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Are Pirates With Passion Good Change Agents? The Late Steve Jobs Apparently Liked that Idea

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, January 19, 2012

 A pirate can function without a bureaucracy, operate when rules and safety nets break down, and still support one another and their teams. Pirates can be innovative and on task in difficult and hostile environments. The author of a new book says those are the qualities the late Steve Jobs sought when he hired people at Apple.

The book, What would Steve Jobs Do?: How the Steve Jobs Way Can Inspire Anyone to Think Differently and Win By Peter Sander, is excerpted and reviewed in the FastCompany piece "Steve Jobs: If You Want Change Agents Hire Pirates." The story quotes Dean Keith Simonton, a University of California psychology as saying,” Being aggressive, egocentric or antisocial makes it easier to ponder ideas in solitude and challenge convention. Meanwhile resistance to change, or willingness to give up easily, can derail new initiatives. So Jobs’s message, as summarized by the story, was if you’re really smart but like the structure and traditions of the Navy, work for IBM. If you’re smart and want to think differently, and are willing to be part of a "special, unified and unconventional team,” be a pirate.

In addition to positive pirate qualities, Jobs wanted passion - the ability to fall in love with Apple and its mission - and diversity in background and experience. Jobs told those at a March 2011 iPad event that it’s "technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that makes our hearts sing.”

Some who commented on the story think Jobs’s metaphor romanticizes pirates a bit too much. Jobs hasn't been the only one to laud their boldness and innovation. An Atlantic piece, quoting a UN Security Council Report, says Somali pirates are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with a funding and incentive model that could be taught in business schools. "Cutthroat Capitalism,” a Wired story by Scott Carney provides an economic analysis of the Somali pirate business model, but does note that its practitioners are unrepentant criminals - not the characteristics Jobs or other business leaders would normally seek out. And as Carney pointed out, though the piracy is risky, so is living in the poverty and violence of war ravaged Mogadishu.

And pirates also have their share of failure. A January 6 CNN story by Larry Shaughnessy tells how US sailors from a strike group in the Person Gulf rescued 13 Iranian sailors from a hijacked fishing boat who had been held hostage for more than 40 days. The US sailors also took custody of 15 suspected Somali pirates, who were to be held until decisions were made about their prosecution.

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