Professional Rule-breaking is 21st century protest: the art of changing the way things are done at work, and getting away with it. When we realise most of the 'rules' of work are bad habits, set by precedents now well past their sell-by date, we begin to realise permission based change is never going to move the needle on anything. Even if you break a small rule, there is a compounding effect that happens when you take back your agency.

Professional rule breaking 

  1. Rebel, rewrite, reorganise, redistribute, retell

2.  Professional rule breaking

3.   Mutiny!

4.   Pirate codes

  How to Be More Pirate

REBEL: Start by asking a question. Why is done like that? Is it a law, policy or just a norm? Does it make sense? Speak up, disagree, get uncomfortable. Bravery must be our strategy, and you might just persuade someone else that rebellion, is the only responsible way to respond.

REWRITE: Give them something else to chew on. The real potential of pirates is the ability to create new rules out of destruction. Find a crew, build a mutiny. Mutiny; the power of small groups who know what they believe in, is the route to re-writing the rules. Start simple, stop talking, start testing.

REORGANISE: an obsession with chasing numbers and growth fuels workplace anxiety and stifles creativity. 300 more clicks will make you fatigued, not filthy rich. Instead, collaborate to create scale. Focus on critical connections. Break down silos and hierarchies where you can, switch up your teams, find other like minded crews to work with.

REDISTRIBUTE: Know your weakness: power makes a Gollum out of most of us in the end. Protect the integrity of your work by sticking to equal say and equal pay. Diverse perspectives will keep you ahead of the game. Share profit, share the power, reap the dividends.

RETELL: Weaponise your story by making the message singular and un-ignorable. The medium is the message. Think about where, when and how you tell the story to cut through the noise. Take it to the lions den - to the people who don’t want to, but need to hear it.



What is it? Why should you do it? How do you do it?

Professional Rule-breaking is 21st century protest: the art of changing the way things are done at work, and getting away with it. When we realise most of the 'rules' of work are bad habits, set by precedents now well past their sell-by date, we begin to realise permission based change is never going to move the needle. Even if you break a small rule, there is a compounding effect that happens when you take back your agency.

Every work place is different, the CRIN story will tell you a bit about charities, and the Mere Mortals code takes down advertising, but in general there are some basic and fundamental similarities in most 21st century organisations that are holding everyone back.


 ·      Many layers of management: making it difficult to put any new idea into practice unless you’re the one in charge. You can’t experiment without having it signed off first. You ‘need’ permission. 


·      Excess paperwork, process and bureaucracy; good ideas are diluted or killed in email threads, long meetings or complex strategy papers. Enthusiasm is easily and quickly lost.

 Too many objectives

·      Trying to do too many things to do at once: it’s common in meetings or when working with partners to write down or brainstorm all the possible things we could do. All this means is that people’s time, energy and focus are spread too thin.


·      Different teams can’t work together effectively: people and budgets are compartmentalised, meaning even when you do agree on an objective, you’re divided by competing priorities. This prevents the best outcomes and frustrates people.


·      Language is often meaningless or inaccessible; strategy papers are usually too long, but professional jargon is a killer. Finding new ways to describe the ‘work’ just means your time-pressed colleagues are less likely to engage with it.

Outputs over impact

An obsession with ‘tangibles’ means you end up chasing or measuring the wrong things so that you can ‘prove’ the work is successful. Once stuck in this cycle it’s hard to break out. If you’re endlessly chasing more money, event attendees or clicks but feel nothing’s actually changing, it’s time to rethink.

Job descriptions

·      The limitations of your job description; ‘I can’t/shouldn’t do this because it’s not my job’. Do job descriptions keep teams organised or do they stifle creativity? Do they stop you from solving problems because it’s not yours to solve?


What should it look like instead?


In every area of life we’re given almost frightening levels of responsibility, except at work, where we suddenly need managing. To break this rule, employees must be given back trust and responsibility.


Be the judge of your own actions and own up when you make a mistake. By having this culture you will learn thick and fast and work will improve at a more rapid rate, since there is no blame passing, or cover ups. Do it, own it, learn, move on.


We might be proud advocates of free speech, but how often do you bite your tongue at work? Every employee should be able to constructively criticise or voice views that might contradict the normal way of doing things.


Natural inequalities exist and persist of course, what we’re striving for is equal opportunity to be heard, seen, progress and do the best work possible. Are pay rises done secretively? Do you only hear from the loudest voices?


The true power of diversity is multi-faceted; we know we should be employing people from different backgrounds, but what happens when they’re through the door? Do certain types of people get pigeon holed? Do you source your ideas directly from the people they will effect, or do you let the ‘smart people’ have all the ideas? Consider who and what you’re excluding.


This might feel at odds with what work ‘should’ be like, but we’ve heard from enough pirates charting their own course who say that making every day an adventure is one of the most important things you can do. There’s potential for every role and every industry to push boundaries and find a vision to be excited about.


A lot of complexity is unnecessary, and most people neither have the time of capacity to deal with it. Try figuring out one small, simple clink in the chain you can fix, rather than trying to tackle the whole system (think Broken Windows theory) Simple solutions will give clarity, ease pressure and build momentum.

There are hundreds of ways these things play out in workplaces - so, instead of sending your good ideas to their slow death in an email thread, stop asking for permission, and prepare to ask for forgiveness instead. Chart your own course and remember that all it takes to change the rules is for you to prove your new rules work.


Mutiny is the lifeblood of rebellion. You can be a singular rebel but for real change you need others to commit with you. Draw strength from each other but first, you have to get radically honest about what you want to do, and what might stop you.

Start by asking each other these three questions:

When did you last stand up to power?

To a parent, a teacher, a boss, or a playground bully, it doesn’t matter. Remember the adrenaline. Even though it was terrifying to speak up, you never regretted doing it and it was perhaps even, a little but thrilling?

It sounds deceptively simple but remembering the emotion and reinforcing the feeling of your own power, will bring your crew together.

What rule do you most want to break?

It doesn’t have to be an out and out ‘rule’, it can be a policy, a law (though harder to tackle) or an unspoken behavioural norm. We’ve heard everything from lack of free sanity products, to the fear of leaving whatsapp groups.

Its important to articulate the rule as clearly and as simply as possible. We tend to start too big. If you think the entire education system needs a complete makeover, (or even major surgery), start by finding one problem, preferably something that you have personal experience of, and defining it.

What’s holding you back?

There are usually three things that will stop people from joining your mutiny: power, precedent and perspective. These three things range from the very real (I know I’ll get in trouble) and imagined barriers (I’m scared of people’s reactions), to an inability to believe there is a different way to do things (we’ve always done it this way). Once you understand the barriers, say them out loud and hold them up to scrutiny. Are these things good enough to stop me from doing what I know is obviously right? Am I just afraid?

Effective mutinies can happen in two ways: attacking from the inside, or at the edges.

If you’re seeking change on a large scale and want to join forces with others, take a look at the rebellion page, steal from, or join up with others.

Or if you’re looking to launch an internal mutiny at your organisation, you can begin by following the steps above, or consider booking a Be More Pirate workshop to help you on your way.

 The Pirate Code 2.0

“If you really listen to what matters to yourself and your team, and provide it, you’ll build deep and powerful motivation, trust and appreciation…”

A lot of rules need to be broken, but they also need to be re-written. You can have a killer strategy but if your internal culture is poor, forget it. A code is a set of principles that will strengthen or even save your organisation.

Codes work because:

  • By figuring out what does matter, you can finally let go of what doesn’t. Really, let go. This is entirely necessary in a world of too much.

  • Codes are written by everyone for everyone which means an equal stake in the outcome and equal responsibility for deciding where you sail to next.

Build your code

  • Identify three values that you would be willing to fight for. Really. As in a physical fight. Start there.

  • Convey the sentiment rather than control the message, or try to capture the principle of 'Show and don't tell'.

  • Your articles need to have practical applications. If you are committed to diversity, how is it applied in the way you behave?

  • Test out the code on some hypothetical real life situations - will it help you make decisions or break deadlocks?

  • Is it a rallying cry you can use internally, is it clear to everyone?

  • In tough times, will you find it it motivating? Does it excite you?

  • And finally, figure out what happens if people break the code (how would your team walk the plank?)

A code can work whoever you are, whatever you do