Pirate Ships of the Line?

Imagine a whole bunch of buccaneers who can form up and act with the disciplined unity of a navy yet with the individual initiative and flair of more stereotypical pirates.

That’s the holy grail of modern management in many ways.

Sailing in such a fleet is always an adventure: balancing personal initiative with centralized strategy is not an easy feat.

In naval lore, Admiral Nelson is the most commonly cited example of a naval commander who found ways to have the best of both worlds. The magic of the “Nelson Touch” was extremely high information sharing — usually around Nelson’s flag dining table — between actions, brilliantly simple planning, and unusual devolution of initiative during action.

Famously, Nelson ordered the signal “England expects that every man will do his duty” flown at his last and greatest battle. He didn’t hoist tactical instructions since he’d already invested plenty of time to ensure that every man knew his duty.

Try it out for a day: if you’re accustomed to sailing in line ahead, waiting for direction, try venturing out a bit to seek opportunity. And if you’re always flying the Jolly Roger, see what you can accomplish by forming up with some others.