Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why Business Needs Misfits

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why Business Needs Misfits

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In a dining room at Soho House, a private members' club on Greek Street in central London, Alexa Clay sips a bottle of fruit presse and speaks about what drew her to gangsters, pirates and computer hackers. "I suppose a lot of them were just more philosophically interesting than the people you encounter in places like this," she says.

Through research and conversations with rule-breakers and rule-benders, Clay, an American, and her Venezuelan-born co-author, Kyra Maya Phillips, developed a theory of unconventional economics, outlined in a new book, The Misfit Economy.

"From these misfits," they write, "we can learn much about ingenuity, about determination, about the innate human itch to create, build and exploit an opportunity."

Indeed, informal economies are huge: undeclared work earns up to 200bn [pounds sterling] every year in the UK across industries as diverse as agriculture, cleaning services and private security.

Yet Clay and Phillips are interested in those areas where misfit activities overlap with more established structures. The book is a kind of business primer, offering unexpected lessons from the stories of mavericks such as Catherine Hoke, who self-funded an entrepreneurship scheme to put ex-prisoners' street skills to use, or Dale J Stephens, the founder of the "UnCollege" movement, which promotes "experimental learning". Some stories--those of Somali pirates, say, or the hacker group Anonymous--fall on the wrong side of the law; others play out in multinational companies or NGOs.

The pair met while working for a sustainability consultancy, meeting "a lot of people at Fortune-500 companies". Clay tells me that she is as likely to meet a misfit in a boardroom as on a pirate ship. At the book launch party, guests such as the ex-street gang leader King Tone and David Victorson, who smuggled 37 tonnes of marijuana from Colombia to Seattle, chatted to mainstream entrepreneurs over drinks. …

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