Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

The pirate took the stage first. "This is an industry with rules that need shattering," he asserted.

At Matter, an event in Marrakech, Morocco, last week that preceded the hosted-buyer show Pure, Sam Conniff Allende, author of the bestselling book "Be More Pirate" (Simon & Schuster, 2019), spoke onstage for two hours.

Conniff's bestseller uses an extended metaphor to suggest that pirate-like behavior can help businesses, individuals and societies.

Pirates, he posits, were ahead of their time. They were effective because they developed a highly organized society with a code that completely broke with norms, and they offered benefits that could get a Royal Navy sailor hanged if he were to propose them: equal pay for women, social insurance that compensated injured or disabled pirates, recognition of gay marriage and inheritance rights.

Like the navy, pirates promised breakfast, lunch, dinner and grog and then went the navy one better by inventing the world's first cocktail, the mojito.

Conniff points out that they were branding geniuses, inventing a logo (the skull and crossbones) and tag line ("Surrender or die") that were so effective they could effortlessly own a 100% share of any market they sailed into. Blackbeard was a supreme showman, successfully creating an image that cowed victims into simply handing over their treasure, even though, Conniff said, there is no record of Blackbeard ever having actually killed anyone.

He attributes their unusual success to their willingness to break rules.

"The biggest mistake we can make right now is to believe that the way things are is the way things have to be," he said. "If someone tells you 'no,' pretend you heard 'go.'"

He created guidelines for change, also known as the Five Arrrghs: Rebel, Rewrite, Reorganize, Redistribute, Retell.

Current business models are out of date, he lamented.

Fighting climate change will require a revolution, "So, fly the flag," he urged.

Although he speaks in metaphors, people take him literally. He said he has received more than 100 notes from people who resigned their jobs to start businesses after reading his book.

Conniff counsels to "be responsible" and use your inner pirate to effect change for the betterment of society, though it's easy to see how people with opposing ideas about what that means could be equally inspired.

In the end, I felt his talk was thought-provoking and could be a call to action for people unhappy in their jobs or in the direction their company (or country) is taking.

Also at Matter, I heard a speaker whose talk resonated with me even more strongly. Portia Hart is the owner of a 10-room hotel on Tierra Bomba, a small island close to Cartagena, Colombia. She spoke about a problem she had to address.

She received a complaint from a neighbor of Town House, her boutique hotel, asking, "Why are you dumping your trash in my yard?"

She was surprised. She had hired people to take away her garbage. But she discovered that the haulers sometimes simply dumped garbage on the neighbor's property.

"I'm not a sustainability expert," she said. "Nor a hospitality expert. I've only been in this business for three years."

She sought a waste-management solution to her trash problem, but she discovered no one on the island collected for recycling.

"I'm not a green warrior," she said. "I don't have solar panels on my hotel, and all my guests arrive on a diesel-burning boat. But I had an environmentally related problem."

She posted a note online saying that if someone had experience in waste management, they could live in her hotel free for a year if they would help her figure out a solution.

"I wasn't going to wait for the government to act, because the government won't act," she said.

A Canadian woman who wanted to learn Spanish -- and who had worked in Toronto's waste-management department -- responded to her post and volunteered.

Hart's new guest recommended that she get a glass-crushing machine, which could convert bottles to sand. After Hart got it operating, other hotels and bars asked if they could get in on her program.

"Yes, but not on my dollar," she told them.

Together, they started a foundation called Green Apple and began recycling, moving beyond just glass.

The foundation expanded quickly to 13 members, many of them direct competitors, and it soon hired two full-time workers to collect items to be recycled.

Success breeds success, she said. A big break came when the Colombia division of beverage giant Diageo gave the foundation a large grant that enabled it to hire two more workers and buy an electric scooter to help collect the recycling.

As much as she's satisfied that she has reduced her negative impact on the world -- or her neighborhood at the very least -- she's also glad she started down that path, because it's "loads of fun. You're not just doing good, it's really enjoyable."

Ultimately, I have to admit I'm more pragmatist than pirate.

But I nonetheless appreciate pirates. Especially when sipping a mojito.


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