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Image source: https://www.dw.com/en/pirates-of-the-caribbean-whats-happened-so-far/g-38968438
4 February 2023

Recommended Innovation Articles (and Commentary) 7: “No territory, no profit: The Pirate Organization and capitalism in the making”- Vergne & Durand)

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Original post can be found here: https://benzweibelson.medium.com/recommended-innovation-articles-and-commentary-7-no-territory-no-profit-the-pirate-29f344d6f557

Today’s article offered for consideration and commentary is on Pirates- and who does not get excited about that? The pirate organization is treated as an organizational metaphor- in that the authors do first talk about how actual 17th century sea pirates did move about in this pirate innovation form/function, the modern pirate forms such as British pirate radio stations in the 1960s, cyber-pirate groups of the 1970s-1990s, and “bio-pirate” science groups hacking into the human DNA project are all examples. Rodolphe Durand and Jean-Philippe Vergne’s article is available here, and as a 9-page piece, it is a fast and enjoyable read. I use this often in basic design groups and facilitation events where I might only get the participants to read something in 30 minutes the night prior. The link below is one location you can find the article, but this one may be behind paywalls. Like other earlier posts, I suggest using your library or if you are in the military, reaching out to a PME institution or the base librarian to get you access.

https://www.cairn-int.info/article-E_MANA_153_0265–no-territory-no-profit-the-pirate.htm

The authors use the pirate organization as a metaphoric device to help readers consider how innovation and disruption occur, and where areas emerge that suit a “pirate-style” mode of operation that coincides with poor regulation or power from the overarching institution or bureaucracy.

Put simply, gray areas are partially uncharted territories where pirate organizations and sovereign states struggle over norm definition. The pirate organization typically intervenes in the process of normalization at a time when the first topographic representations of partially uncharted territories are being establised. Such periods include the early modern age, when the first maps of the oceans were drawn to navigate the globe; the early 20th century, when the airwaves opened up to radio broadcasting; and the last thirty years, as cyberspace emerges as a new territory for capitalist expansion, and DNA is being mapped to prepare the rise of the biotech economy. (p.3)

A pirate organization is unlike other organizations (such as USSPACECOM, or most of DoD) where, to reach its objectives, the pirate organization “develops original strategies where speed of execution, the effect of surprise, and adaptive adaptation of the appropriate means to deal with the enemy of the moment play a major role.they will operate from the outskirts of sovereign territory, out of low-visibility, temporary bases.it cultivates the identity of a life on the fringe of society.” These sorts of entities are anti-establishment, counter-culture, hardly the aim of most modern, efficient bureaucracies. Yet militaries continue to insist that innovation, change, flexibility, creativity, and critical reflection are the most important and needed things… how do we square this circle? How do large, traditional, orthodox institutions free up space somehow so that inside of it, they gain some pirate-like abilities? Our recent adversaries such as the Islamic State, Vietcong, al Qaeda, South and Central American drug cartels (largely since the mid-1990s), international hacking groups, the Earth Liberation Front and similar eco-terrorist groups, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and many others demonstrate greater “pirate-like” decentralization and flexibility to that of traditional nation-state military instruments of power.

Pirate organizations are champions of innovation, these are the most creative, dynamic, and risk-comfortable groups out there. They often are the change agents, the ones way ahead of the curve. and once their changes become normalized (sovereign, regulated, established)- they uproot and move out to the next fringe area or uncharted, unregulated spaces. Food for thought today- when you want your directorate, group or organization to “be more innovative”- what do you really mean? How much are you willing to risk in disruption and change? How far down the plank are ye willing to walk, ye scallywag?

Thanks for reading, and share this with others if you enjoy the articles recommended in this series.

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