Sam Conniff

Be More Pirate

Sam Conniff Allende

In a nutshell

Be More Pirate is a celebration of innovation and historical pirates’ pioneering work on branding and reputation management. It looks past the pirate clichés we’re used to and analyses their organisational systems and team structures. Be More Pirate is a clear call for a radical rethinking of our principles which can help you realise your inner ambitions and overcome your biggest fears.


Sam Conniff Allende's book Be More Pirate front cover



Be More Pirate draws inspiration from the so-called Golden-Age pirates, who ruled the seas from 1690 to 1725. They set the world alight with their rebelliousness and a commitment to ideals of justice and equality.

Golden-Age pirates may have been thieves, but they were also pioneers of social and political equality, fair pay, health insurance, workplace injury compensation schemes and same-sex marriages. Pirate ships where home to non-hierarchal social structures with the captain and the quartermaster enjoying the same status. The captain was responsible for strategy, whilst the quartermaster took care of the culture and the way the ship was run on a day-to-day basis. Surviving records from the 1690s onwards illustrate that all members of pirate crews were given a say and a vote, and that the crew routinely set aside a portion of everything they stole to serve as compensation when their comrades were wounded.

Sam Conniff argues that whenever there is innovation, competition tends to arise between state-backed players (who seek to establish order) and those we call pirates (who seize treasure and opportunity). In any industry, when a new territory is created, the threat of pirates drives forward the Establishment’s endeavours, until the Establishment is eventually overtaken. Pirates trouble the edges of the society and ‘create good trouble’.

Making a pirate

Becoming a rebel is the first decisive move you need to take to be more pirate. You need to be ready to cause a little good trouble, to pick a pointless or nonsensical rule to break and, when rebellion will mean positive change, do exactly the opposite of what you’re told. According to Sam Conniff, the right level of rebellion should scare you enough to make you feel alive but not so much that you’re frozen.

Being more pirate permits you to find creativity through destruction. The greatest change-makers know this, but they also know that you can’t get stuff done on a big scale by breaking rules alone. You have to provide an alternative solution.

Operating in non-hierarchical teams who valued diversity of skills and opinions, gave pirates an edge over their foes and competitors. Part of why they were able to respond fast to a dynamic situation, was their ability to switch between a collective decision-making model to a hierarchical one with a single authority figure, before crucially reverting back to the collective.

The pirates’ attitudes to power and pay illustrate the undeniable correlation they recognised between transparency and accountability. Everyone knew how much they would get paid and how much they would get compensated for any injury they sustained. Pirates valued equality and were prepared to share power in order to achieve and protect it.

The Pirate Code

The Pirate Code was flexible and fluid but rigorous and robust. It was a system that created consistency but also allowed for change. It was an act of shared creation and commitment which enabled everyone on the crew to trust each other with their lives. As you prepare to write your own code, Sam Conniff advises that you only look for articles that lift up your heart, your ambitions, your confidence and your energy levels, so that you will feel good using them to create a fulfilling and successful life. Choosing to be more pirate is an invitation to be more you – it is a reflection of you, not a replacement of you. Knowing what you love, how it feels when you’re at your best and what you do well is being more pirate. Which three articles would you be willing to live by?


Three things to take away


Being more pirate is about questioning, challenging, bending, testing and ultimately writing better rules. Rewriting rules we live by, can help us improve the conditions we live in.


To be more pirate means to be committed to equality and fairness. When we commit to redistributing power and fighting for fairness, we take the single most radical and effective step towards making our change a long-lasting success.


Being more pirate is an invitation to be more you. Creating a pirate code for you or your company can help you reflect on your values and ambitions whilst instilling a sense of confidence, purpose and direction in your day-to-day.


Who should read this book?

Sam Conniff’s Be More Pirate is full of powerful lessons for marketers who aren’t afraid to do things differently. Sam’s thoroughly researched perspective on pirate innovation can inspire individuals, teams and companies to create their own pirate code which they can happily live and die by. It’s a call-to-arms for modern-day heroes to shake the system and spark a radical change amongst our leaders and in our places of work.


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In the meantime, have a peek into the exclusive Book Club Live event where we discussed key insights from Be More Pirate, and listen to our insightful podcast episodes with Sam Conniff and Alex Barker.



Sam Conniff, Penguin Random House, 2018