A version of this post first appeared on the Resilience Think Tank blog.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine from the UK recommended a book called “Be More Pirate (Or How to Take on the World and Win)” by Sam Conniff. My friend called the book “insightful, inspirational and funny.” Not sure if I would like it; I went to the library to check it out. After reading a few pages, I put the book back on the shelf and walked out. This was not a book I was going to borrow.

I had to own it. I had to make it mine.

As I reference specific quotes from the book throughout this article (courtesy of the author), I think you’ll see why I not only had to own this book, but why I also needed to be more pirate when it comes to my life in the world of resilience.

The premise of the book is that “300 years ago, a small group of frustrated and underappreciated, mostly young professionals finally had enough of living in a society run badly by a self-interested and self-serving establishment.” The book goes on to say that “the odds were stacked high against them and in every single way, the rules of the day favored an elite few.” (Trust me, we’re coming back to these points).

Conniff goes on to say, “Rather than simply voice their complaints, they chose instead to do something about the situation. They decided to break the rules and then remake the rules.”

Concerned some may be put off by the term “pirate,” the book makes it clear that our inspiration comes from a “very specific type of pirate, from a very specific period in history.” No one is recommending that you turn into a Somali pirate, nor are we suggesting we get our inspiration from someone who “reveled in theft, torture, rape and murder.” What we’re talking about is the so-called “Golden Age of Piracy.” A period around 1690 to 1725 when men like Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, and Sam Bellamy were “infamous the world over for standing firm in front of, sticking a middle finger up at, and totally outsmarting the powers that be.”

You may be surprised to learn that Golden Age pirates were innovators of things that would become common-place decades (and centuries) later including equity, fair pay, health insurance, workplace injury compensation and even same-sex marriage. As the book states, “Pirates didn’t settle for the promise of change only to go undelivered, instead they challenged, broke and then rewrote the rules for others to follow in their footsteps.”

Why might we use Golden Age Piracy as a role model for changes we want to make in resilience?

Because as Conniff writes, “They didn’t just break the rules, they rewrote them. They didn’t just reject society, they reinvented it. They didn’t just tell tall tales; they told a story that shook the world. They didn’t just challenge the status quo, they challenged everything.”

Inspired by the book, I recently asked a question on LinkedIn that got a fair amount of attention. I asked resilience professionals what rules they must follow, that absolutely suck.

My dear friend Betty Kildow answered the question perfectly. She said, “Rules are rules. Frameworks are frameworks. We have leeway in how we follow the rules. If we don’t like the rules, we need to change them.”

Betty has captured the spirit of being more pirate. It isn’t enough to hate the rules or processes. You will never change the world by grumbling or even publicly criticizing a stupid rule or process. As Conniff writes, “The greatest change-makers know that you can’t get stuff done on a big scale by breaking the rules alone. You have to provide an alternative. You have to change the game and rewrite the rules.”

For years, practitioners in our industry have been frustrated, handcuffed, and limited by antiquated methodologies, and rules of engagement that haven’t served us well in making our organizations more resilient. Most of the time we suffer in silence or grumble to ourselves as we repeat the same old steps every year.

When Milena Maneva, James Green, Lisa Jones, and I created the Resilience Think Tank, we did it because we recognized there was a gap in the resilience world. We found ourselves in an industry which was (as Sam Conniff puts it), “run badly by a self-interested and self-serving establishment.”

What we found was that existing membership associations weren’t fully meeting the needs of the average resilience professional. Sure, they were great for “the elite few,” but the average professional wasn’t getting what they needed.

Despite institutional education and training groups pumping out countless reports, webinars, and attempts at increasing awareness, our colleagues were getting laid off or having their programs questioned (and budgets cut) because executives didn’t see value in their resilience programs. The establishment offered training that tried to promote good practices but instead left a glaring void; a lack of actionable advice on proving the true worth of a resilience program.

In a time when UK regulators were implementing the need for operational resilience, there was little meaningful content being offered on the subject – resulting in a years-long debate about what the term “resilience” even meant. That debate (and the overall lack of thought leadership on the topic) continues to this day.

For me, what’s missing from the industry is a sense of community and a place where the average person can collaborate.

Community and collaboration. Welcome to the Resilience Think Tank. Yes, it’s a pirate move to start a new membership organization intent on filling gaps for the average person in our industry. The RTT is dedicated to providing independent guidance (aka no sponsors) to risk and resilience professionals. Honest feedback, a chance to ask questions without judgement, and a place to collaborate with like-minded people who have similar questions.

The think tank offers free monthly “Ask Me Anything” sessions, quarterly workshops, and frequent webinars. Now the average person can hear conference-level keynote speakers without leaving their office.

We’re not just breaking the rules, we are rewriting them. We are not just rejecting the way the industry is run, we are reinventing it.

But we need your help, and we would love for you to join us. If you’re frustrated by the lack of targeted education, feel under-appreciated at work, need to be able to demonstrate more value to your executives, or – just want to stick a middle finger up at the establishment – come join the Resilience Think Tank.

Steve Jobs said, “I’d rather be a pirate than join the Navy.” Come join us and we promise you won’t have to walk the plank.


Mark Hoffman

Mark Hoffman is a multi-award-winner, senior business continuity and resilience consultant, located in the Great Toronto area. He is a co-founder and partner of the Resilience Think Tank, owner of Anesis Consulting Group, Inc. and host of the Resilient Journey podcast. With nearly 25 years of industry experience, Hoffman continues to provide world-class consulting to organizations in the US, Canada, Caribbean, and Europe with a focus on BCM program development and maturity, crisis management, crisis communications, and cyber response.

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