What would you think if a company:
– Gave employees equal shares in profits?
– Respected everyone as equals in all ways and expected them to live up to their code of honor?
– Elected their CEO’s?
– Stayed nimble enough to take advantage of the status quo and was a feared competitor?
– Had only three tiers of management, max?
– Designed their place of work so that there was no physical, hierarchical office structure and in fact, management ate, drank (and slept!) shoulder to shoulder with the employees?
– Designed their place of work to be optimized for their type of business?
– Always obtained and used the best technology and tools, often modifying them to optimize their effectiveness?
– Valued diverse talents and cultural backgrounds?
– Always looked for the best talent but valued passion and commitment perhaps even moreso?
– Looked for other resources such as artists and artisans to help build the company but also to provide entertainment?
– Gave people the prospect of excitement at work?
It sounds like a pretty good place to work, right?
In its day, the above business was a welcome change to the stifling, low paying environment of mega-‘corporations’. The only problem was that the above company was illegal to belong to and if you were found to be a member it was a crime punishable by death.
The above company is representative of the best of what pirates had to offer. While there wasn’t uniformity among pirate groups, and there were abuses among groups, the survival and prospering of piracy as a way of life is a testimony to what can be done when the person is given rights and a share in their work (and the flip side was there as well-no work, no pay).
At a time when people were not seen as individuals with rights and active hands in their lives, the life of a pirate was not just a means of escape, but a way to earn wealth while being part of something bigger – a part of a brotherhood.
I bring this up because in some ways today, people feel they are losing individuality, losing a say in where and how they work, feeling they are working too hard for the amount of pay they receive. Companies of all sizes could learn something from pirates in structuring their organizations and cultures, in rewarding their people and providing efficient work environments.
What would company floorplans look like with little hierarchy?
What would paychecks look like with only three tiers of structure and profits being distributed to everyone in the company?
How would people work if they could use the best tools for their jobs and if they knew they were valued?
Think about it…
I’ll leave you with one last thought:
When pirates boarded a ship they would ask the crew for their opinion of their Captain. If they thought he was good and fair Captain, he was rewarded with cash and given a boat. If he was not liked he was beaten up. How would CEO’s manage their companies if they knew this rule would be applied to them if their companies were ever acquired?
To learn more about pirate life and if you’re in the Chicago area check out the pirate exhibition at the Field Museum of Natural History. It’s well worth the trip to see what pirates lives were like and what their world looked like.