Be More Pirate with Alex Barker

August 8, 2022

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Our guest, Alex Barker, runs Be More Pirate: a global social movement and consultancy. She is a freelance writer, speaker facilitator, community builder and advocate of professional rule breaking. She is co-author of How to Be More Pirate and works across the public and private sector on strategy, culture change and challenging the status quo. Previously, she was communications manager at think tank the RSA (Royal Society of Arts).

Living Room Conversations: Be More Pirate with Alex Barker

Rhea = Rhea Ong Yiu (Host)

Alex = Alex Barker (Guest)

RHEA: Hello. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening everybody. Welcome to episode number 35 of the life science Living Room Conversations. This afternoon I am your host. My name is Rhea Ong Yiu and I will be hosting a very special friend to our network as well. And 

but before I welcome her let me just you know for the people who are new to the Living Room Conversations podcast basically this is our Living Room and we talk a lot about things that are close to our heart so anything that has to do with Teal, anything that has to do with human-centric workplaces, leadership, it’s our space you basically want to connect with our guests but also especially with you are listening into the podcast that you can chime in and

connect with us via YouTube live, Facebook live and just fairly recently we also try to introduce this to the LinkedIn community through our LinkedIn live podcast. So please engage with us, ask your questions and bring forward your thoughts. We would love to hear from you through this channel we really look forward to engaging in dialogue with our guests who

come with their stories and personal exploration of the future work but also you know if you’re a listener this is an opportunity to candidly eavesdrop into this conversation and share your thoughts with us as well and share your questions with us our goal is that you will leave with

a breath of fresh air and also some courage to experiment on your own little world so

we hope that we can offer you that at the end of this conversation.

So without further ado I would like to welcome our guest today. She is the captain of be More Pirate I first came across her work through the podcast of a friend of ours lisa gill in leader morphosis and I picked up her book right away and I was really excited to see what kind of energy the be More Pirate movement is driving in the workplaces and also in other topics that concerns our society so with us today I would love to welcome Alex Barker Alex come join me in our Living Room.

ALEX: thank you from my Living Room to yours it’s a pleasure to be here.

RHEA: yeah thank you Alex for joining us would you maybe share with us a little more about you know be More Pirate the vision behind it or maybe a little bit of history around it just to set the scene?

ALEX: Yes I will so I’ll start the beginning I suppose be More Pirate was written by my co-pirate colleague not really quite sure what to call them Sam Conniff who wrote the book be More Pirate in 2018 and then put it out into the world the book itself is Iguess a revelation of the untold strategies of the golden age of pirates this really small period of history from about 17 1695 to about 1725 there were like 30 odd years or so in the history of mainly Europe when a group of ordinary sailors citizens decided that they were going to go full blown piracy they were actually going to challenge the establishment and stop doing the kind of plundering and exploiting of the world on their behalf and they were going to go out and really exist outside of the law and fight their own battles and it’s the the ideas and their rules as we call them that pirates created onboard pirate ships that’s so fascinating and provide such an interesting and good model for modern businesses and organizations because they as a result of needing to really survive at sea and take down the navy they had to figure out a way to unite all these kind of this group of strangers and create a harmonious culture which is not easy to do even under the best of conditions as I’m sure most people know like it’s hard to create a good culture in any team

um but pirates were really really honest about what needed to happen so what you saw on board a pirate ship for the first time was things like real democracy a one-man one-vote system real checks and balances on power having you know holding the captain into account with a quarter master as an equal leader ensuring that the leadership could be voted in and out at

any time they offered social or had health insurance to all members of the crew so that if you lost a leg you you’d get compensation they had a kind of form of same-sex marriage

they had you know really diverse teams as well so it wasn’t like it was the kind of privileged elite but you would get in the navy they allowed anybody to participate.

So there was all these kind of progressive ideas and that’s what Sam put into the books he’s like wow this is these are the social revolutions of the 1700s that have been tarnished with a really bad brush and made have been made made out to be the villains of history and how can we bring that spirit of rebellion back into the kind of transformation that we need to see not just to change the workplace to get you know to tackle all the burnout that we have and all the kind of 

egotistical leadership we experience? But also for the good of like broader society, to like tackle the big challenges around climate change and sustainability and you know the disruption that’s going to come from AI. And all these big stuff that we’re not figuring out so that was the premise of the original book. I came on board about eight months into the book being published because Sam was getting quite overwhelmed with the responses people were writing to him and saying ‘I love this, I’m starting a mutiny, I’m starting a rebellion so can you help?’ and he was like I can’t help I’ve got two small kids and I can barely keep on top of all my emails so I came on board as right hand pirate that was the original job that I applied for and we started to build it into a

movement because that’s kind of what it felt like it needed to be it needs to be to go beyond the pages of a book into something that was living and breathing for people to to use and that you know it’s taken all kinds of forms of the last three years which I’ll go into but you know we work directly with individuals with organizations companies in all kinds of formats really to figure out how do you apply the strategies of the pirates in the 21st century to really make an impact.

And personally it came to me at a point where I was fed up I was really fed up with the way that organizations were were running the one that I was in at the time felt very restrictive which was also confusing because on the outside to the rest of the world it looked quite progressive and I think that’s a real problem at the moment where it’s very easy to project an idea whether you call it purpose washing or whatever um to to sort of say the right things get the rhetoric right around being you know self self organizing and progressive and all things but not actually put it into practice because we’re still dealing with top down, directives people still don’t have enough agency there’s not enough trust in organizations all that stuff and that’s where the pirates got it right? They created real accountability and trust because they had to so that’s that’s where the ethos comes from.

RHEA: Thank you it sounds very inspiring and it sounds like really if you think about it we are going for the workplaces of the future right like how do we actually work in a progressive way? So Alex thank you for the introduction of being More Pirate. I just want to invite our friends who are tuned in to YouTube and Facebook and LinkedIn do chime in bring your questions forward we can see them and we’ll make sure that we we try and answer them through the course of this conversation as well. Yeah so Alex maybe my next question to you is you know there’s this whole history together with Sam and building More Pirate and also your personal conviction around what can we really truly do to impact these organizations where are you right now in in this in this journey?

ALEX: Oh that’s a really good question I it’s very hard to pinpoint because it’s almost never been at a very s not so stable place you know? Sam and I started with with very little of a firm plan in mind because that’s part of the pirate ethos like it’s it’s got to be iterative and emergent and because I believe in distribution of power I wanted everything that we did to be shaped by our network and our community and for them to guide us and that’s generally been the case but we’re only doing it for a year before the pandemic hit and we had to ultimately flip all of how we how we did everything everything was done in person up until that point and I still believe that in

person sessions get the best results so where we are now we’ve done a lot of a lot a lot a lot of workshops we’ve done a lot of you know bits and pieces of consultancy working with

organizations helping them to understand this moment of post pandemic working life how does you know, how do we interest, interact with the new uncertainty that we have and figuring out this new normal idea but I don’t really in terms of a long-term vision what I’m working on is creating our own programs that people can join that are longer term rather than just the sort of one-off interventions that we’ve tended to do and the kind of inspiration and provocation that comes from the books and the podcasts that we did because I want to I want people to understand that piracy is a practice you know a lot really what it’s about maybe we’ll get into this later you know courage is such a big part of what it takes to transform any organization and transform yourself so you have to recognize that that doesn’t happen overnight you need to take small steps and and keep on flexing your your bravery muscle that’s how I said the only way you

build and retain courage is by doing it day in day out, working out what the net is, what’s the next obstacle and how am I going to confront it you know Sam always says to me sail towards where you your greatest fear is which is most people think ‘oh my god how you know do I want to do that?’.

But what I want to do is provide more infrastructure and and more of a community of practice on how to go through the various stages of being more pirate like there are clear pillars of what what supports people in terms of making a change and one of them is having other people around you one of them is is that sailing towards your fear and what happens when you get there. Another is you know storytelling and you know not only storytelling to other peoples explaining to them your vision and bringing them on board in a persuasive way but also giving a sense of an of a meaning to all of this stuff you know having come out of a pandemic like you talked about the future of the workplace like what you know where do we all fit into that how do we all contribute it’s very easy to think you know I studied literature and it’s really easy for me to I remember learning all about the single hero narrative and we’re very very used to like the single hero saving the day but I fundamentally believe that this future will be saved by collectives. By crews, by groups because it has to be and so how do you tell that story in a compelling way and help people to understand where they fit into that and where they can still be a leader within it and things like that?

So that’s what I’m working on I’m working on sort of some longer term programs and things that where people can opt in start to meet other people and look we do this we do this anyway through the crew through the community but I’m trying to make it a bit more structured which is the antithesis sometimes of being pirate but and where Sam and I perhaps haven’t always been keen to go but now now is the moment.

RHEA: Yeah. I think also when it comes to structure right understanding you know what kind of structures are not limiting but actually inviting, understanding and understanding the

right balance there. So if I may ask them how big is the crew today?

ALEX: That’s what I want to say because there are layers to it. The way that I describe our network is more like a fleet so like think of it like ships. Each one has a captain we might be the central hub but by no means do we control any anything so I there are probably about there’s between 100 and 200 I’d say captains truth be told. I don’t remember them all or not all of them are necessarily captured on our map or in the book or anything like that but there are that are many who are leading something that is pirate in their own right and they have their own crews you know they are they are sharing the philosophies and the approach with other people. You know for example I mean one example I often give is sarah sheed who’s an arts producer up in the north of England and she she set up a Facebook page at the beginning of you know right after reading the more prior and recruited has recruited over a thousand independent artists to come on board with the view of you know let’s be pirate let’s but not let’s be pirating like let’s challenge everything although they are challenging some stuff in the art sector but let’s draw strength through numbers you know? Let’s really network ourselves so that we can pool our resources and that’s basically what the pirates did so I mean it’s in about probably tens of thousands the whole crew you know if I was to bring together all of our social media you know there’s I think there’s probably two or three hundred that are super engaged and all this is also really critical because when I came to Sam in the beginning I was very adamant that this wasn’t going to be a numbers game. Because I’ve been in networks before where they always boasted about having 30,000 members or net part of the network and I would struggle to really explain the impact of that like I was like great we’ve recruit you know there’s 30 000 people technically on your mailing list what does that actually mean now I know basically 200 pirate captains and I could tell you about what they actually do and that I know that they are emotionally connected to this idea which is I don’t know it’s just really important. Because I know that they’re not going to just drop it as soon as like it’s not it’s not a transactional thing our network it’s very much a relational emotionally driven network. So whilst I do want to scale it now it’s still really important to me that it’s built on proper human relationships not just the vanity metrics of a network. 

RHEA: No definitely and I fully resonate with that you know what’s what’s a thousand in numbers when maybe only two or three are reading and maybe only not even one is contributing to that space right?

ALEX: I mean yeah you need one person to pioneer a new way of doing something and that’s enough you know? Like the pirate crew in the US who are all coaches you know there’s like what a handful of them including the head coach who really is really really pirate and really have I gone oh sorry I didn’t know if I think I lost myself I got frozen but yeah the the crew in the us that they’re all coaches and the head coach he you know some of them are doing some

incredible work in terms of creating new methods to support veterans in the US based on the fact that you know the prior idea is that like we’re challenging the current way of supporting veterans because it doesn’t work and we’ve got a new way a new kind of therapy and I’m so I’m like I’m so proud that they call themselves pirates because and who cares like you know I don’t care about the numbers of that like they’re doing that work and and that’s really impacting people’s lives and yeah.

RHEA: Yeah. It’s really nice to see you know the growth and the resonance coming from a book and now you’re really making impact in different places I must say you have you have tap into the art sector you have the veteran sector and made a lot more stories right? And it’s just of shifting the narrative for many places and these are actually places where people work right? So if there’s a shift in these places then there is definitely going to be a critical mass in the future where work can potentially shift in its narrative as well. And I think that’s where we draw the connection a little bit with the org transformation, the Teal mindset yeah that Frederick also wrote about in his book Reinventing Organization was there any inspiration or any linkage to

the book?

ALEX: Yeah. Laloux, he is quoted and be More Pirate in the reorganize yourself section and I think Sam just very much saw the parallel between what he was discovering about how pirates operated and what lalu had put into to reinventing organizations and clearly you know that all these these are very similar ideas models coming from very different places of course so yes there was an absolutely direct inspiration there.

It was more like a synergy like he’d already discovered pirates and then he was like oh here are some modern examples of being put into practice so we would always you know describe him probably as a modern pirate because he’s challenged the norm and I because I was where I worked before we’d also I’d also been introduced to Laloux separately and there was I was already helping support a reinventing work group within the like that formed out of the network that I knew ironically of course the problem was is that there that route wasn’t given free reign it wasn’t given proper agency because there was such a recourse to like hierarchy and stuff so they were like this is kind of a cool idea but like we’re not going to give it too much free reign so yeah so there’s definitely there’s absolutely a parallel with Teal. Yeah I can- I mean I can talk about some of the differences as well but yeah.

RHEA: Maybe you can share a bit of the differences it would be interesting to know.

ALEX: Well I think I think what I’ve noticed especially because female pirate has taken root in our national health service quite a bit and obviously and you know one of the best examples of of Teal or a movement towards Teal is Buurtzorg right? So when I remember when Buurtzorg first was coming out but the thing about a lot of the adoption of Teal and self-management I’ve noticed that it comes from the topic. I mean still it’s somebody with enough authority or you know the CEO of a company going right we want to move this organization towards Teal which is great don’t get me wrong. But what I want to see is what how do we get this into the big companies where it’s not coming from the top? Like I want to see groundswell like what I’d call like employee activism or employee movements that’s also where we facilitated how we

facilitated workshops over time, what we call like a facilitated mutiny where you break the power structure in the moment and I’m not saying that that’s easy. So I’m investigating you know different formats to allow that to happen and how you can support somebody say in a middle management position to lead that and really gain authority through from what they’re doing. 

Because we always say that the pirate rebellion is a creative one it’s not about breaking

the rules it’s about making new ones more so ultimately your measure of success is if you can

get other people in the organization to follow you because what you’re doing makes so much more sense than what was done before you’ll start to gain traction. And that’s that’s really the biggest difference for me because if you’re just waiting for it to come from the top we’re just we’re essentially operating in the same way as we always have done.

RHEA: That’s true. I think yeah you’re right in pointing that out. I see a lot of Teal and even agility right if you think about agility always like if you don’t have the support or the sponsorship at the top it’s almost always very difficult to see it successful although there are a lot of movements like hey we want to try this out in our own little space but to a certain extent you can be successful and then when you hit that spot you will almost always need to have a conversation.

ALEX: Yes exactly. So what I’m curious about is how do you push it beyond that how do they begin to really pay attention you know how does it become so compelling that the the resistance has to disappear and there are lots of different answers to that you know interviewed lots and lots of different activists and entrepreneurs over the last few years and and they you know, for the most part it’s persistence and courage because you don’t know quite you don’t always quite know which lever you need to pull that’s going to make a difference but you have to keep trying them.

And I will so often from pirates you know when they’ve been working in an organization for a long time like oh you know I just wanna ‘I think I’m done, like I think I’m- I can’t I can’t keep going like this it’s too it’s too frustrating.’ and then they go and you know go off and either join

somewhere else or try and set up on their own and then they realize when you’re on the outside you can’t influence change as much so it’s worth I think it’s worth trying to stay in there and give yourself a break for a period of time to go back. Yeah that’s why I’m so keen to do the work on how do we support more people to to have that ground swell of change.

RHEA: Yeah it’s very interesting Alex this this concept and maybe just to kind of get our participants and our other people who are in the call who probably have not read the book just to maybe give a little bit of understanding of what are the characteristics of a pirate that you really want to tap into. Could you name a few, maybe? 

ALEX: Okay so in the original the original book has the five pirate principles. Rebel: draw strength from standing up to the status quo – which essentially means work out what it is you want to challenge then it’s Rewrite so bend break but ultimately rewrite the rules. And that’s really about like you can’t just go and break all the rules be the rebel be the disruptor you like I said just now you have to put something better in its place you know you’re about creating something can you setting a new precedent. Reorganize yourself which is really about the idea of okay there’s a self-management idea of just disrupting the command and control structures, working in a more networked way and achieving scale through networks as opposed to just kind of pure growth from the center, yeah. Redistribute power and this is really key like redistribute power is what it sounds like fighting for fairness but I think we assume sometimes that when you reorganize the organization through structurally that you automatically get a redistribution of power but you don’t because power is a well it’s an interesting concept and plays out in different ways so I always kind of go into that in a you know to help people to understand what power actually is and where it sits because what I found is if you if you redistribute power and create a flat structure, quite often you’ll see natural hierarchies emerge anyway because certain people are used to being dominant or feel they have a right to be dominant. And you need a lot you need clearer guidelines around that. So thinking about not just thinking about the restructure but thinking about the redistribution of power quite specifically and the final one is Retell. Which means weaponize the story so pirate success was also about being able to tell the story of who they were and what they did and draw people to the cause so you’re never going to have an impact as an organization if you haven’t nailed the story and figured out how you stand out.

That’s the premise of the first book and then and I guess also the pirate code the code is is all of your new rules so then your new way of working is what you put into your code and that

keeps everybody in the crew accountable to enacting that and in the second book I’ve basically shared lots of different examples of organizations and people who’ve taken those ideas and I’ve you know made some updates on how it works in reality so. But they’re the five core ideas.

RHEA: Yeah so rebel, then break and rewrite the rules, reorganize yourself, redistribute power and retell right? 

ALEX: Rebel, rewrite, reorganize,  redistribute and retell yeah. The five R’s it’s the only pirate joke in the book.

RHEA: I mean it makes it easy to remember but also it has a clear framework right if you

if you were a if you want to create a movement, think of these five things and go have fun with it.

ALEX: Yeah and also in the updates to it I tried to go into more detail and some of what I shared I think in the presentation we did last or the talk I did last time is that those are very quite zoomed out ideas you know my first question was like ;oh, rebel, okay!’ it’s easier said than done. You know, like ‘oh I just challenge what’s in front of me’ I mean challenging something is really hard like it’s requires a shift in in your mindset and some people are at the tipping point where they feel they need to be able to do it and but but how do you encourage people to get there? So I still try to go into those things in more in more depth and rewriting a rule again like when we started to ask that question how do you rewrite the rules people would create rules that were too big for them to manage. So they’d be like I want to do this in a big thing? And I’d

be like well realistically are you going to do that and they realized that they weren’t because they were too busy and already overwhelmed with other things on their plate so we had to break that down and ask different and better questions around it the principle is the same like create a new rule put create a new precedent but the action steps to get there are different.

RHEA: Yeah definitely. That’s- it really requires some thinking, deeper thinking and also a bit of strategy right? Pirates, I see them very strategic in their approach.

And yeah, we do have a few questions and I’m really happy to see some questions coming up and someone picked on a line that you said earlier about where your greatest fear is sail off to where your greatest fear is and curious where would you sail off to if you were to answer this question?

ALEX: Yeah it’s a really- that’s a really good question actually Sam and I were talking about this yesterday and we both acknowledged that our greatest fear is probably is not this failing but this becoming much bigger. I think that like both of us recognize that if we were to really amplify the impact of be More Pirate and try and yeah I guess make it bigger than it is we’d both have to confront all kinds of imposter syndrome and psychological challenges. So I think that that was an interesting revelation that we’re more afraid of success than we are a failure not with it.

Like we both always feel the sense of potential in this movement and you know in a way like covered gives you an excuse I’m gonna you know be really honest like because it’s like well that just made it really hard for a little while and we’ve spent some time recovering the business side of it and now is maybe the moment to step into a bigger version of it and are you know are you personally ready to lead and that’s all about leadership and and what that means so yeah.

RHEA: Thank you. Thanks for sharing also your fears very openly. I think it’s good to know and maybe you know people who are hearing this would also know like okay maybe we can support somehow right there’s a there’s a wider audience that will be watching this on replay and we do have quite a few people who watch it on replay also on the on the podcast in Spotify and iTunes so yeah hopefully I mean what is a network of people who are going in the same direction right? Also shifting narratives where we can make the impact yeah so.

ALEX: Oh yeah don’t get me wrong. My crew hold me accountable like they we’ve had these conversations in the last few weeks about this stuff and they’re saying you know this is this is

the direction of travel and you need to do xyz and I and they yeah, they see the potential too and they push me and I’m so grateful for it like it can’t happen without those people for sure so thank you for that.

RHEA: Yeah. Yeah and thanks also for sharing this vision maybe one one other thing and I see

Bianca has a question for you around clients and participants. How is it like for your programs that you’re running? I think it has something to do with the programs that you’re currently running. What’s the prerequisite? 

ALEX: Oh there is no there’s none. You don’t have to be understanding or Agile to do it at all I mean we talk about concepts that would probably be included in a program on Agile but it’s all

dressed up in pirate language so it’s intended to be fun and entertaining. It’s precise the purpose of like there’s a lot of management kind of all like change frameworks out there and I think a lot of them you know I’m sorry but personally I think they could be more entertaining.

So we do quite you know pirates won’t appeal to everybody but the people it really it does appeal to it really it really works because a you’re already kind of stepping into a story and that’s you know let’s face it the world is built on stories it’s how we are we are moved to make change because of emotional incentives rather than facts and data so having a story around the change works a dream however I think for the program I’m building at the moment the the group that we’re working with or aiming towards are people who generally speaking are probably maybe interacting with Be More Pirate at least once before. Even if it was just like seeing a talk like this coming you know maybe they’ve maybe they’ve read the book but a while ago and can’t remember yeah so people who’ve who are interested but primarily interested in taking action off the back of it yeah so.

RHEA: Cool. I’m curious. Some of our followers and the people who listen to this podcast they hold leadership positions in the organization, right? So when you were talking about the groundswell, my curiosity went to what does it mean for the leaders in the organization? Can they also play the pirate game? 

ALEX: Yeah of course. It doesn’t have to be yeah you know us versus them. One of the in one of the earlier workshops with a big corporate actually I remember them saying quite surprised that what the result of the of the mutiny was that they suddenly had time back in the diary because people weren’t queuing up at their office asking them to sign off this and this and asking for direction and all this stuff. So actually they have time in fact they’ve just given their team more agency to try something out and as long as you’ve got trust you know as a leader I would think what would you be doing if you weren’t managing all the time if you weren’t trying to control things necessarily if you trusted your team to like run with a new idea and get on with it what could what would that look like how can you know and this is all comes back to what we would understanding your compass. 

Like not just in the direction of travel but where do your actual strengths lie because a lot of managers their strengths aren’t necessarily in the things you’re doing day to day or feel that they have to do like where where could you use your power your influence your skill set in a different direction so it doesn’t yeah it’s all about freeing up resources and freeing up is an opportunity and creating new opportunities so, yeah. I never see it as a conflict.

RHEA: Yeah but it’s very good to know right? That it’s actually two there to a leader’s benefit one when people are going through this program. Yeah, there’s a question from George and I’m just curious whether it’s it’s about reverting to old habits or it’s about because I understand that the programs that you have it’s not about convincing people they’re already

convinced about their ideas right? So they then convert, convince of their ideas and it’s more about how do we actually become pirate in making sure that we are successful and pushing for that idea? 

ALEX: Sorry am I answering the question that’s on the screen?

RHEA: Yeah.

ALEX: Yeah. I wouldn’t try I mean so the key word in that question is decided if the group

has decided that they want to revert back to their old methods that’s fine I mean I would assume that they decided because it works better and the new thing that they tried was an experiment and it didn’t actually yield the results that they wanted but it just depends how

long did you try it for did you give up too soon did you give up because it I mean the

most the first thing is usually you give up because it feels uncomfortable but change should be uncomfortable that’s the whole process of it and if you back off the second you start to feel like the uncomfortable feelings of like ‘ooh now we stand out now we feel different’ well then you’re never going to be pirate like but you’re also never going to be a pioneer and the question is who do you want to be?

So you have to go back to your original like vision and reaffirm whether that’s really what you want, recognize that it comes with uncomfortability to a degree and are you prepared to be in that space and if not that’s okay. But you know I guess that goes back to the original reason you tried it in the first place are you willing to risk the outcomes that come with staying the same because there’s huge amounts of risk with doing nothing as well. So I wouldn’t try and convince anyone I would try to help them to work it out themselves.

RHEA: Definitely. I’m definitely with you there. I do have a question and just relating to the day-to-day work that I do in transformation right? So you typically you have a leader-led transformation there’s someone who’s taking the decisions and also inviting the consultants to come in and stuff um how does Be More Pirate kind of position itself as a as an ideology or

as a framework to some extent in a leader-led type of transformation? Like do you have a specific target audience that you profile how does it look like?

ALEX: Yeah. Interestingly most of the people who come to us requesting workshops are in a leadership position of some kind and I accept that. I accept that they’re the people who have the mandate to actually direct make it a a new strategy or direct people so from a from a leader-led position it’s it’s about how are they going to give more agency to the team often? But they might also be looking at it- it depends so it really depends on the brief of around what change it is they want to focus on so it could I mean a lot of the time it’s team culture in which case they probably need to empower and enable their team and it could also be to do with the industry that they’re in. So they might you know sometimes we get some you know for example a smaller business that works in like advertising or and they’re looking to be more purpose-led or to have to amplify their environmental agenda within the sector and sort of stand out there so that’s from a leadership perspective the leader comes and says how can I lead more and what what what ideas and what tools can I implement to do to show us as the snf kind of pioneers in this in this space yeah so we just depend on the mandate that we get around what change needs to happen or what where they think their starting point should be because yeah it’s yeah…

It’s usually one of two things. Are there really like difficult tensions in the culture? Or is the culture or is the team quite united and wants to go out into the world more and do something as pirates?

RHEA: Yeah, cool. One other question that came across for me as we were talking you

mentioned a couple of values that I just you know picked up one is courage, one is trust. What is the value ecosystem for be More Pirate if I may like put it that way? 

ALEX: Yeah just like asking what’s our code really?

RHEA: Yeah.

ALEX: Yeah, courage is one so this is as I’ll say say what the values are first and then explain what I mean by the code courage for sure. Imagination so that’s part of the idea of being at the

edges of the map so trying to see into the future not limiting your imaginative or the possibilities that exist a tackling or like uh I guess crew is is another key component recognizing that you don’t do anything without you can’t really do anything without other people accountability.

So trust tends to trust is one but accountability is separate I would say we would say accountability over apology it’s better to hold yourself accountable to mistakes that you made I would say also a value isn’t is not knowing Sam and I hold very dear that’s part especially when it comes to leadership recognizing that you don’t you we don’t know we don’t know the answers we’re committed to emergency yeah, not an emergency but the idea of feeling your way through and the idea that being a part and with it, next to that, I guess a sort of fluidness. A pirate ident a pirate’s identity can never be fixed because it it’s all about kind of continually coming back and challenging what is so if you become too wedded to one particular idea because you think it’s challenging the current status quo you’ve kind of missed the point

you to continually keep going back and recognizing new iteration of things which I think is a slightly nuanced point but it’s important in terms of not becoming arrogant with your version of what should be and that you can go you know you go in and out of being a pirate it’s exhausting to kind of always be firing the cannons and one should either so a sense of yeah a sense of fluidity with it is really important.

I think they’re probably the core values that we we hold to and I and but what’s more important

is the the way that you enact those values so it’s all very well just saying like that’s what it stands for that’s what I believe in. And what’s more important is that I understand where and how and when to put it into practice. So you know examining the day-to-day reality and behaviors and when I’m not like I mean so another another principle is really being I guess it’s a lack of perfectionism or being okay with failure probably what we call start before you’re ready is the is the line yeah it means I mean it’s a bit similar to Agile but it means being willing to to just start something and be okay not being perfect and Sam and I were talking about this exact thing yesterday because we’re both developing he’s I’m developing the be more private program he’s doing his uncertainty experts program and both of us you know are reflecting on when is good good enough in terms of what’s required for it and we keep coming back to that principle like it you know and the pirates hold me to account on it like start before you ready like aren’t you supposed to be all about the kind of scrappy first version that you then improve with the community you’re not you’re not doing this for them you’re doing it with them. And I always need a reminder of that so it’s really useful when scenarios come up to help you to actually go am I sticking to my values yeah.

RHEA: That’s very inspiring. I mean I find myself kind of fiddling in my head with all of this values which is very very similar to how our LiveLine of LIVESciences is shaped it has that 

very entrepreneurial spin to it it has this courageous spin to it like you know start before you’re ready how many people would actually do that right when we are so consumed by perfectionism like the best pictures on instagram or something right? But is this really what’s going to shift the narrative so also putting that question in the back of our heads where does an idea come from or where does a really an invention or an innovation come from it comes from an idea that was put into writing. That was communicated that was shared if it’s not shared, it’s easily dead. 

ALEX: Yeah and I think there are lots of ways that we can I find it helpful to talk about that concept. To look to persuade to encourage people to stop while they’re ready like recognizing that all all the great people that you admire started somewhere and it probably wasn’t that good and unfortunately for them it’s now probably buried in the internet because there’s you know so much content they’ve gone there but you have to be willing to have those first iterations that we didn’t know what you were doing but you were trying it out you were saying something and and I you know when I’m coaching people I really emphasize that that is part of the process you cannot avoid it we’ll be waiting forever if you think that it’s it’s going to be absolutely spot-on the first time you go live on a session and talk about what you’re working on and whatever and you’re probably going to feel the sense of shame and vulnerability and fear that comes with sharing yeah when you didn’t think it was ready.

And it’s just it’s just again it’s what I go back to uncomfortable again that’s one of our other key principles like be more comfortable being uncomfortable because you can’t get around it if you’re human I mean it might take there’s probably a few rare people out there who are okay with it but from all the people that I speak to yeah it’s part of it’s just part of it.

RHEA: Yeah thank you for that message. Of courage right, it’s okay to try and fail and learn all the time. There’s a question from Anna and maybe this would be an interesting one she’s asking for some examples of going into a workplace and how maybe a pirate and a non-pirate would kind of solve a problem. Could be a different race, right? But what are the like stellar

characteristics of a pirate that would help?

ALEX: Okay so I’ll try and give some examples if you think regular things that come up that I usually that I’ve tackled before. So one example I often give under the idea of having small bold actions that you enact this came up in a workshop I often use it as an example because things like pay and transparency around pay because it actually directly comes from the pirates and the way they operated it’s a useful parallel because we don’t have transparent pay and we don’t have equal pay structures and all of us covered up. So if you so one example from a workshop was when a woman in HR said you know one example of the current status quo that I dislike is that we put either the word competitive or negotiable on job descriptions. So we put a job description out and we say we’re not going to tell you what the salary is and I mean lots of people have been talking about this I think on LinkedIn but I remember it from one of our really early workshops and I said well okay so that’s what you’re going to challenge and change so what’s stopping you? And she’s like well you know not I’m not really I don’t know. Like I could you know, she’s the one writing the things so I was like so could you just change it? Could you just put let’s say we don’t want to go so far and put the exact salary? Let’s put a salary band on it so people know what ballpark they’re in because that’s only fair when you’re putting this is all about recording to her values she’s like it’s not fair that we don’t know what we’re going to get. When we’re putting all that effort into a job application and we all know like how it can take you days so and she said oh well my manager might not like it and I was like on a scale of one to ten how much will your manager disagree with you adhering to your values? And she was like probably not. I was like she’s gonna put up some resistance but could you could you work it through in a conversation and she was like yeah we probably could and I was like so set up that meeting and that’s what small world action which is it’s like. Just do the first thing. Do the first step. That will enact that bigger change that you want to see and commit to it and I was like put it in the diary now you know like get that ball rolling and yes the confrontation that you might have in the meeting might feel a bit like ‘oh I don’t really want to have this conversation’ I’m you know and then you know if it doesn’t go away you’ve got to ask yourself are you willing to ask forgiveness not permission?

So could you just do it? That’s the other well- that’s the More Pirate version. Would you simply just do it and wait to see what happens? And see if other people in the organization agree with you. Put it out there that’s the storytelling part like tell the story of what you’re trying to do and see if people agree because the chances are they probably all think that too. And that’s so that would be an example of taking a pirate approach to a strategy around a particular change you want to make or issue.

RHEA: Yeah it’s interesting how very simply you put it. And it’s actually something that we can be more aware of we can we can be more conscious of in the way we show up at work and the way we show up to certain situations yeah so so thank you for that. I remember a manager I used to work for once and she was like yeah I trust you so I apologize later we’ll have conversation afterwards. And this is so empowering because I lived through that and I knew that um when there are situations that are not comfortable for me I do feel that she’s got my back right? And that’s that’s such a relief to know and I it goes back to the values that you shared earlier. Trust and courage and accountability.

ALEX: Yeah, exactly all of those things. There’s another really great I mean slightly longer story of a woman who was doing similar thing again recruitment issues throw up so much. She was trying to recruit more women in the tech sector and the normal that you know they outsourced the recruitment to another company and they were presenting her with candidates that were not what she you know she said I want I want to see more women in this pool and they said oh we’re not finding there just there’s not as many and she was like you’re not looking in the right places because I know that there are. And she said you’ve got to be looking at the startups and the the entrepreneurship networks and things as opposed to just going through their usual routes and they just weren’t thinking very prior in their thinking. And so she kept on challenging them and you know she she her manager had her back but in the end she won a victory in that in in that particular recruitment phase but overall the policies around it didn’t change and so that she kind of small victory but the bigger baffle is still there yeah sorry that’s just another something that was told to me recently.

RHEA: Yeah it’s very interesting. And as I was reflecting on this conversation also with my head right now, I sense that there’s a lot of intention that comes to being pirate. If you really want to enable a change or activate something there’s a lot of intention behind it. So when you said tell your story why do you want to do certain things it also came back to me like yeah because your story tells the intention and the heart behind what you’re actually trying to shift right? And what you’re actually trying to accomplish and people find themselves woven into that story somehow.

ALEX: Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. Look, it all comes back to you. Like the initial spark has to come from you like if you feel that the change that you’ve suggested it sometimes happens in workshops I’d be like it’s not worth my time I don’t actually care about it enough and I’m like if you don’t care about it enough forget it because that is not going to see you through you want to rebel in any way you have to it has that’s got to be your purpose has to be your anchor like it’s it’s so important in the way that I feel about being More Pirate in the movement like I know I’ll never let this go I’ll be like with me till I die I think you know you you have to really tap into

in the first instance, what do you really care about? What are you willing to stand up and fight for? And if you’re not willing to stand up and fight for it, fine. It doesn’t matter but then you know people go in cycles of it because they’re like oh you know I haven’t got time, I’m too distracted you know it’s not it can’t be a priority right now but then what you’ll often find is a year later they’ll still be kind of thinking about it and I’ll go right if you’ve been thinking about this for a year and you still it’s still bubbling away something important then maybe you know then wasn’t the right time. But you’re this is part of your innate- like inner spark like it’s not gonna die. So you may as well just recognize who you are and do something about it because frankly no one else is. Like that’s definitely part of pirates, you know?

RHEA: Yeah, thank you so much Alex! I just realized we’re already almost at the top

of the hour and that flew by super fast. There’s so much more questions that I would that’s percolating inside of me but we’ll pick that up for another conversation definitely. But thank you so much for your thoughts and for sharing your pirate wisdom with us and with our viewers.

I see there are a few more questions that I didn’t manage to ask but hopefully you can get to them on the chat later on. So thank you so much Alex. And just before we close this conversation I just wanted to invite everyone else to join us next week for- is it next week or the week after? We have a few announcements here. We will have another conversation with Kelly Hall, Debbie and Margreeth from Niaga by Covestro. So they’re a circular- they’re in the circular economy business redesigning everyday things so that they can be fully recyclable and reusable and yeah, they will be guesting and they will be talking about their organizational transformation as well and their values.

Next to that on 11th of August we will have the global Teal meet-up Europe and we will have for the first time, a fishbowl during that conversation. And so yeah I would just love to invite everyone to join us there as well and yeah thank you. And Alex do you have any final invitations or words to share?

ALEX: I have a couple of invitations. I might as well promote some of the things. So as I said we are doing a- I’m going to be launching a program for Be More Pirate next month. I imagine and the first like be to stage of it so if you’re interested in putting any of the ideas into practice and working out how they work for you and meeting some other pirates along the way then then just get in touch and I can update you when that happens. I’ve got like you can get in touch by the website or like my email is pretty accessible and on there. Feel free to drop me a line. A secondary thing I thought I’d mention as I’m here is that I also run a speaking program. Which is to help- this is only for women at this stage, to help them with speaking practice. So essentially articulating your ideas, your work, your values and improving like the courage that comes with that so it’s a little spin-off of being More Pirate. We have lots of pirate ideas in the program but it’s really just focusing in on one skill because it’s helped me so much in situations like this talking to people about about pirates and I’ve learned a lot and I want to share that with people and that begins at the beginning of September. So if you’re anyone’s interested get in touch.

RHEA: I will definitely stay in touch. And to our guests please reach out to Alex you can also visit their website bemorepirate.com and we will include it in the wrap-up if you need the links and a way to get in touch with the Be More Pirate community. Thank you everyone for joining us. This has been a pleasure to have you join us in the conversation and Alex thank you so much for gracing our Living Room virtually.

ALEX: Yeah, thanks!

RHEA: Let’s definitely stay in touch. Thanks everybody and we hope to see you again next week. Thank you.

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Be More Pirate with Alex Barker

Our guest, Alex Barker, runs Be More Pirate: a global social movement and consultancy. She is a freelance writer, speaker facilitator, community builder and advocate