Book review: Unique insights of the misfits

The Misfit Economy by Alexa Clay and Kyra Myra Phillips reveals how we should all embrace our inner misfit.

The Misfit Economy by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips. Courtesy Simon & Schuster
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“What do pirates, terrorists, computer hackers and inner-city gangs have in common with Silicon Valley?”

That is the question posed by Alexa Clay and Kyra Myra Phillips in their book The Misfit Economy.

Fascinated by seedy underworlds and villains – with, no doubt, hearts of gold – it was a book I was eager to read.

However, the first few chapters disappointed. While the book does examine the innovative business models and “positive” disruption created by some criminals and outlaws operating at the margins of society, it is just as likely to explore less-outlandish ideas.

These include the business school graduate who wanted to bring camel milk to the United States, or the novel approach of the World Health Organization epidemiologist who asks if the spread of violence in inner cities can be controlled in the same way infectious diseases.

The first section of the book, published early this year, lays out the “misfit philosophy” and why they are important creators of value and wealth. It also explores why we should pay attention to misfits, particularly given our current uncertain economic climate. The book’s main body then describes five types of misfits and the lessons that can be learnt from them – hustling, copying, hacking, provoking and pivoting.

Reading on through the initial disappointing lack of buccaneers and outlaws, the narrative becomes more enjoyable – in no small part because the authors share a similar zeal for their subject matter as the single-minded entrepreneurs and misfits they describe have for their own projects. Misfits, they tell us, are passionate about what they do and “bring their soul to work”.

The book is also well researched, with the authors trotting the globe to conduct the interviews that form the basis of their work, and the case stories they present are very engaging.

Ultimately, the pair present a good case for why we should all embrace our inner outsider.

q&a outsiders can spot market gaps

Lianne Gutcher offers more insights into The Misfit Economy by Alexa Clay and Kyra Myra Phillips:

What is the authors’ definition of a misfit?

Their definition boils down to someone who is unconventional or an outsider. Their main criteria for including someone in the book is that, while they do not necessarily have to be business entrepreneurs – though many are such as Virgin founder Richard Branson – they can also be artists or social workers. They do, however, have to be doing something innovative or disruptive.

The book says it is particularly important to pay attention to misfits right now. Why is this?

The authors say we need new ideas to create wealth and value “at a time when the financial system is in need of radical reform, housing markets are facing ongoing disruption, and the energy sector is facing severe long-term challenges; when local communities are facing crises ranging from unemployment to water scarcity”.

And what’s this about camel milk?

Ah, yes. The “white gold of the desert”. The book recounts the unlikely story of Walid Abdul Wahab, from Saudi Arabia, who recognised the benefits of camel milk and its likely appeal to health-conscious Americans. He starts an unlikely camel milk business in the US to tap into the multimillion dollar market for alternatives to cows’ milk. The authors use his case to highlight the fact that misfits are able to spot gaps in the market, are ingenious in dealing with rules (the Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates the sale of raw milk) and persevere in the face of doubt and adversity because of their single-mindedness and passion.

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