It’s rarely easy to change the course of a business that’s been becalmed by its inability to give outmoded methods the heave-ho. Sam Conniff Allende, author of Be More Pirate, advises on how to grab the helm first and apologise for rocking the boat later
Professional rule-breaking is an artful way to effect positive change at work. Once we realise that many of the norms of a business are bad habits that are past their sell-by date, we start to grasp how ineffective permission-based change can be. So, instead of consigning good ideas to their slow death in an email thread, stop seeking consent now and prepare to ask for forgiveness later.
Chart your own course and remember that the biggest mistake is to believe that the way things are is the way they have to be.
1. Establish your values
Once you work out what really matters, you can start letting go of everything else. This can be wonderfully liberating.
2. Identify your enemy
Endless emails, dull meetings and uninspiring tasks are the typical things that make us feel miserable at work. Frustration kicks in and motivation dies when you don’t feel as though you’re achieving anything meaningful. Figure out the biggest enemy to your work and start clearing the decks.
3. Ask questions
The first act of rebellion is the hardest. If you’re not sure how to break a particular rule, start by speaking up. Ask your colleagues: “Why do we do it like this?” You’ll overcome your trepidation and gain some useful information.
4. Find simple solutions
Your firm doesn’t need another verbose strategy paper; it needs fast, effective responses to the challenges it’s facing. Pirates outmanoeuvred entire fleets with minimal resources, showing that bold, decisive actions are often the best.
5. Re-humanise your work
Excessive deference to data and efficiency is deterring us from using our decision-making intuition. Personalised adverts are a good example of something that feels efficient but can come across as obvious and even creepy to the recipients. Focus on critical connections, not critical mass.
6. Reinstate trust
It might feel risky to give people more responsibility, but research shows that they’re more likely to act irresponsibly if they don’t have much. Pirate ships were able to face down navies because they had tight, flexible crews with high levels of accountability and trust.
7. Activate diversity
Bad rules are created by habit and outdated precedent, but you can create better ones by seeking out new perspectives. If you’re creating a product or service, work directly with the customers who’ll use it and apply their insights. Diversity means nothing until it’s active and inclusive.
8. Make yourself uncomfortable
Real innovation requires you to have the courage to step boldly beyond your comfort zone. Here is where you’ll find freedom and possibility.
9. Stop seeking permission
This is paramount. We’re taught early on that good workers stick to the script, irrespective of the result. But history celebrates the rule-breakers who did the wrong things for the right reasons. Be brave, challenge what you know no longer works – and wait for people to follow.
Sam Conniff Allende is the author of Be More Pirate, published by Penguin. This bestseller is his manifesto for how to create “good trouble”, based on the strategies of leadership and change from piracy’s golden age (the late 17th century to the early 18th). He is also a consultant to brands such as Warner Brothers, Mercedes-Benz and Red Bull