chris. As has been said many times, “there are not problems, only opportunities”. This epitomises the approach and mindset needed right now to build and grow a business on the most important asset any business can have – its reputation and clients. Unfortunately, many businesses are so tied up in themselves that the customer is actually a by-product of what they do!
    This is the time for the mavericks, and the lithe and incredibly adaptable way of the pirates is not only a great comparison, but brings a sense of fun into the process, too. Fantastic!

  • http://nickbroom.blogspot.com/ Nick Broom

    Ahoy!
    Superb article and analogy Chris. As has been said many times, “there are not problems, only opportunities”. This epitomises the approach and mindset needed right now to build and grow a business on the most important asset any business can have – its reputation and clients. Unfortunately, many businesses are so tied up in themselves that the customer is actually a by-product of what they do!
    This is the time for the mavericks, and the lithe and incredibly adaptable way of the pirates is not only a great comparison, but brings a sense of fun into the process, too. Fantastic!

  • http://work.miramarmike.co.nz Mike Riversdale

    Excellent analogy full of common (which is never) sense!

    It’s a shame it takes a “crisis” for these messages to hit home.

    Top work fella.

  • http://work.miramarmike.co.nz Mike Riversdale

    Excellent analogy full of common (which is never) sense!

    It’s a shame it takes a “crisis” for these messages to hit home.

    Top work fella.

  • http://www.measuringup.com Vandy Massey

    Speed has always been on of the advantages that small businesses have over the big guys. Less administration, few people in the approval-chain. It all adds up to greater agility – just like pirates. They had agility and they were not afraid to break the rules.

    Oh yes, we definitely need more of that kind of thinking in these turbulent times, and the pirate analogy sums up the characteristics we need for success very well.

    One small thing though – pirates also had an autocratic leadership structure which included the cat-o-nine-tails. Think we may have to hold off on that a bit. Its not great for motivation. ;-)

  • http://www.measuringup.com Vandy Massey

    Speed has always been on of the advantages that small businesses have over the big guys. Less administration, few people in the approval-chain. It all adds up to greater agility – just like pirates. They had agility and they were not afraid to break the rules.

    Oh yes, we definitely need more of that kind of thinking in these turbulent times, and the pirate analogy sums up the characteristics we need for success very well.

    One small thing though – pirates also had an autocratic leadership structure which included the cat-o-nine-tails. Think we may have to hold off on that a bit. Its not great for motivation. ;-)

  • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

    Interesting take. Opportunity does present itself differently in times like these. In some areas, the credit crunch is EXTREMELY real and infrastructure will take a beating in a storm like this because of some uncontrollable factors. I suspect more than a few hell-bent pirates got taken out by a Cat 4 or 5 storm despite their best efforts.

    Having said that there is no excuse though for a lack of effort in this “new economy”. Fighting through this will certainly separate the men from the boys. It will also be a defining point in many people’s lives as to what they truly hold dear and to what lengths they will go to preserve it.

  • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

    Interesting take. Opportunity does present itself differently in times like these. In some areas, the credit crunch is EXTREMELY real and infrastructure will take a beating in a storm like this because of some uncontrollable factors. I suspect more than a few hell-bent pirates got taken out by a Cat 4 or 5 storm despite their best efforts.

    Having said that there is no excuse though for a lack of effort in this “new economy”. Fighting through this will certainly separate the men from the boys. It will also be a defining point in many people’s lives as to what they truly hold dear and to what lengths they will go to preserve it.

  • http://passingthru.com Betsy Wuebker

    “Quitcher bellyachin’ and get to work or ye’ll walk the plank!”

    Ditto to all the positives, Chris. I posted about “Reliance” late last night and repeated it in Triibes this morning, inviting a discussion of ideas and strategies to deal with things the way they ARE, not the way we wish or the way they were. Get up, get revved, and get movin’. Or as my partner’s dad used to say, “Press on.” Rough seas can provide exhilarating journeys.

  • http://passingthru.com Betsy Wuebker

    “Quitcher bellyachin’ and get to work or ye’ll walk the plank!”

    Ditto to all the positives, Chris. I posted about “Reliance” late last night and repeated it in Triibes this morning, inviting a discussion of ideas and strategies to deal with things the way they ARE, not the way we wish or the way they were. Get up, get revved, and get movin’. Or as my partner’s dad used to say, “Press on.” Rough seas can provide exhilarating journeys.

  • http://LuckyStartups.com Aronado

    Best blog post I’ve ever read (period) (exclamation mark x10)

  • http://LuckyStartups.com Aronado

    Best blog post I’ve ever read (period) (exclamation mark x10)

  • http://www.bloggingrocket.com Ian Blackford

    Today I have to make a decision about whether to continue with my current marketing – or up it effectively doubling the costs. I was wavering on the idea of keeping it going as is, but now I’ve read the above my timbers have been shivered and I think go ahead and I will double it.

    In for a penny in for a whole piece of eight!

  • http://www.bloggingrocket.com Ian Blackford

    Today I have to make a decision about whether to continue with my current marketing – or up it effectively doubling the costs. I was wavering on the idea of keeping it going as is, but now I’ve read the above my timbers have been shivered and I think go ahead and I will double it.

    In for a penny in for a whole piece of eight!

  • http://www.expertintherough.com Brian Monahan, Expert in the R

    Chris,

    I am thoroughly entertained by your last paragraph requesting people give up their need for such a literal and perfect analogy.

    Pirate Ships and the Economy surely is a unique read and Kudos to you for walking the plank to share it.

    Otherwise, the greatest thing about a weak economy is lots of people are packing up their bags and giving up. I am looking forward to an awesome year of people renegotiating contracts. This will be my foot in the door.

    Once my foot is in the door, I am sure its there for a long time.

    Maybe we should all take on Pirate names in honor of the recession. By the way aren’t the guys running our ships essentially Pirates any way.

    My Pirate name would be Rough Waters.

    Brian Monahan, Expert in the Rough

  • http://www.expertintherough.com Brian Monahan, Expert in the Rough

    Chris,

    I am thoroughly entertained by your last paragraph requesting people give up their need for such a literal and perfect analogy.

    Pirate Ships and the Economy surely is a unique read and Kudos to you for walking the plank to share it.

    Otherwise, the greatest thing about a weak economy is lots of people are packing up their bags and giving up. I am looking forward to an awesome year of people renegotiating contracts. This will be my foot in the door.

    Once my foot is in the door, I am sure its there for a long time.

    Maybe we should all take on Pirate names in honor of the recession. By the way aren’t the guys running our ships essentially Pirates any way.

    My Pirate name would be Rough Waters.

    Brian Monahan, Expert in the Rough

  • http://whynotrachel.wordpress.com Rachel Z. Cornell

    I’m hearing yee Captain Chris,

    When you find your life is in pieces, don’t get out the super glue. Find the shard that matters the most to you, the one element that you are the most passionate about and build something great out of that.

    …And the structure doesn’t have to be to be all polished and shinny, just sea worthy.

    Rachel

  • http://whynotrachel.wordpress.com Rachel Z. Cornell

    I’m hearing yee Captain Chris,

    When you find your life is in pieces, don’t get out the super glue. Find the shard that matters the most to you, the one element that you are the most passionate about and build something great out of that.

    …And the structure doesn’t have to be to be all polished and shinny, just sea worthy.

    Rachel

  • http://www.providentpartners.net/blog Albert Maruggi

    Ok i did a text search on this page and found out that you missed something very very important. Eye patches. No eye patches.

    You need the clear vision of what you are going after. It may well be that you hunker down with current clients to preserve that revenue stream because new clients are few an far between, even then in a competitive market those dollars will be smaller.

    Maybe it is true that you need to align with others because you’ll need to do more work for less cash. Hey don’t forget those getting laid off are likely to be consultants for salary – x and benefits.

    The eye patch thing is this, the future is on the horizon, sunk work new ideas cheaply, if they work redirect, if not, it’s OK.

    Or you can be like one of my favorite comics Steven Wright and be a peripheral visionary. I can’t write it as good as Wright can tell it http://culld.us/l2315939 around the 1:45 mark

  • http://www.providentpartners.net/blog Albert Maruggi

    Ok i did a text search on this page and found out that you missed something very very important. Eye patches. No eye patches.

    You need the clear vision of what you are going after. It may well be that you hunker down with current clients to preserve that revenue stream because new clients are few an far between, even then in a competitive market those dollars will be smaller.

    Maybe it is true that you need to align with others because you’ll need to do more work for less cash. Hey don’t forget those getting laid off are likely to be consultants for salary – x and benefits.

    The eye patch thing is this, the future is on the horizon, sunk work new ideas cheaply, if they work redirect, if not, it’s OK.

    Or you can be like one of my favorite comics Steven Wright and be a peripheral visionary. I can’t write it as good as Wright can tell it http://culld.us/l2315939 around the 1:45 mark

  • http://twitter.com/rebecatrautner Rebeca Trautner

    I feel like giving myself a swift kick in the booty (pun sadly intended). I seriously wasted so much time procrastinating on the net yesterday when I could have been laying the foundation for my site. Perhaps I could help spread the conversation across the web if I could throw away my laziness!

  • http://twitter.com/rebecatrautner Rebeca Trautner

    I feel like giving myself a swift kick in the booty (pun sadly intended). I seriously wasted so much time procrastinating on the net yesterday when I could have been laying the foundation for my site. Perhaps I could help spread the conversation across the web if I could throw away my laziness!

  • http://www.budgetpulse.com Craig

    Cool metaphor with the pirates, maybe it’s just because it’s close to Halloween, but I liked that one. I agree, sometimes its all about the risk/reward factor. Making necessary adjustments and just going for it. Not always the easiest mindset to take in a time like theses, but can be worth it.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  • http://www.budgetpulse.com Craig

    Cool metaphor with the pirates, maybe it’s just because it’s close to Halloween, but I liked that one. I agree, sometimes its all about the risk/reward factor. Making necessary adjustments and just going for it. Not always the easiest mindset to take in a time like theses, but can be worth it.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  • http://www.twitter.com/bostondave David

    Arrghhh!

  • http://www.twitter.com/bostondave David

    Arrghhh!

  • http://takemetoyourleader.com Freddie Laker

    The future is for those that have courage and, um, ….

    HAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!

    I love this post. I have a thing about pirates thought. The actual description of my blog even references them:

    “Take Me To Your Leader” focuses on trend watching in consumer behaviors, marketing, technology, and social media, but is often led astray by its eccentric authors and their love of music, traveling, random thoughts, and pirates.

    http://takemetoyourleader.com

    See you tomorrow Chris!

  • http://takemetoyourleader.com Freddie Laker

    The future is for those that have courage and, um, ….

    HAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!

    I love this post. I have a thing about pirates thought. The actual description of my blog even references them:

    “Take Me To Your Leader” focuses on trend watching in consumer behaviors, marketing, technology, and social media, but is often led astray by its eccentric authors and their love of music, traveling, random thoughts, and pirates.

    http://takemetoyourleader.com

    See you tomorrow Chris!

  • http://www.janetfouts.com Janet

    Arrrrhhh Matey, we’re light, we’re maneuverable, and we will find a way to find opportunities and make them work in the roughest of times. This is a time when being the little guy may be an advantage.
    Thanks for this post Chris, we all need to hear this or we’ll be lemmings instead of pirates. Pirates have WAY more fun.

  • http://www.janetfouts.com Janet

    Arrrrhhh Matey, we’re light, we’re maneuverable, and we will find a way to find opportunities and make them work in the roughest of times. This is a time when being the little guy may be an advantage.
    Thanks for this post Chris, we all need to hear this or we’ll be lemmings instead of pirates. Pirates have WAY more fun.

  • http://www.robynbraverman.com Robyn Ginsburg Braverman

    Chris, once again you give so much food for thought – must ruminate…/rgb

  • http://www.robynbraverman.com Robyn Ginsburg Braverman

    Chris, once again you give so much food for thought – must ruminate…/rgb

  • http://whynotrachel.wordpress.com Rachel Z. Cornell

    Oh this is too rich a topic, I must comment again.

    I just can’t resist such a perfect metaphor opportunity..So here it goes, it’s something I say a lot…

    …Here is yet another reason why it’s smart to build relationSHIPS not little relation-dingies. RelationSHIPS are well designed to withstand troubled waters, dingies will capsize easily.

    Thanks matey for such a great topic,
    Rachel

  • http://whynotrachel.wordpress.com Rachel Z. Cornell

    Oh this is too rich a topic, I must comment again.

    I just can’t resist such a perfect metaphor opportunity..So here it goes, it’s something I say a lot…

    …Here is yet another reason why it’s smart to build relationSHIPS not little relation-dingies. RelationSHIPS are well designed to withstand troubled waters, dingies will capsize easily.

    Thanks matey for such a great topic,
    Rachel

  • Tim

    Well put. I only hope enough take this thought and act upon it.

  • Tim

    Well put. I only hope enough take this thought and act upon it.

  • http://suzemuse.wordpress.com Susan Murphy

    Arrr matey that’s a good blog post! :-)

    On the same theme, I offer a quote:

    “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” — Andre Gide

    In a time when everyone is cautioning safety – be a risk taker.

  • http://suzemuse.wordpress.com Susan Murphy

    Arrr matey that’s a good blog post! :-)

    On the same theme, I offer a quote:

    “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” — Andre Gide

    In a time when everyone is cautioning safety – be a risk taker.

  • http://www.whitneyhoffman.com Whitney

    I still think the Pirate’s Dilemma by Matt Mason does a great job at extending this analogy- don’t miss it.

  • http://www.whitneyhoffman.com Whitney

    I still think the Pirate’s Dilemma by Matt Mason does a great job at extending this analogy- don’t miss it.

  • http://www.twitterthoughts.com Roger

    Considering that the pirate flag is called the Jolly Roger, I’ve always had a soft spot for pirates!

    One caveat is that pirates rarely came out ahead in the big scheme of things. Most of them ended up at the end of a rope or in Davy Jones’ Locker. Unlike Pirates of the Caribbean, most pirates did not beat the big guys. So I think the analogy is fair, up to a point. If you’re going to be a pirate in these particular seas, a good mix of strategy is needed.

    Every now and then it might be appropriate to go in disguise and do business with the establishment (as pirates often did; a pirate in one country could be a bona fide “merchant-adventurer” in another).

  • http://www.twitterthoughts.com Roger

    Considering that the pirate flag is called the Jolly Roger, I’ve always had a soft spot for pirates!

    One caveat is that pirates rarely came out ahead in the big scheme of things. Most of them ended up at the end of a rope or in Davy Jones’ Locker. Unlike Pirates of the Caribbean, most pirates did not beat the big guys. So I think the analogy is fair, up to a point. If you’re going to be a pirate in these particular seas, a good mix of strategy is needed.

    Every now and then it might be appropriate to go in disguise and do business with the establishment (as pirates often did; a pirate in one country could be a bona fide “merchant-adventurer” in another).

  • http://primecutsblog.com Justin Levy

    I love the way you use imagery to describe motivational concepts, business ideas, etc. As always, keep up the great work and good luck at the New Marketing Summit over the next couple days!

  • http://primecutsblog.com Justin Levy

    I love the way you use imagery to describe motivational concepts, business ideas, etc. As always, keep up the great work and good luck at the New Marketing Summit over the next couple days!

  • http://donotreadthisblogunless.blogspot.com/ Nicholas Chase

    Chris,

    Once again you hit the nail on the head. Our ‘media infrastructure’ loves to fabricate news, “warning high fire danger today”, how iresponsible they are! Shame on them for spreading the calamity of the financial meltdown farther than it needed to go.

    What connection do I have to any of them? Zero, Zilch, Nada! Why should I care, because a few greedy people have brought our economy to a new record low? Bah Humbug!

    The stock market is full of emotional wrecks, selling value where there is none, and a soon as the cost of a barrel of oil increases, these weenies say “Sell Sell SELL!”

    An investment of money in a company should not entail any emotions at all, it is a business transaction.
    The unsophisticated investors out there don’t grok this at all. The savvy stockbroker gets paid commission on a buy or a sell, who is smarter?

    Thank for a great post, now where is that eye-patch of mine…? I’m thinking “pirates” are the new business model, at least until the lawyers get wind of it!

    Arrrgghh! Respectfully, Nicholas Chase

  • http://donotreadthisblogunless.blogspot.com/ Nicholas Chase

    Chris,

    Once again you hit the nail on the head. Our ‘media infrastructure’ loves to fabricate news, “warning high fire danger today”, how iresponsible they are! Shame on them for spreading the calamity of the financial meltdown farther than it needed to go.

    What connection do I have to any of them? Zero, Zilch, Nada! Why should I care, because a few greedy people have brought our economy to a new record low? Bah Humbug!

    The stock market is full of emotional wrecks, selling value where there is none, and a soon as the cost of a barrel of oil increases, these weenies say “Sell Sell SELL!”

    An investment of money in a company should not entail any emotions at all, it is a business transaction.
    The unsophisticated investors out there don’t grok this at all. The savvy stockbroker gets paid commission on a buy or a sell, who is smarter?

    Thank for a great post, now where is that eye-patch of mine…? I’m thinking “pirates” are the new business model, at least until the lawyers get wind of it!

    Arrrgghh! Respectfully, Nicholas Chase

  • http://mark-logan.blogspot.com Mark Logan

    I still think Ninjas destroy pirates any day.

  • http://mark-logan.blogspot.com Mark Logan

    I still think Ninjas destroy pirates any day.