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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


Structure, Sanity and the life of a Pirate Queen!

selma_pirateI mentioned on Friday that I’ve been playing with fire with metaphors and that now I am a pirate queen. With a monkey.

So I promised you some back-story. Because that was kind of a weird thing to say, even for me.

And the reason you should read this (other than confirming any suspicion you might have that I am completely mad) is that it’s a pretty good demonstration of the power of words.

And the power of changing them.

Also, I am a huge proponent of what I call goofball-marketing (where you make money through giving yourself permission to be your creative, nutty self while letting your freak flag fly).*

*Naomi refers to this as “letting the universe pay you for being awesome”, which I love.

And really, what better way to embody the principles of goofballery than to replace one’s business team with a pirate crew? Right? Exactly.

Transitions. (Sung to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof)

So yeah. I hired the brilliant and kooky Cairene to force me to help me restructure some of the systems in my business.

It’s phenomenal. Especially given just how much resistance I have to so many different aspects of this process.

Life-changingly great, is all I’m saying. She really, really gets how hard it is for me to be a right-brained person with a left-brained team, and how hard it is for them to put up with me.

But then last week she pointed out that I despise the word “team” and yet keep using it.

She also pointed out (somewhat wryly, I might add) that I’d just taught an exceptionally fantastic class like, two days before on the topic of … wait for it … rewriting metaphors.

Fine. Fine.

From team to pirate crew …

I figured out what I don’t like about having a “team”.

It has all these little associated bits under the surface that just bug me. Sports analogies, for one.

Also it just kind of smacks of corporate horribleness. You know, those awful, embarrassing team-building exercises that you read about in business books.

Some of my ideal qualities for the new thing-which-is-not-a-team:

+ support
+ movement
+ direction
+ flow
+ cooperation
+ I get to be in charge but I don’t have to manage things.

It seemed like … maybe a boat of some sort. A vessel. With a crew.

I liked that. But it also seemed kind of boring. Plus, what about things like — tfu tfu tfu — storms and capsizing and mutiny? Scurvy?

Clearly, we also needed some other characteristics.


+ goofy
+ different (marching to beat of own drummer)
+ independent
+ adventure
+ success
+ where’s my monkey?!

Clearly this had to be a pirate crew.

And then I knew exactly what needed to happen.

The genius thing about metaphors is they fill in the blanks.

Because everything falls into place when you have the right metaphor.

For example, all of a sudden I knew the role of everybody in my business:

Havi: the crazy but mostly lovable captain … aka The Pirate Queen
Selma the duck: the parrot
Peggy (formerly Head VA): the Cook … because we can’t live without her.
Marissa (formerly my personal assistant): First Mate
Richard (formerly my designer): Chief Engineer and also the guy who shimmies up the mast and fixes things and yells “land ahoy!”
Cairene (formerly systems-coach): Navigation Expert and resident witch
Charlie (formerly Charlie): Some guy we kidnapped who knows a lot about maps

Looking at this it became obvious to me that what I really need is something like a second mate. Someone to do some of Marissa’s work.

I looked it up (yay, Wikipedia!) and here’s what I learned:

A second mate is almost always a watchstander. In port and at sea, the second mate is responsible to the captain for keeping the ship, its crew, and its cargo safe for eight hours each day.

That’s exactly what I need. A watchstander. And then I found one. Which is really cool.

And I knew what could change and what didn’t need to.

I’d been thinking that we needed to make a bunch of huge structural changes.

But once we’d stumbled onto that one metaphorical change, the energy shifted.

And everything felt better and it also seemed as though a lot of things could just stay where they were, with slightly different names.

I wrote a letter to my pirate crew, giving them permission to wear a lot of black. And letting them know that our VA Checklist System is now Havi’s Pirate Crew Code of the Seas (Pirate Manual and Pirate Systems).

And all the things I never used to look at because they were labeled “VA Team”?

They’re now officially referred to as Pirate Crew! Arrr. Which makes going to work way more fun.

Also, the people on my team ship now say things like “Important note for Captain Havi” or “Don’t forget that the Pirate Queen hates making phone calls so make sure you do x, y and z before you make her call someone”.


New Rule: If you don’t check off your action items in Basecamp when you’re finished with them, you will be forced to walk the plank! Arrr!!


I need to go work on my pirate dance now, if you don’t mind.

Yes, the Pirate Queen is very polite today.

Except for the part where I run around yelling “Where’s my monkey?!

Anyway, that’s it for now.

And here’s the Twitter version of this post:

Words = powerful. Metaphors = useful. Business can (and should be) fun as hell because otherwise, what’s the point? Also: where’s my monkey?

54 Responses to Structure, Sanity and the life of a Pirate Queen!

  1. rowena says:

    I have bee seeing pirates everywhere, lately. I was in a pirate treasury on etsy, I taught my 2 year old to say, “arr, I be a baby pirate,” and my FB page was translated into pirate english. I remember also having a discussion with someone about being a pirate queen.

    What is all this pirateness about?

    rowenas last blog post.."remember" says the Girl in the Wings

  2. Nathan Briggs says:

    Ae ‘ave yer monkee en Davy Jones’ locker my hearty. ‘And ov’r t’dubloons or arrrrrrrrrr’ll mak’ thee walk t’plank.

    ‘Oist t’gallants! Avast on that there halliard there!

  3. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    @Rowena – I know! And Portland is full of pirates (once I saw three of them eating brunch on someone’s porch).

    @Nathan – I totally heard that with Scottish accent. Yes!

    Oh, and I thought of some other qualities I was looking for in my “pirate crew”:

    + cooperation
    + communication
    + friendly
    + warm
    + support
    + trust

    This has been so completely fascinating for me.

  4. Mark W. "Extra Crispy" Schumann
    Twitter: MarkWSchumann

    AND you’re preventing global warming at the same time!


  5. chas says:

    Aaarrr Keptain, I last seen the monkey beast up the crow’s nest, eating all the mangoes! And i can’t help but to be admiring that perfect twoosh or your’n. Aaarrr.

    chass last blog post..Monday Morning Motivator! 23, Spring Cleaning

  6. If you insist on being a pirate you need to keep a lookout for those Navy Seal snipers. That whole ‘being a pirate’ thing was kind of cute when it was just Johnny Depp and silly movies. But now that we have real pirates, hurting real people – and promising to kill Americans, it’s a lot harder to see a pirate as the good guy.

    And “goofball-marketing” ..is that like the Sci-Fi channel changing it’s name to SyFy? ‘Cuz I thought that was kind of… goofy.

  7. Nancy says:

    You’re simultaneously cracking me up and enlightening me. Well done, Cap’n!

    Right now I’m a crew of one, but I still want a team metaphor (’cause I hate the word “team,” too). I’d say ninjas, but they’re not exactly team players. Samurai? Leader of a newly minted superhero cooperative? So many possibilities!

    Oh, and an alpaca for a mascot. They’re sweet and fuzzy. :)

  8. Fabeku says:

    You and your (motley?) crew are so full of awesome brilliance that you make my head explode and my heart open. I absolute adore everything you do, how you do it and how you share it.

    My only question is how to ninjas and pirates get along? Because you know I’m all about the ninjas. (I know for a fact that ninjas love Selma, but then again who doesn’t?)

  9. Carina
    Twitter: chalcara

    Pirate Queen. Heh. Oooooh, that rocks!

    *light bulb moment*

    Hey, I could be a ninja. Just instead of asssessinations I’d do art. An art ninja. Stealthy, clever, works best alone or in a very small group. I could let my ninja actions (art in my case) stand for themselves without being forced to participate in that circus performance into which so many creatives get dragged! And like a ninja who often appears quite normal I could still archive epic stuff!

    Heeeeey. Metaphors rocks.

    Carinas last blog post..Dela Hainsate

  10. Nathan Briggs says:

    @chas: I heard that in a Klingon accent. Are there Klingon pirates sailing the fair seas and ravishing fair maidens?

  11. JoVE
    Twitter: jovanevery

    This is great. But one thing that gets to go in that manual is the date of Talk Like A Pirate Day. (It’s in October but I can’t get closer than that.) I think it should be an official holiday for your crew.

    And I love your description of Charlie.

    JoVEs last blog post..Do you want help planning your summer?

  12. Josiane
    Twitter: kimianak

    It’s so so great that you’ve found the right metaphor to make your business more fun for you and your pirate crew!
    I loved this post, and particularly this bit:
    “The genius thing about metaphors is they fill in the blanks.
    Because everything falls into place when you have the right metaphor.”
    That’s a very useful thing to remember.

  13. Hiro Boga
    Twitter: HiroBoga

    Havi, dear Pirate Queen, I love you and your crew. Changing the world, one hijacked metaphor at a time. :-)

    Love and hugs,


    Hiro Bogas last blog post..How to get milk from a stone, and other fables . . .

  14. leah says:

    Since I made a kickass superhero figure in the metaphor class, I’ve been seeing superhero capes everywhere! Must get one or make one pronto…

    I love that Rowena taught her baby to talk like a pirate. Hee!!

    leahs last blog post..CED Challenge Check-in: May 4th – May 10th

  15. Liz
    Twitter: lizziemcg

    You are my pirate in shining armor. I spent all morning struggling with metaphors (elephants vs monsters). The elephants won, but there’s still much vanquishing to be done.

    Brilliance! Yes!

    Lizs last blog post..Happy Peace Day

  16. Heidi Fischbach
    Twitter: curiousHeidiHi

    I must say I am feeling better and better about you describing me as “kooky and whacky and quirky…in a good way”! After touching some old little live nerves for me (which obviously were in need of some love and healing), I am starting to enjoy the qualities. Because seriously: coming from a pirate queen, with a duck, and now and monkey plus, how god-awful boring would it be to be described with the usual adjectives! (Excuse me while I yawn).

    Now I just need to keep working on finding me some good metaphors for my biz and my–drum roll please–in-the-soon-to-be-works website. Beware! More kooky metaphors on their way!

    (Thank you. And if you ever come upon Johnny Depp out there? Well, would you send him my way please?)

    Heidi Fischbachs last blog post..Massage therapist heal thyself.

  17. Brandon W says:

    I love this. When I did my Master’s degree a few short years ago, I did my final project on leadership for entrepreneurs. Among my findings (and recommendations) was the need for a leader to communicate effectively, which – importantly – included the creation of “stories”. That would include metaphors. What you’ve done here is demonstrate that this “organizational leadership” stuff doesn’t have to be so dry, painful, and boring. In fact, you make a better leader when you create stories that are engaging and fun. Plus, who doesn’t want a monkey? I mean, as long as he isn’t handling the accounting.

  18. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    Oh, this is fun!

    I haven’t actually seen the Johnny Depp movie… was thinking more 18th century and Treasure Island and stuff like that.

    Now I’ll have to figure out how this fits in with the ninjas.

    And, no, not letting the monkey do the books. :)

  19. You need a boatswain!

    It’s just too much fun to say:

    Probably Richard, from your description of his role.

  20. linda says:

    This afternoon I thought to myself– I had a really good, productive day. I don’t think I need any ‘destuckification’ today… Ooooh boy, I was wrong! As usual, you’ve shaken up my way of thinking in such a creative and positive way.

    I can’t wait to see what I’ll do tomorrow now that I know about pirates and parrots.

  21. Tiara
    Twitter: tiaramerchgirl


    I shall be your wench!

  22. Aurrgh oh Pirate Queen. Do let me know if your band of pirates ever want to play with pictures to see more of this grand vision :) I’d love to see what Selma comes up with.

    Christine Martells last blog post..Two years of blogging

  23. Victoria Brouhard
    Twitter: victoriashmoria

    I can’t resist sharing one of my favorite jokes.

    A pirate with a peg leg, parrot on his shoulder, and a ship’s wheel hanging from his pants hobbles into a bar.

    The bartender says to the pirate, “Did you know you’ve got a ship’s wheel on your pants?”

    And the pirate says, “Arrrr, I know, it’s driving me nuts.”

    Victoria Brouhards last blog post..Being Me, Not a Metaphor

  24. Rachel says:

    OMG!!!! This is the best idea ever for tons of reasons. Writing tons of reasons would take tons of time, so I will give you two:

    1) I HATE corporate business speak. I actually severely dislike most overused cliched metaphors. We should be on a search to speak in not so annoying ways. That is now one of my priorities :).
    2) Who doesn’t love pirates? Well, current events aside. I will try again – who doesn’t love wonderful friendly pirates?

  25. Bonni says:

    Ninjas are just pirates on land. I would think that a mixed pirate/ninja crew would be doubly awesome, for that reason — you’re covering all the ground. (And pirates say ARRRRRR and ninjas say RAAAAAAAAA. Is that right?? I don’t really watch movies.)

    (Also, thank you, Carina — I want to be an art ninja when I grow up.)

  26. Carina
    Twitter: chalcara


    Um, how ninjas fit in there? I’d guess Pirates are those with the jolly crew, while the ninjas strike out on their own or with one or two companions.

    Because the Conservation Of Ninjutsu states that the more Ninjas are at a task the less effective they become. ;)

    @Bonni Aw, no thank you! :3

    Carinas last blog post..Dela Hainsate

  27. Julie Stuart says:

    Arrrr, this is just awesome! As someone who has spent a fair amount of time on the high seas racing sailboats, this metaphor tickles me fancy! I can even feel the moist salt air on my face as the ship bobs up and down through the waves.

    And I’m thinking you might need a sword or two (the friendly kind of course) because, you know, you have a few “weapons” in your arsenal.

    Love. It.

    Back to practicing on my own business metaphors….

  28. Deb Owen says:

    Ya know? Here’s the funny thing. I DO that horrible corporate ‘team-building stuff’ (ha!) — except I don’t. I don’t do it in a horrible way or in a way that most people are used to (cuz, you know, that doesn’t actually work)……

    And I hate that phrase! And all the ‘stuff’ around the phrase and all.
    But I use it because people recognize it. But….now….well…..

    I’m gonna have to think about this a bit.

    Good stuff!
    All the best!

    Deb Owens last blog post..a course on the artist’s way

  29. chris zydel
    Twitter: wildheartqueen

    Oh my goodness darling!

    I can just see you with a Captains hat and an eye patch with a monkey on your shoulder and a hearty Yo-Ho-Ho booming out into the high seas.

    You never cease to amaze and delight me and I would be a deck hand on your ship anytime. Anyplace. Just sayin’!

    And yes…. you MUST see Johhny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. He’s the only other person I can think of that would even BEGIN to rival you for high seas, high stakes goofiness!!

    Love you beyond reason,


    chris zydels last blog post..Creative Miracle Grow: Finding Someone to Believe In… YOU!

  30. […] comes in the form of stories to inhabit and imagery to step into. Seeing the same situation in a new image is a superb way to transform the situation – starting with your experience of it, and spreading […]

  31. […] Some of you may know I’ve been working with Havi on her systems. We’ve been talking about writing a case study and we might do that in detail someday, but […]

  32. Wendy Cholbi says:

    If you are going to work on your pirate dance, may I suggest this song:


    “Pirate Aggro” by the Housemartins. It’s just so happy and dancy. Like jolly pirates unfurling their sails to the tradewinds on a gorgeous clear day on the high seas. And I don’t even know what “aggro” means. And it doesn’t have words, and it’s less than two minutes long. Perfect for a pirate-themed destuckification dance break.

    Of course, it may not be perfect for you. But I’m having a jolly time imagining you holding Selma in your palm, doing Dance of Shiva to this song.

    And now, in search of my own metaphor(s)…. Avast, me hearties!

    Wendy Cholbis last blog post..When competition isn’t, really.

  33. Nathan Briggs says:

    @Wendy: Housemartins yay! Aggro is short for aggravation.

  34. Fabeku says:

    Big yay for The Housemartins. And big yay for pirates!

    (Now when I read something from Havi, I see her as a pirate queen! So cool!)

  35. […] Doing the art festival this weekend caused me to take a really close look at the struggles I have with money, selling and how I see it. After struggling with this for quite some time, I decided to try something different – I decided to use Havi’s wacky metaphor techniques. […]

  36. […] might have her pirate crew (more about Havi tomorrow, but suffice to say that I am currently in love with her). My bet is that […]

  37. Miriam says:

    If you haven’t done so already, you absolutely have to listen to the “Chicken Diva” segment of this episode of “This American Life.” There’s a Pirate Queen connection, but that’s only half the fun…Seriously. Listen to it.


  38. […] Brooks teaches a metaphor shifting technique where you take something that bugs you and transform it into something you can work with. It has […]

  39. […] Havi the Pirate Queen is completely correct when she says that roller derby is the best stress-buster ever. […]

  40. […] esterday, I told you about Havi’s Pirate Queen expeditions, and then I  announced that I wanted to go in search of a metaphor of my very […]

  41. […] inspirations are: havi who is a pirate queen and Eileen who is a soul […]

  42. Christine
    Twitter: cheshious

    Woot! This was just what I needed right now. I’m working on putting a grant together (one of my most hated tasks), and some days it feels like this awful unconquerable THING. So I’ve decided it’s like conquering an island – takes lots of planning, lots of steps, need for a clear plan of action and chain of command, lots of support needed. . .

    In short, the giant whiteboard of doom is now titled “Plan for Conquering Gurantsushima Territory” (Gurantsushima is kinda-Japanese for Grants Island), and I’m going to break out my awesome hat which will be worn when I am doing things to crush Grantsushima under my heel. We’re still in the attack-planning stage, and now I’m finding myself looking forward to establishing a beachhead and expanding my control of territory. Whee!

  43. Damian says:

    So cool, I love the Pirate Queen and her wonder metaphors…
    .-= Damian´s last post … Marble Cleaning in the East Midlands =-.

  44. […] my first client whose idea that I should work with her (and be her Pirate Ship’s First Mate) quite literally changed my life and opened the door to what became […]

  45. […] Yep. Havi is a pirate queen, Eileen has a sailboat. I like stability, I like having a home, I like freedom and colour. I have a […]

  46. […] revising?  Use Havi Brooks’ Metaphor Mouse technique, and come up with a different slant on it.  Same with collecting receipts for your […]

  47. […] 2009, Havi Brooks (@havi) adopted the pirate metaphor and rewrote the job descriptions of her team crew. Havi: the crazy but mostly lovable captain … aka The Pirate […]

  48. […] best-known metaphor is the Pirate Ship used for her internal business structure, but if you search her site for the phrase “metaphor […]

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