The Misfit Economy argues that lessons in creativity, innovation, salesmanship, and entrepreneurship can come from surprising places: pirates, bootleggers, counterfeiters, hustlers, and others living and working on the margins of business and society.
The Principle of Provoke
To provoke, of course, means to arouse or stir up feelings, desires, or action. Within the Misfit Economy, provocation is about stepping out of reality, imagining something different. It is about poking and prodding business as usual to get others to wake up to different possibilities.
The principle of provoke isn’t about having all the answers or even any of the answers. It’s about creating the conditions for a new conversation to take place, challenging orthodoxies, encouraging dissent, and imagining alternatives.
Ultimately, provocation is about learning to harness your own self-expression to take a stand and shake up the status quo. This skill is important for anyone–manager, spouse, parent, entrepreneur–who may not be a political agitator but may feel ‘stirred up’ to take a stand within a company, marriage, school district, or start-up. To challenge ‘the way we’ve always done things’ and make room for something new.
Artists and writers, protestors and social reformers, misfits all
- In an age of sexual prudishness, Helena Wright challenged women to think about sex as a pleasurable activity beyond reproduction.
- Writers Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne got us to think about the feasibility of space flight.
- Jane Austen called our ideas of marriage into question through her romantic fiction.
- Rosa Parks challenged norms around segregation by refusing to give up her seat on the bus.
- Coco Chanel pushed the boundaries of women’s fashion and never hesitated to speak her mind.
But call them what they are: successful. Like all great entrepreneurs, misfit provocateurs make us believe in a different version of the truth because they have the audacity to imagine a different world.
Art is a powerful tool in opening up our consciousness to new possibilities
When astronaut Neil Armstrong returned from the moon as part of the Apollo 11 expedition, he referenced Verne’s novel in a television broadcast before reflecting on his own time in space. Without Poe and Verne creating the imaginative possibility of traveling to the moon, Armstrong might never have gone.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s showing how space flight could work, or Vermeulen’s conceiving how life on a Mars space colony or in a starship could be, a writer and an artist opened doors for scientific discovery. They were provocateurs of the public imagination. Their influence may be difficult to trace and parse out, but it’s also undeniable.
When you’re provoking, you aren’t tied to a specific outcome
When considering how and why to provoke, remember that provocation doesn’t usually lead to a direct cause-and-effect change, right here, right now. When you are provoking, you aren’t tied to a specific outcome. You’re taking a stand–and you aren’t always aware of the consequences.