Yo, Ho, Yo, Ho, It's "Talk Like A Pirate" Day! That time in September when sea dogs remember That grown-ups still know how ta play!
Today is, believe or not, the 10th Anniversary of International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I've blogged on this phenomenon before, citing it as an example of how an idea that resonates with people can grow through the power of the Internet. The celebration started as a joke between friends but if you go the official website you'll see a map showing celebrations happening all over the world. And these are just the ones the organizers know about.
Talk Like a Pirate Day has grown because people want to participate: it's fun, it's harmless, and it makes us laugh in a world with too little laughter these days. For a brief moment, we can escape the mundane to a world of dashing rogues who bear no resemblance whatsoever to the real pirates of old. It's a fantasy world, peopled by memories of our child heroes from the silver screen. And a little imagination and fantasy in our lives is a good thing.
So for just a few moments today, return to that childhood world, where the skies were blue, the waters calm and adventure was just over the horizon. Raise a glass of rum (pirates actually preferred brandy), pop in a pirate video (Erroll Flynn, of course!), and ruminate on the power ideas amplified by the Internet and social media.
In 2002 I had the privilege of making a few remarks at the unveiling of the new Heroes stamp issued by the US Postal Service to commemorate the events of September 11, 2001. I think I surprised my colleagues by beginning my comments by saying that I didn't think the term "heroes" should be applied to those who served on 9/11. I felt the term was over-used and implied something larger than life - think Hercules and Achilles or Superman and Batman - rather than an average person. In essence, the term tends to turn flesh and blood people into objects of veneration and ignores the courage and humanity of those who serve.
I have yet to meet a firefighter, police officer, or emergency medical technician that considered themselves a "hero". When complimented on something they've done, every single one has told me the same thing, "Hey, I was just doing my job." They are not demi-gods or superhumans - they are just people. The difference is that they make a promise to be there when they are needed and have the courage to keep that promise, day in and day out, no matter the cost.
This willingness of first responders to hold to their promise is admirably summed up in the song Everyday Heroes written by Dave Carroll. Most people know Dave as the man who wrote the song United Breaks Guitars that went viral on YouTube and has become a case study on the power of social media. What isn't so well known is that Dave has been a volunteer firefighter for years in his hometown and his brother is a full time firefighter. He gets it.
So listen to the song and reflect for a few moments on the men and women who kept their promise on September 11, 2001. Would they have kept that promise if they knew it was going to cost their lives? You know the answer.
Our labrador/border collie mix, Kona, has a rare gift. When she meets a new dog, she sizes them up almost instantly and adjusts her play to the other dog's needs. With some, she's the aggressor, clearly dominating the other dog in their puppy wrestling matches. With others, she's more passive and allows herself to be the dog on the bottom of the pile.
The size of the other dog doesn't matter. She outweighs her best friend, Naula, by a third but Kona lets Naula win their wrestling matches. On the other hand, she's all over her friend Lola, even though Lola is a much heavier boxer mix. I've seen Kona romp with a great Dane and then play gently with her friend Princess Leia, an 8 pound ball of fluff who thinks she's a great Dane. Kona always seems to know how to adjust her play to her playmate.
We can learn a lot from Kona. If you're going to build an effective team, you need to understand the needs of your team mates. While you may share a common goal, each team member brings a different agenda and level of experience to the team. Motivations will be different. Organizational culture will be different. The trick is to see individuals, not just the team, and have a unique strategy for dealing with each one. Their feeling of inclusion will increase and you'll make quicker progress towards your goals.