The Misfit Economy Explained

We live in turbulent economic times. Hyperbolic as it sounds, change and uncertainty are the only guarantees now. As a result, the old ways of doing things simply won’t cut it anymore. But in the figure of ‘The Misfit’, authors Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips think they may have identified the qualities needed to survive and thrive in this new landscape.


So who exactly are they, these misfits? They’re the ones operating on the fringes (though not exclusively), challenging convention and applying their ingenuity in the face of often considerable resistance. They’re resourceful, creative and full of belief – in themselves and in what they’re trying to do. And there’s lots we can learn from them.

In ‘The Misfit Economy’, Clay and Maya Phillips detail the exploits of misfits operating in spheres as diverse as hacking, drug trafficking, camel milk trading and, weirdest of all, management consultancy. They even dip into history: we learn that pirates – of the peg-leg, black beard variety – pioneered a form of radical democracy, ‘hacking’ the command and control structure found on merchant ships.

This notion of ‘hacking’ is intrinsic to the misfit approach – not in the sense of cracking code but rather ‘taking on the establishment in order to change it for the better’. Together with ‘hustling’, ‘copying’, ‘provoking’ and ‘pivoting’ it represents one of the five essential principles of the misfit mentality. To bring out our own ‘inner misfits’, these are the qualities we would need to adopt.

Of course, its quite difficult to imagine how you might do that when your point of comparison is a lord of the criminal underworld. But it is to the author’s credit that they also include examples of ‘insider misfits’ as well – those in major corporations who are trying to re-shape the way things are done.

Focussing on both the formal and informal economies in this way also helps us to see not only the parallels that exist between them (namely, the pursuit of profit) but also how they can learn from each other. This is particularly interesting when it comes to the principle of ‘copying’: could the copycat practices of the black market actually foster innovation rather than hinder it? Protecting ideas from so-called copycats means they don’t get exposed to ideas which might actually make them better – and lead to more lasting innovation.

For this and many other reasons, ‘The Misfit Economy’ makes for a provocative, insightful read. If you’re looking for an unorthodox book on business – a ‘misfit’ one, even – then look no further.