Pirates and Ninjas: Becoming a Professional Rulebreaker

— Liam Kirkham, WE 

You may or may not have come across the latest best-selling author and “godfather of rebellion”, Sam Conniff Allende and his book, Be More Pirate. I have known about him for some time now, and was fortunate enough to attend his guest lecture at the RSA last month (you can watch the whole thing here).

Beyond bringing out the starry-eyed fan boy in me (yes, I got my copy signed), the event got me thinking about ‘what rules need to be broken and then remade’ – both in the name of improving society and how we choose to lead our lives.

It’s an important topic, and extremely timely. To quote Sam directly, we’re currently seeing a real “crisis of imagination at a leadership level” with nothing but “horses**t left behind by the unicorns of Silicon Valley.”

But he made clear that rule breaking is not all macro stuff. Yes, he used pictures of Trump and May to illustrate some of his points, and gave real-life examples of people challenging Government itself, but he also spoke of people boycotting meetings if they were badly run. He told me afterwards that his favourite rebellion was someone choosing not to drink.

And so I wondered to myself, does this mean I don’t have to do my timesheets?

In all seriousness, what are we doing simply because someone said so? And is it really the right way to be doing it?


The Secret Ninjas…


When digging into the processes behind rule setting – even in institutions all the way up to No.10 – Sam described us as “waiting for the secret cupboard of ninjas who really know what they’re doing to jump out […] Rarely have the rules that we follow been deeply thought through for our collective benefit.”

I feel the media industry – with PR as a core proponent – is particularly guilty of ‘just doing it’, producing story after story because ‘that’s how it’s done’. Be it press releases, thought leadership articles, blog posts – poor PR copy can be some of the most pointless prose you’ll ever set eyes on. I recently spotted a ResponseSource asking what management skills we can learn from Deadpool 2… Isn’t this worth challenging?

I don’t like breaking rules. Breaking rules is scary… and often hard work!

But PR and media only has value when the proper thought, time and effort have gone into it. There’s a reason why Bill Gates said “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.” But, it has to be thought through, weighed and measured.

The rule I’m suggesting that we – as an industry break – is to ask ‘why are we writing this? Where is its true value?’ And think to ourselves, ‘what should – not could – we do instead.’

And before you all shout “cop-out” to my half-baked rule breaking attempt, take a moment to ask yourselves when you last questioned what you were doing.

So find a rule today that you think could be broken and reworked for the better. Remember, there are no secret ninjas. Challenge your managers, your directors, your senior leadership. Drive positive change.

Be more pirate.