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To the Edges We Must Go

In her blog post ahead of our Finance Conference, taking place on 16 and 17 November at Crieff Hydro, Alex Barker explores the idea of being 'more pirate' and how the shift in mindset can be applied by individuals and organisations. 

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By Alex Barker, Be More Pirate

In the pre-Covid era, when conferences crammed with warm bodies were par for the course, I would regularly be invited to speak about Be More Pirate and how to navigate the stormy seas of uncertainty.

The Captain Hook Gifs usually got a laugh, but I’d also spot a fair few quizzical looks. It wasn’t always easy for people to grasp the idea of pirates as the good guys, or fully understand what I meant when I said, ‘the only certainty is uncertainty, you need a compass not a map’, because at that point, life felt fairly predictable.

2020 took care of that, of course. Suddenly, the entire world was talking boat/storm metaphors to describe our collective vulnerability, and my language made a lot more sense. In one way or another, we were all in unfamiliar territory, off the edges of any well plotted map; an experience that affected not only our financial situations, but our nervous systems. This new terrain clearly required different skills, different tools, and a different mindset. 

During this precarious year I was fortunate to work closely with a housing association and support them to redefine their relationship with their tenants and communities. In the moment when ‘community’ also risked becoming a buzzword hijacked by government slogans, I wanted to ensure we seized the opportunity to operate differently.

As always, I pushed the teams to look at the ‘rules or norms, guiding how they work with tenants, and see if they could be rewritten. This is an exercise in both courage and imagination, and we landed on some interesting exploratory questions:

  • What if our objective was not to reduce the amount of complaints but to increase them? Counter-intuitive as it might sound, what was perceived as negative, might actually signal a desire for more engagement?
  • What if every single person in the organisation spent dedicated time with residents each month with no agenda other than to listen? On paper it could feel like an inefficient use of time, but how might it change the relationship over the long term?
  • What if we didn’t require tenants to complete long forms to apply for project funding? What if we offered small amounts with no criteria, and trusted them to use it in the way that made sense to them, or we created accountability in a different way?     

I won’t avoid the obvious – some of these were uncomfortable questions to ask; they challenged the established order of things as well as processes that people had spent significant time developing. And we were delivering the project at a point where anxiety was already heightened.

Many would steer clear, or prefer to focus on stabilising things further, but this organisation recognised that navigating off the edges always has two sides: dragons and treasure. If you navigate toward the things that you fear, rather than away from them, you are far better equipped when the next storm arrives. And, if you can cultivate the courage, the chance to be a pioneer awaits, and more often than not, (as was the case with pirates), others will begin to follow your lead.

About Alex Barker
Alex Barker, Be More Pirate

Alex Barker is a facilitator, consultant, speaker and community builder. She teamed up with author Sam Conniff in early 2019 to develop Be More Pirate from a book into a social movement and went on to co-write the sequel How To: Be More Pirate and to produce their podcast. 

You can hear more from Alex and find out more about how to be 'more pirate' during the opening session at our Finance Conference.

Secure your place before Monday 8 November:
16 and 17 November, Crieff Hydro

Bookings for our Finance Conference will close on Monday 8 November.
We have a variety of special offers for this year’s conference. Visit the SFHA Live! section of our website to find out more and the book now page for rates. SFHA members should sign in to view member rates.

View the full programme here:


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