Learning from Pirate Communities – Building Relationships

Welcome to Learning from Pirate Communities, one of the best-selling series here at The Daily Gumboot. Here’s the deal: we participants in humanity operate within a paradigm or framework of themes and ideas (gender, race and culture, environmental stewardship, ideology, weapons, business, entrepreneurship, art, tasty drinks, and fashion). Many people from many academic disciplines explore such themes from a myriad of perspectives. The Editor-in-Chief of this publication discusses such ideas through a lens of Piratology, because, hey, pirates represent an edutaining and approachable subject that interests people. Consequently, we can learn a lot from pirates. Just read more to find out!

Cowboys don't suck, but this is a great conversation starter!

Cowboys don't suck, but this is a great conversation starter!

Today we will be talking about building relationships. And we will also talk about funny tshirts. Let’s start with an amazing quote:

“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.” And this fantastic bit of unpretentious and collaborative wisdom is brought to us by Maragret Wheatley.

In a gesture of wisdom, charisma and unpretentiousness, my boss recently handed me a copy of Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone and it’s been a bit of an inspiration. Spoiler alert: there is going to be an ongoing series about this topic here at The Gumboot, as there is just so much to explore when it comes to building relationships that build community.

Now, let’s get back to pirates for a minute and discuss why relationship-building is so important for success. The greatest pirate in the history of the world was named Madame Cheng. And one of the reasons she became the greatest was because of the relationships she built throughout her career. Let’s time travel back to 1807, where hundreds of Chinese pirates were looking for a leader. An opportunity presented itself. As she cajoled and negotiated and charmed her way to prominence in China’s pirate community, Madame Cheng took on a young lover; the adopted son of a fisherman named Cheng Pao. And here’s the kicker: she made the kid head of the Red Sea fleet, which was the biggest and most important in the Confederation. Certainly, she did something that was very, very generous for the young man and, perhaps, even a bit risky. But, once the door was open, the kid was simply dynamite; he knew tides and currents and tactics and weather and pretty much everything there was to know about robbing people on the high seas. By 1810, Madame Cheng’s pirate fleet was larger than those of most countries navies. She commanded between 600-800 coastal vessels, hundreds of small, river junks, and tens of thousands of pirates.  From a position of power, she negotiated a peace treaty with Britain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Chinese authorities and, following the agreement, sought an early retirement with her husband, Cheng Pao. Through organization, relationship-building and recognizing top talent, Madame Cheng created a pirate fleet the likes of which no one has ever seen (or well ever again see). And for three years she ran the shipping lanes of the China Sea and Strait of Malacca for decades.

Build a reputation (ie. fearsome pirate) to build relationships!

Build a reputation (ie. fearsome pirate) to build relationships!

The takeaway from this story: it’s an easy one; be generous and give’r! Connect people from different parts of your life who can help each other out. Provide opportunities. Also, be willing to receive generosity – in our entrepreneurial, individualistic, John Wayne-worshipping, American Dream culture, this can be tough to do. Furthermore, when you have positive relationships with people, they will be excited and eager to spread the word – the good word – about you. Sure, when we help others the entire community is raised to a new and better level; the fact that you’re the one doing the building and connecting, well, such things do not go unnoticed.

Over the next few months, we will explore several aspects of building relationships. Here is a brief list of topics to be covered:

  1. Making a first impression.
  2. Listening and doing homework.
  3. Adding value (unexpectedly, even).
  4. Hugs and random acts of kindness.
  5. Risk taking and giant balls.
  6. “Trading up and Giving Back.”
  7. Mentors and Mentees.
  8. Twitblogging the Interscape.
  9. The intersection of talent and passion.
  10. “Never Eat Alone.”

Are you excited? Here’s a sneak preview about making a first impression.

First thing’s first. Decide who you want to make an impression with and why you want to do it (the why is important; for example, if you want to build a relationship with a gang, well, maybe think twice about such things).

Second. Learn about who they are, what they do, how they do it, and what style they exude while they’re doing it. You don’t need to mimic or replicate their behaviour, but know what the “touch points” of a conversation should look like.

Kym is full of witticisms like this; it's kinda like Russell Peters meets Roots...but cooler!

Kym is full of witticisms like this; it's kinda like Russell Peters meets Roots...but cooler!

Third. Dress the part. If you want to give to the Grandview-Woodlands community, well, you might not want to show up in a suit and tie. This one time, I was rocking a corduroy blazer with a tie on my way home from work and got called a “douchebag” by a group of twentysomethings as I sauntered northward on The Drive. In my ‘hood. Towards my home. What can I say? People are superficial creatures.

Fourth. Smile. Be nice. This is common sense, but it is not common practice. Just ask the people who judged and heckled me when they could’ve been smiling and saying, “s’up, man?” Fun fact: when you meet someone at a networking event on a date or walking up Commercial Drive (perhaps you would like to build a relationship with them) people form judgments about you in less than 90 seconds. Like it or not, how you look counts for a lot.

Fifth. Be more interested than interesting. Don’t just ask questions. Ask great questions. We’ll get into active listening in the next section!

One of my favourite ways to make a first impression is with funny tshirts. No, I don’t usually do this when I go to work at Business School – when I put on my business socks, after all, it’s business time. But, yes, funny tshirts. I mean, they’re great conversation starters. I have a variety of shirts I’ve made, had commissioned and bought online over the years. Nearly all of them turn heads. One says “Johnism” and another acknowledges that “Nerds are Awesome” and I even have one that suggests that “Ninjas and Pirates Agree: Cowboys Suck.” In their own special way, they create moments of conversation. Even with cowboys! (Editor’s note: I usually defuse a potentially angry conversation with some points about Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses; it’s one of my favourite books and is full of cowboys; bam, before you know it I’m talking about literature with a cowboy-loving stranger!). After all, everybody has a sense of humour.

Speaking of senses of humour and building relationships, I’d like to connect generosity, pirates and funny tshirts. Kymela Banguis used to work with me, but she’s striking out on her own because her burgeoning tshirt business is demanding more of her time (Engrish pictured). Kym will be profiled on the Get to Know Your Community segment this Sunday and, well, I just have to say that I wish Kym the absolute best as, like any good pirate, she has left our ship for one that she will have a chance to steer herself. Check out her website and tell your friends about it. After all, no great thing in history (like funny tshirt making) was ever done by just one person. Only by connecting with each other can we truly achieve greatness.

Thanks. Now get out there and make a great first impression.

- JCH