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E111 | How To Be More Pirate with Sam Conniff and Alex Barker

What did Steve Jobs and Blackbeard have in common? According to Sam Conniff, they were both pirates. Why would Sam know this? Because he wrote the bestselling book – Be More Pirate in 2018, and was amazed when it inspired a global movement. 

From Tate & Lyle to Mercedes Benz, financiers to farmers, CEOs to students, some of the biggest brands around the world, including our very own NHS, have taken heed of Sam’s message, created a pirate crew and rewritten the existing rules. 

Because that is what being a pirate is all about:

  • Pirates don’t just break the rules, they rewrite them. 
  • Pirates don’t just reject society, they reinvent it. 
  • Pirates don’t just challenge the status quo, they change it. 

“It’s now more of a global social movement and a method and a way of creating change within organisations.”

The network that has grown up around Sam’s book recognises that too many of the rules, norms and conventions that uphold our systems and business models no longer serve people and planet; we need to create new ones.

“Being more pirate is a shift in your mindset; a willingness to think differently, to challenge and be challenged, and to stop asking for permission to do what you know is right.”

In this episode, Sam and newly appointed Right Hand Pirate, Alex Barker, share the 5 Rs framework which helps mutineers become more pirate. As well as that, Alex talks about how she takes this framework and uses it to run workshops and helps people who are searching for change. 

On today’s podcast:

  • How Be More Pirate became a social movement
  • The pirate mindset
  • The 5 Rs of pirating
  • Why Extinction Rebellion and Banksy are pirates
  • How To Be More Pirate
  • The future of the pirate movement
  • Professional rule-breaking


How To Be A Modern Day Pirate With Sam Conniff And Alex Barker

Sam Conniff wrote Be More Pirate out of sheer frustration. Having spent his career focusing on changing the world in one way or another through his social enterprise Livity –  a ‘more than profit’ youth-led creative network that exists to help young people change the world helping brands grow, by giving them a place in youth culture, he realised that as grown-ups, we all had to live by rules, norms and conventions that no longer serve us. 

“It was a book about mutiny and of rebellion. And really, it was drawn from the place where I felt the most inspiration, which was not the institutions that promised change, but the young individuals who I saw were really the living embodiment of change.”

He wrote it as a love letter to inspire change in the world, he didn’t realise it would create a movement, that it would catch fire in the way it did. 

The network that has grown up around the book is a group of mutinous, autonomous rebels who are out to bring about change – to cause good trouble by standing up and challenging the status quo. 


According to Sam, if you want to be a pirate you have to rebel. This simple act, the act of challenging the rules, is what will start you down the pirate road. Pick a rule that’s been bothering you, says Sam, and break it. Stop doing it and see what happens. 

“If you pick the right rule, nothing will be the first answer. And then secondly, you’ll feel empowerment.”

The world is full of rules, behaviours, norms and conventions that are hangovers and bad habits from somebody else’s mistakes. 

What happens when you push through these paper-thin walls? You feel stronger for it, says Sam. You get more agency over your own life and your world and you realise that you can fly your own flag. And when you rebel, you’ll suddenly discover the other pirates in your world because they’ll be the people who come up to you afterwards and say ‘well done, that was the rule that needed changing’. 

Rebellion is what brings pirates together.

Rewrite the rules

Rebelling against the status quo is one thing, but you can’t simply leave a void. You have to eradicate the old ways and establish new values and beliefs in their place. If you’re looking for long term change, you need to think about why you need to challenge the rules in the first place and how you plan on rewriting them, BEFORE you bring about change. Otherwise, you could create more of a monster than already exists. 

Retell your story

According to Sam, pirates were masters at retelling their story. 

“History belongs to those who win, but really, it belongs to those who tell a better story and their time.”

We think of pirates as violent villains, but actually the reason we think this is because they won their rebellion. They were so consistent for so long that they would never have appeared in the history books if they hadn’t been good at what they did. And they won because they had a really strong brand. 

The skull and crossbones was the original brand, a visual iconography that everyone feared. It had a very clear message and was very effective at driving their bottom line. 

“And the reason pirates were profitable is because they were master storytellers. And so in the book, we talk about weaponising stories, taking the story you want to tell and really telling it in a way that’s going to move mountains and people and create momentum.”

Modern-day pirates

If you’re looking for current examples of modern-day pirates, people who are excellent at breaking the rules, at being the change they want to see in the world, you only have to look at Banksy or Extinction Rebellion. Whether you like them or not, their ability to maintain the front page so consistently is because they’re master storytellers. They take the pirate approach of turning narratives on their head. 

“If you’re going to come at the status quo with limited resources and then seek to bring people with you, there has to be a compelling story for people to get on board with.”

Professional rule-breaking

Alex Barker, the new Right Hand Pirate, has taken Be More Pirate to the people, using the original framework to run workshops and teach people how to break the rules at work. 

So if you’re wondering if you can be a pirate at work, know this:

“Rule-breaking seemed like a risky thing to do, professional rule-breaking now feels like the responsible thing to do.”

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