Alexa Clay & Kyra Phillips

Authors of The Misfit Economy

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 27, 2015

Discussion

kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
Hey everyone! We're excited to chat to the Product Hunt community about The Misfit Economy, and anything to do with underground innovation. Join us and ask away!
The Pigeonhole@thepigeonholehq · The Pigeonhole
@thisiskyramaya who is the coolest mistfit from classical literature?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@thepigeonholehq man. hard to decide on just one. I've always been inspired by the mythology of Joan of Arc, Wild West figures, and Russian anti-heroes.
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@thepigeonholehq Such an interesting question! I love Elizabeth Bennett from Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice (some people wouldn't consider her part of the classical literature canon!). But yeah, Liz Bennett is hilarious, witty and completely fallible. And Jane Austen too, of course!
The Pigeonhole@thepigeonholehq · The Pigeonhole
@alexaclay @thepigeonholehq Joan of Arc - good choice, although not sure if really a literary figure!
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
Craziest/most unexpected lesson learned while working on the book?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@russfrushtick I really loved spending time with Amish communities and have tried to integrate a certain luddite or critical perspective into start-up culture and digital tech tools. in my own life too, mastering the value of "off-the-grid" or hermit time :)
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@russfrushtick Hi Russ! I loved interviewing Somali pirates, who told the story of how a small, lo-fi and informal industry transformed itself into an international, multimillion dollar headline grabbing venture.
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
Hi there - thanks for joining! I have to admit, I wish I would have read your book before this LIVE Chat - it sounds so interesting. What inspired you to write about the fringes in this way? And what is one thing from the book that you think all of us should apply to the way we think and work.
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@corleyh the genesis for the book was really trying to expand our notions of entrepreneurship to think about all the incredible innovators in the black market and informal economies. it started out a bit as farce - to focus on "deviant" or "vice entrepreneurs" after having worked so hard in the social good / social entrepreneurship sector. but once we got interviewing we realized there was a lot from these marginal economies that we need to transform our mainstream economy
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
Hey @thisiskyramaya! How are you? Can you tell us a bit about your process with this book? What were some of the more surprising things you ran into?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@jeffumbro one of the conversations that most stuck out to me was with King Tone who use to run the Latin Kings, a hispanic street gang in New York. He really pushed back even against the use of our word "gang" and preferred to be called an organization that manages culture and brand like any other. his ability to engage the underworld in a conversation about the future of the Kings and how the group could transition into more of a civic movement like the Black Panthers really impressed me. though not without its difficulties. again and again, the question that surfaced was how to create bridges for underground entrepreneurs and innovators into the mainstream economy without risk of dilution or co-option.
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
@thisiskyramaya Who would you say is the biggest misfit company that's successful today?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@jeffumbro depends how you define it. A lot of BIG energy companies today are pretty "mafia"-like in their tactics. I've been excited by a lot of companies that are part of the B-corp movement. Natura, for example, in Brazil. REI's recent decision to protest black friday in nature is pretty misfit too! I think it's less about COMPANIES though and more about misfit employees within those companies and how they are working to hack corporate culture and create disruptive business models. i've met amazing misfits even within some of the biggest multinationals who are using resources frugally and with great intention.
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@alexaclay @jeffumbro check out www.socintleague.com/toolkits for more resource on being an "insider misfit"
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Kyra and Alexa, so great to have you both here today. Can you tell us a bit more about The Misfit Economy? Who fits into it and how it came about? Very interested to know a little more. Thanks!
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@ems_hodge for us the MISFIT label is a pretty broad umbrella holding space for "insider misfits" or intrapreneurs who are trying to hack cultures from within, bohemian misfits interested in pealing off from the system (artists), underground and informal entrepreneurs (like Amish camel milk dealers, pirates, hackers, gangsters), and agitators who work to provoke and antagonize the system (protestors) from the outside.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
Hey what would the you (both) of two years ago think of the you (both) today :)?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@bentossell is there a word for the narcissism of falling in love with your future self? I'd be blown away. this book was a total rabbit hole and hijacked my entire existence for 3 years. i never thought i would have the opportunity to speak to so many different sorts of people and be in deep contact with so many interesting subcultures. i'm blown away and enjoying every minute of it!
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@bentossell That's an interesting question! I have a two year old tornado so your choice of timeline works well for me here. I guess I never thought I'd meet some of the characters that I met, and that they would teach me so much, not just about business or entrepreneurship but also about life. One ex prisoner I met, for example, showed me the value of stillness and quiet, a lesson which he took from spending time in prison and never shed, even after his release.
Ian of Great Lakes@greatlakesian · Principal Strategist, Allegorical
Philautia="love of self" (on "word for narcissism/falling in love with self") @alexaclay @bentossell
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
What's the biggest thing silicon valley can learn from pirates?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@ems_hodge Silicon Valley is already obsessed with a lot of the underdog spirit of piracy. I think there could be more focus on what Silicon Valley could learn from intellectual property pirates to create more IP free zones and open source collaboration. I'd love to see a lot of the private enterprise of the Valley become more focused on creating COMMONS resources. historic pirates were also pretty good at creating egalitarian societies and dividing wealth equally. could more tech platforms be structured as cooperatives? And create more space for self-governance?
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@ems_hodge Hey Emily! I think what the Somali pirates did best was simply to pay attention. The movement of Somali piracy started in the early 90s, as a response to foreign fishing trawlers who were illegally fishing in the country's waters. Somalia's government collapsed in 1991 after a very deadly and vicious civil war, and as a result, its authorities were unable to effectively police the illegal fishing. So a few fishermen simply turned to attacking the foreign ships, sort of levying an "invisible" tax on them. It started very informally - a few people would get together, attack a ship close to shore, and move on. But then, a civil servant noticed what was happening in these coastal towns. So he put together a business plan and sought investors, after which he founded the Somali Marines, a group of highly trained pirates who began (with the use of motherships) to attack large commercial vessels very far from Somali shores, commanding an average ransom payment of about $2.7 million. This is basically all about being a perceptive and attentive entrepreneur!
Abdessamad Azil@abdessamad_azil · Entrepreneur and founder of TLBB
@thisiskyramaya how can i get your book, i'm from Morocco !!
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@abdessamadazil amazon (?) - i'm sure there are also pirated editions :)
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@abdessamadazil I'm happy to send you one - please just drop me a line: kyra at misfiteconomy dot com.
Abdessamad Azil@abdessamad_azil · Entrepreneur and founder of TLBB
@thisiskyramaya done, thank you very much ^^
Nettra Pan@nettra
@thisiskyramaya Hey Kyra + Alex! I'm making it through your book -- my boyfriend and I are literally stealing the book away from each other to finish it... RR... I started it first! Anyways... my question is: who is/are your favorite innovation writers/scholars (they don't need to be academics in innovation, but could be historians or scifi novelists)?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@nettra I love economic history. And obsessed with theories by the French physiocrats, the moral philosophy of Adam Smith, by things like "thermoeconomics" etc. I need to read more science fiction! But interesting how a lot of SciFi misifts end up influencing the scientific imagination. we go into this a bit in the book looking at the role of artistic provocateurs who shape culture.
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@nettra Hey Nettra! I have always found Steven Johnson's writing so brilliant and clear. "Where Good Ideas Come From" completely captured me when I read it years ago, and a few stories from are still stuck to my brain. I love two of his others books, too: The Invention of Air (an absolutely brilliant scientific story) and Ghost Map (the story of how Jon Snow figured out what was causing London's Broad Street cholera outbreak). Hmmm...another book I really liked was "A History of the World in Six Glasses" by Tom Standage. One particular chapter is about how coffee, and the development of coffee houses, has accelerated innovation. But the greatest innovator to me is Michel de Montaigne, whose essays should be required reading for everybody involved in anything ever.
Nettra Pan@nettra
@thisiskyramaya Second question: why do you think more people have not documented, analyzed what happenes on the fringe?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@nettra I think it's a growing field. You have Makeshift Magazine which does an incredible job. and within urban studies this has always been a point of study. Books like Gang Leader for a Day and Freakonomics are there too. But I think we're in this nascent moment now where more people are desiring to unplug from mainstream society (from the legacy of industrial capitalism) - we have this mass exodus - and so alternative ways of living, being, running business, etc. are being explored. we've just started a new group www.neotribes.co to explore some of these issues.
Ian of Great Lakes@greatlakesian · Principal Strategist, Allegorical
Now that you're magistrates of misfit methodology, what are the two of you working on now the wiser? Any initiatives underway?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@greatlakesian I'm helping to steward the League of Intrapreneurs (a network for misfits making change from within big organizations) as well as part of putting together a community of NEO TRIBES (www.neotribes.co) that we just launched last week. I'm also heading out to Brazil for 3 months for more research and for the launch of the book there.
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@greatlakesian I'm working on a podcast at the moment, and I'm also the co-founder of a two year old misfit, so life is busy :)
Ian of Great Lakes@greatlakesian · Principal Strategist, Allegorical
@alexaclay @thisiskyramaya Very cool & great work both--looking forward to checking it out! I got that sense (thank you for your efforts) and it put a few orgs like Defy Ventures back on the map again and held the Amish and Occupy folks in dignified light too. I'm pretty sure it prompted me to learn more about the Amish beyond this book as well.
Ian of Great Lakes@greatlakesian · Principal Strategist, Allegorical
afk for a minute--another question out of curiosity: Have you witnessed/received testimony on increased empathy for any of the people/groups covered in your book from readers?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@greatlakesian yes. I remember one woman from Colombia was initially very distressed by the book and what she perceived as the glorification of misfits, particularly those she associated with drug cartels. But later she wrote a very sweet email about how she reflected and had greater empathy for these "bad guys". the main point of the book is an invitation to empathy - so that hustlers within the start-up scene for example and hustlers within the black market economies can recognize shared traits and we can break through some of the bubbles that separate us.
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@greatlakesian Definitely Ian. Particularly, I think, for people who have been to prison and are trying to carve their paths back into society. I met an amazing entrepreneur here in London who, after a 2.5 year stint in prison, coded his own product (Kashflow) and sold it for a huge amount ten years later. While he has been an accomplished web developer since he was very young (he taught himself on a computer he found in a children's home he was living in), he utilised lessons he had gained in prison to achieve his goal. However, it was also much help and empathy from UK charities focused on supporting people like him that also helped him to craft his career as an successful tech entrepreneur. I actually chronicle his story in this podcast, if you're interested: https://soundcloud.com/kyramayap...
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Are you writing anything else at the moment we should look forward to?
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@ems_hodge I'm working on a piece about live action role playing culture or larp for Aeon Magazine. It's a long-form essay that explores the subculture and examines interesting ideas of how to create fictional worlds, hack your personal identity, etc.
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@ems_hodge I'm doing lots of radio writing and have a few long-form storytelling podcasts on the way!
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
Why did you decide to start your own podcast? What has been more challenging so far than you expected? and what are you most looking forward to?
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@alexcartaz I think radio is an incredible medium. It sounds counter-intuitive, but in my opinion (and I think Ira Glass has expressed a similar opinion), it's the most visual medium through which you can relay a story. Because the people listening can't see, you have be very mindful of every single detail and make sure you portray exactly what is happening and how it's making everybody feel. I think that can sometimes be lost in an article or a book and most certainly in a film, because in all of those mediums you take the visual aspect for granted. I'm a newbie, so I'm finding every aspect of the whole thing a challenge, but greatly enjoying it.
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
What podcasts, if any, inspired the creation of yours?
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@alexcartaz Ah, I could go on all day. There are so many great podcasts. I really, really loved Mystery Show (particularly episodes 2 and 3), have enjoyed tons of episodes of Reply All (some brilliant story telling there), love the Australian podcast Radiotonic, some great stuff over at the New York Public Library's podcast and, of course, was obsessed with Invisibilia (particularly its 3rd episode).
Alex Carter@alexcartaz · Operations @ 60dB. Ex-PH Podcasts 😻
What are your favorite podcasts to listen to? =)
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@alexcartaz see above! Also, if you like psychology there's another I love called Where There's Smoke. It's really, really good!
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@alexcartaz Also love On Being.
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@alexcartaz And yours? :)
Vadi@vadivelk · Craftsman
How would you define entrepreneurs? Your inclusion of pirates made me to ask, does gamblers are entrepreneurs. Pls pardon my question if sounded lame since I haven't read your book i am just going by whatever written in the cover.
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@vadivelk entrepreneurship for us is about a spirit of improvisation, opportunism and frugality. i think you can have an entrepreneurial mindset and not be an entrepreneur. for example, a lot of artists I would regard as "entrepreneurial." and so a lot of the folks we examine in the book are not classically an "entrepreneur" in the sense of growing a business necessarily, but they demonstrate important traits of entrepreneurship: hustle, risk-taking, doggedness, ability to tolerate unknowns and ambiguity, creative problem solving, under-dog identities.
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@vadivelk some of the more interesting elements are looking at how gray market entrepreneurship becomes formalized / legalized. so, for example, seeing this happen with goods like marijuana, camel milk or moonshine. In this way you have a whole group of entrepreneurs who have to "pivot" into legal markets. Sugarlands, a moonshine company in East Tennessee works with old bootleggers for example after the commodity became legal in 2009. You also have Amish camel milk farmers who are working with Whole Foods to get their product into the mainstream, whereas, it use to be sold through buyers clubs associations to evade the law. Check out the company Desert Farms for more on this story. I've also been following companies like Pink House in Colorado that are cashing in on legalization there.
Vadi@vadivelk · Craftsman
@alexaclay @vadivelk Thanks for the thoughtful response. Can't wait to read the book.
Ian of Great Lakes@greatlakesian · Principal Strategist, Allegorical
What was most challenging (or if you'd prefer, most memorable) when making this book (or even making the connections to make this book)?
kyra maya phillips@thisiskyramaya · reader, writer, listener
@greatlakesian Hm..the blank page is super scary to me, so I found the writing process quite difficult and sometimes very nerve wracking. In terms of interviews, I found my interviews with young, black hat haters the most scary. I knew that they knew exactly how to destroy my online life. That, combined with their still undeveloped understanding of right and wrong, was a frightening combination.
Alexa Clay@alexaclay · Co-author, Misfit Economy
@greatlakesian we had some very awkward moments in India of trying to connect with some mafia families there. I was forced to ride a motorcycle and almost died when the driver pulled a wheelie to impress our camera woman. Kyra also set up a Skype call with some Somali pirates that was pretty interesting and very hard to get that access.
Ian of Great Lakes@greatlakesian · Principal Strategist, Allegorical
@thisiskyramaya @greatlakesian Oh wow, yes. I'm not sure what to say considering the intensely personal aspect of experience vs. creating the book--expressing thanks seems glib compared to the risks taken. When mentioning empathy being part of the intention for the book--how did (if at all) these experiences help transform your own perspective and confidence in engaging with challenging situations/people?