The Misfit Economy : Lessons in Creativity from Pirates, Hackers, Gangsters and Other Informal Entrepreneurs, Hardback Book

The Misfit Economy : Lessons in Creativity from Pirates, Hackers, Gangsters and Other Informal Entrepreneurs Hardback

1.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Who are the greatest innovators in the world? You're probably thinking Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford.

The usual suspects. This book isn't about them. It's about people you've never heard of. It's about people who are just as innovative, entrepreneurial, and visionary as the Jobses, Edisons, and Fords of the world, except they're not in Silicon Valley.

They're in the crowded streets of Shenzhen, the prisons of Somalia, the flooded coastal towns of Thailand.

They are pirates, computer hackers, pranksters, and former gang leaders.

Across the globe, diverse innovators operating in the black, grey, and informal economies are developing solutions to a myriad of challenges.

Far from being "deviant entrepreneurs" that pose threats to our social and economic stability, these innovators display remarkable ingenuity, pioneering original methods and practices that we can learn from and apply to move formal markets.

This book investigates the stories of underground innovation that make up the Misfit Economy.

It examines the teeming genius of the underground. It asks: Who are these unknown visionaries? How do they work? How do they organize themselves? How do they catalyze innovation?And ultimately, how can you take these lessons into your own world?


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Entrepreneurship
  • ISBN: 9781451688825

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The central conceit of The Misfit Economy seems to be that those who have any sort of spark of creativity or business drive are misfits. Anyone who sees a solution where no one else does is a misfit. It’s a good thing, because these misfits sometimes implement innovation, create jobs and new products. The authors show this has always been the case, so there’s nothing special about today. They give a myriad of examples of people all over the world following their passions and talents. Most weren’t driven; they stumbled onto their calling doing something else or nothing at all. So why call them misfits? They seem pretty typical humans: curious, passionate, chance takers. They have nothing in common, and there is nothing we can learn from their combined experience because they are all entirely different. There is no Misfit Economy.The word misfit has a negative connotation; they did not fit the corporate culture. They could not conform to the rules. There was a conflict either with the culture or within themselves. But the people profiled rarely showed any of that. They came to a new calling and followed that path, sometimes without even leaving the company.It’s hard to see why this merits a book. The way they wrote it is flat and detached, a series of unconnected stories. It doesn’t build to anything, and has no sense of drama or excitement. Nor does it go very deep. No secrets are uncovered. The various players are not outrageous characters, colorful rogues or slick intellectuals. They are just people scrambling to make a living or achieve some level of satisfaction with their lives. No one stands out as particularly memorable. This is hardly the Misfits Hall of Fame. At just 155 pages, it changes nothing and leaves no impression. The book concludes with the thought that world is coming to accept the unconventional.The Misfit Economy would have been better if it had been written by misfits.David Wineberg

Review by

Free review copy. I wanted this to be an interesting book and not a bunch of business book platitudes. Oh well. Some pirates and lawbreakers are very successful! Unfortunately the book doesn’t have any theories about when breaking the rules/laws leads to success and when it leads to failure (indeed, the authors talk to a Somali pirate in a jail cell and a former convict who served a number of years for killing someone, and discuss what they say as if it were exactly what the non-caught people say). Perhaps the ultimate expression of the book’s failure to define or interrogate its terms is this sentence: “A significant majority of the misfits we spoke with (aside from the con artists, of course) had this commitment to authenticity in common.” Sadly, I think they’re serious.This is perhaps the apotheosis of using “disruption” as a buzzword to cover anything that might someday make money, or at least anything that takes money from other people. The authors even say that hierarchy is bad, then discuss successful pirate endeavors with elaborate chains of command. And no, attacking ships with guns does not “build market opportunity where one does not seem to exist.” Actually, the Somali pirate story is the most interesting part in that it’s clear that the failure of the Somali state to keep poachers (also disruptors!) away from fishermen is what drove some of them into piracy in the first place. “[T]hey recognized an opportunity and seized it”—along with ships’ cargo; one interviewee describes how awful it was to board ships where people were crying and begging for their lives. If we wanted to draw lessons from the Somali pirates, rather than looking to lawbreakers, we might fruitfully look to law as the foundation for innovation and productive success instead of armed theft. In one sense the book represents so much immersion in neoliberalism that the authors don’t even notice—embrace uncertainty, improvisation, living in the cracks, they say. Another feature of the US-based examples of successful rulebreaking is how much they were usually dependent on white privilege—some people can get away with moving fast and breaking things; others have to worry more about ending up shot for either. They cite research studying entrepreneurs (defined as those who engaged in inventive or risky activity, not just people self-employed in a known line of business) that found that a key characteristic associated with a successful entrepreneur was juvenile delinquency. But of course Bill Gates’ juvenile lawbreaking didn’t land him in jail. In this vein, you could think of today’s school-to-prison pipeline for black Americans as a perfect technique to strip minority communities of many potential go-getters—it couldn’t work better if we’d planned it that way. Now that would’ve been an interesting book, but unfortunately the authors didn’t write that book.In a get-off-my-side moment, the authors condemn the patent system for helping sustain monopolies. Points, though, for giving me an example of a sentence where the Oxford comma provides no succor: “Pirate gangs also employ pimps to service gangs with prostitutes, lawyers, and banknote checkers who use machines to detect fake money.”

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