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Views from the Prairie

November 11

What can we learn from pirates?

In the latest Harvard Business Review, there is an article on what we can learn from organized crime. Pop!Tech ran a article on what innovators can learn from pirates (focused mostly on people who pirate your goods). Forbes had a blog on the subject. The New York Times ran an article on the plight of a British couple who had been kidnapped by Somali pirates. Over the last few years, several books on pirates have been published. Pirates are hot.

So, what can we learn from pirates?

The first thing to learn is how the pirate organizations operated. Leadership had to be earned and was voted upon by the people being governed, not given by being promoted from above. It is hard to be autocratic when the crew is armed and willing to kill.

Technology has put similar powers into the hands of the lowest worker in the corporation. Today, the guts of a corporation can walk out the door on a thumb drive or be captured by one person clicking on a link in a chat session (as what happened to Google). The Arab Spring is showing just how technology is changing power. It may help to borrow from Pirate governance.

Pirate governance is similar to that of the nomadic American Indians and to developing Open Source. It is hard to direct Open Source development when people can choose on a daily basis whether to participate or not. To lead pirates, we express a vision that they can share and show them how to get there.

Secondly, people support piracy when the difference in wealth is too large. The Caribbean pirates were after the riches being sent back to Europe from the American colonies. Music piracy exists where people do not always have the money to buy the authorized versions. The Malay pirates attacked the European ships bringing wealth from the Far East as well as the Philippines. England and Holland supported pirates until they became the rich being pirated on. People steal from corporations when they are not sharing in the rewards.

Thirdly, when piracy is profitable for too long, outside investors start participating in the process. For example, in the Somali kidnapping of a British couple, part of the reason that they were held for so long was that the investors who had bankrolled the holding of the couple wanted more money before allowing them to be released. Likewise, when music piracy went on for too long, corporations started making money off of the piracy. Similarly, China has a hard time cracking down on music, film, and software piracy because all the vested interests that are profiting from it.

Fourthly, when piracy is rampant, society changes. In the music industry, the best profits are made when the studios cooperate with the "pirates" and work out ways to incorporate the creativity being expressed. How the band, the Grateful Dead operated is a textbook example. Our national push to the Pacific was often started by people who broke the laws. Our country simply followed up to get the laws and treaties changed to reflect what was taken.

Unbelievers and Skeptics

Last month, we looked at the want to believe. As a manager, every time we present the vision of our company, we face some people who don't believe what we say. In a corporation, that unbelief can slow down operations or even totally sabotage our efforts.

There are two types of people in this group; skeptics and unbelievers.

Skeptics are those who have seen a lot but want to see some proof before they believe what we say. Skeptics are valuable in any organization as they make us live up to what we say and make us rework and improve the message. These people can be won over as we act consistently according to what we say.

Unbelievers are those who refuse to accept the evidence even when it is in front of them. Unbelievers are damaging to an organization because they are constantly cutting down our message and if they have bitterness, they are demoralizing to those around them.

The starting point to deciding how to handle these people is to figure out where they are in both the formal and in the informal corporate networks. People who are central to either network require priority over those who are peripheral to the networks. Confront them to figure out if they are a skeptic or an unbeliever.

People can be changed from an unbeliever into a skeptic, but only when they are open to being confronted with their own behavior. That openness is so rare because they often feel that they are in the right. Even if they do change, they will relapse and those relapses can continue to harm the team. It is often better to let them go than to try to reform an unbeliever.

Risky World.

There are those that think that cell phones and texting while driving are not a problem. However, when a recent problem took down the cell phone system for several days in the Middle East, auto accidents dropped significantly in several countries. (10% or more)


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Prior Years

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