The Misfit Economy
The Misfit Economy

The Misfit Economy


Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips

Full Title

The Misfit Economy

Last Highlighted
October 21, 2015 11:56 PM (CDT)
Last Synced
June 8, 2023 1:13 PM (CDT)

Location 64:

What is legal is to consume produce from livestock that you own. So Hostetler and his family, and those who buy into his livestock by joining the Humpback Dairies association, are allowed to consume the milk produced by the camel herd.

Note: @alexaclay on Amish who hack camel milk laws

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Abdul-Wahab became the first person to establish a camel milk retail business in the United States.

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And yet, from these misfits, we can learn much about ingenuity, about determination, about the innate human itch to create, build, and exploit an opportunity.

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True misfits don’t just seek to provide a substitution for an existing service; they question whether the service is necessary in the first place.

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Don’t Go Back to School,

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non-profit Sage Bionetworks,

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These words offer insight into a kind of double consciousness—to borrow a phrase from W. E. B. DuBois—experienced by most misfits. Most have an acute sense of “us” and “them.” They are able to understand, parrot, and tap into the values of the formal system when needed, but also maintain a separate awareness.

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Note: Orbiting as steady state for the misfit

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The con artist also possesses a twisted morality. One identity fraudster we spoke with made it clear that he would never go after someone he thought “couldn’t take the hit.”

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Note: Omar

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He suggested that a certain naïveté, rebelliousness, and experimentalism were key to the movie’s success. “We were rebelling against a system that was permission-based.”

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Part of Weiler’s success was due to his ability to work the system.

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wrote the same letters but intentionally misaddressed them so they were sent to the wrong companies. Sony, for example, would get a letter intended for Barco. Within three days, he had received countless calls from these companies and offers of a free projector that he could use for the next few years.

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more creative license? Informality is a key driver of misfit innovation. Removing what strikes most of us as arbitrary, informality is ultimately about supporting people to rise above a job title and giving them permission to unleash their real talents.

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In the lexicon of the Misfit Economy, we define “hustle” as making something out of nothing. To move fast, to trade one thing for another, and to proactively create your own opportunities rather than waiting for opportunity to come your way.

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The hustle is about spotting an idea and just going for it. You don’t need massive resources, a perfect team, or the right environment. Much of innovation comes from constraint—from challenge and even scarcity.

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That same year, Hoke and her husband moved to Texas, where she founded Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP).

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Hoke invoked this spirit and moved to New York City, where she founded Defy Ventures.

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Baillie Aaron, a Harvard graduate, founded Venturing Out, a prison entrepreneurship program based in Boston.

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aptitude. Matthew C. Sonfield of Hofstra University conducted research1 that found prison inmates had a high ability for entrepreneurship.

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Often we think of hustle as being connected with stories of cowboy-style “Lone Ranger” entrepreneurship, built around the extraordinary efforts and endurance of one individual. But Rembert and Stuckert were hoping to catalyze community hustle; they didn’t want the community to sit passively and wait for economic recovery.

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Dorr is working through HERO with committed citizens to create economic opportunities. The economic experiments initiated by HERO include a local thrift store, a day-care center, a bike manufacturing shop, a pie shop, a jewelry production line, and even a pajama line (which is launching soon).

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While some argue that shanzhai is outright theft, others point to its ingenuity in not only imitating existing products but also enhancing and adapting technologies for local markets and lower-income consumers.

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Shanzhai is a modern-day solution for a historical Robin Hood dilemma: In the face of tyrannical rule, rob the rich to supply the poor.

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Shanzhai electric cars are being built and sold for as little as two to three thousand dollars in Shandong Province. By contrast, new electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and Toyota Prius cost upward of twenty thousand.

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Note: This is coming in the US as Nissan leafs Coke on to the market after leases at 9-11k per car. There could be a secondary mkt of electrics serving lower income clients that grows faster than the upmarket new cars did.

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Consider BYD, a local business that started out by producing and selling knockoff Toyota cars at half the price. Founded in 1995 with family money and beginning with only twenty employees (it now has more than ten thousand), BYD has moved beyond its shanzhai roots to become one of China’s most successful legitimate automobile manufacturers. In 2013, BYD became the tenth largest automobile brand, selling more than half a million passenger cars in China.1

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Copying provides a running start for small local businesses and start-ups because they are able to leverage a market that has already been established and proved by the original product. This creates a quick, reliable revenue stream. In other instances, such as BYD, shanzhai serves as a temporary strategy, providing a means of catching up with incumbent companies and transferring manufacturing skills.

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Note: Maybe this could be an alternative to becoming sustainable in existing mkt by selling to establishment?

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In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the mechanical designs of cotton mills and spinning machines were taken from England and smuggled into the United States by skilled machinists.2 As Doron S. Ben-Atar writes in Trade Secrets, “Lax enforcement of the intellectual property laws was the primary engine of the American economic miracle.”

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Note: Kinda blows your mind in a world of nclb, common core, right?

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Today counterfeit products are growing seven times faster than legal goods; they make up about 10 percent of the world’s trade.

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In 2011 Chinese authorities in Kunming, southwest China, discovered twenty-two fake Apple stores. The employees donned the now-famous blue T-shirt and white lanyard; some perhaps believed they were working for Apple.

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Note: What if 4.0 launch was for people to learn to copy the best stuff, BYD style en route to kicking financial ass later? In some ways the idea of people copying KIPP (KAPPA) in early years of their work was a good thing. How does this relate to open source v IP protection and other forms of rewarding innovators?

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The Berlin-based company Wimdu, for example, is an exact replica of the successful platform Airbnb, a peer-to-peer rental market that provides an alternative to hotels. Wimdu was built by reverse-engineering Airbnb’s functions and borrowing from the site’s look and feel. Illustrating the power of iteration over pure invention, Wimdu created in a matter of months what it had taken Airbnb four years to develop. By June 2011, the company had raised over $90 million.7

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Note: I think this is a great fallacy of the unicorn investor-centric world. Many unicorns will get beat up by copy cats, long after the VC has divested.

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This scenario invokes the notion of a collective unconscious or simultaneous invention. If an idea is “in the air” and capable of being thought of by many,

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Note: How might the 4.0 community play a role in this as a unit, as a subset of the larger community of people on adjacent possible frontier?

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In the energy sector, it is common for companies to pool risk by going in together on upstream projects (searching for underground or underwater crude oil and natural gas fields, drilling, and operating wells). Shell will develop a field with Exxon, and their relative shares of production are proportionate to their equity stake in the project. Shell and Exxon jointly own the oil and production company Aera Energy, for example, with a 52 percent and 48 percent stake, respectively.

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Note: Perhaps instead of selling into incumbent districts and schools, we could find those willing to fund this kind of exploratory work with members of our community?

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He explained: “Even where the misfits are successful innovators, they are usually bought out for a song by more sophisticated players.” The patent system, he continued, “almost entirely works for the benefit of large corporations.”

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Note: What's the analog in education? Is there one?

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Top economists at the St. Louis Federal Reserve published a paper in 2013 suggesting there is “no evidence” that patents improve productivity. They argue that patents can pose a threat to innovation.19 Their policy solution? Patents should be abolished altogether.

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As Jean-Phillippe Vergne, coauthor of The Pirate Organization, told us, “pirates emerge throughout history to challenge claims to monopolistic control.”

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When it comes to innovations that have a direct bearing on the public good, open licensing—like what the Brazilian government enabled—has become the preferred course.

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Note: How many EDU and EdTech investors are doing this? Is that a problem for us?

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Stephen Song, the founder of Village Telco,33 subscribes to copying as “innovation for the public good.” His company, which builds low-cost community telephone network hardware and software, aims to make starting a telephone company as easy as starting a blog.

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Note: Crushing on this idea right now

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Song and his team designed the phone networking technology—which allows a phone company to be set up in minutes anywhere in the world, without the need for mobile phone towers or landlines—but refused to patent it. Instead, they gave the design to a manufacturer, who in turn agreed to produce the hardware cheaply and stay open to further design iteration by others. By open-sourcing his technology, Song created what he calls “a fast track toward trust.” Village Telco now has a network of more than five hundred people around the world who contribute to its technology faster than it could on its own.

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Note: This is the vision for community catalyst and 4.0 community.

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Howard-Yana Shapiro

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He remembers the conversation in which he was granted permission lasting about five minutes: “I’d like to sequence the cocoa genome. I’ll need six to eight million dollars to do it. And I want to give it away and put it in the public domain.” And so it was. Shapiro didn’t stop there. Today he is working to sequence ninety-six orphan food crops. Orphan crops represent vital nutritional food crops for subsistence farmers across Africa, Asia, and Latin America: cowpeas and mung beans (legumes), amaranth, sorghum, pearl millet, and teff (cereal grains). In his words, “These are poor people’s crops; it doesn’t make sense to hold on to the intellectual property.” In addition to sequencing the crops, Shapiro is working with plant breeder networks in Africa to ensure that the crops can be distributed.

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Similarly, Chas Bountra, another misfit whom we met, is trying to change pharmaceutical R&D. With over two decades of experience at GlaxoSmithKline, Bountra heads up the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford University. He is working on creating pre-competitive R&D. Bountra is looking for investors and industry competitors to commit funds to develop new therapeutic targets. R&D budgets and targets are agreed upon and invested in; only when drugs reach Phase III trials will commercial sponsors be able to buy the drugs to bring them to market. Through this approach, Bountra hopes to bypass considerable R&D waste and redundancy.

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Much copycat behavior boils down to etiquette.

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Note: How does this relate to hospitality as a value?

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We asked Weinreich whether it upset him to see Six Degrees fade away, only to be replaced by other, wildly successful social networking sites. Did he resent Mark Zuckerberg and the success of Facebook? “Absolutely not,” Weinreich told us. “When people copy stuff that is contemporaneous, it is more upsetting than when they do it later.” So time and space make copying easier to take. He added: “It’s weird today to come up with an idea that nobody is doing.”

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“white hat” hacker, helping to protect and strengthen government networks. His job entailed attacking government systems, finding vulnerabilities, and fixing them.

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Note: What if 4.0was a white hat hacker

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the Hacker Ethic, an informal, organically developed and agreed-upon manifesto that, in several iterations, still drives the hacker movement forward: • Access to computers—and anything that might teach you something about the way the world works—should be unlimited and total. • All information should be free. • Mistrust authority—promote decentralization. • Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position. • You can create art and beauty on a computer. • Computers can change your life for the better.

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Note: What would you keep or takeaway in an education version?

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From Sam Roberts, and from the members of Anonymous, we found that hackers fervently believe in taking things apart in order to understand them.

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Pirates hacked the establishment. Computer hackers like Sam Roberts study a system, take it apart to understand every component, carefully identify its weaknesses, and then use the knowledge to build something new and improved. The pirates hacked the mainstream merchant ship system, the establishment from which most of them had originated.

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“Pirates had a profound sense of community,” writes Marcus Rediker; “they showed a recurring willingness to join forces at sea and in port, even when the various crews were strangers to each other.”7

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The quartermaster was the most trusted member of the crew, but the most powerful office on the ship was the common council, a group composed of every single man on the ship. This council held an unrestricted right to depose both the captain and the quartermaster, with its decisions on all matters being sacrosanct.11 Meetings were held regularly to decide on such matters as division of provisions, or on whether to attack or let a target be. Every pirate on board had a say in almost every decision that could impact the enterprise. This reinvention of the hierarchy on merchant ships—this hack—meant that a crew was the real authority on a pirate ship.

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By hacking the established merchant ship system, pirates built crews that were passionate, diligent, innovative, and highly committed, even during times of intense battle, when the men had to risk their lives in the name of the expedition’s mission. Their governance structures managed to align the interests of these disparate groups of outlaws, ruffians, and rebels, turning them into cooperative and cohesive groups that were ruthlessly effective in their work, giving us one of history’s most arresting periods: the golden age of piracy.

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WHY HACK? Today the characteristics associated with hackers are informing expectations around a new culture of work. Hackers pioneered many principles of informality that have since come to infect mainstream work culture. These include: problem-based work, a culture of openness and transparency, reputational and peer-based accountability (instead of rigid hierarchies and managers), and the permission to act on new opportunities.

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A similar dynamic can be observed in the commercial world, where smaller players are adopting the hacker mind-set, acting decisively to take on bigger, better-resourced, and highly established competitors; in doing so, they are disrupting industry after industry. Airbnb is disrupting the mammoth hotel industry. Spotify—and the wider wave of companies helping consumers experience music rather than own it—is forcing the music industry to change its business model. Car-lending and -sharing firms like Zipcar are inducing the automobile industry to rethink itself, suggesting a shift from selling cars to making them available without ownership.

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Similarly, in an article for Harvard Business Review, Marc Goodman (formerly a police officer and counterterrorism consultant and now a cyber-risk and intelligence specialist) writes about the evolution of criminal organizations: “Modern organized crime has abandoned the top-heavy structure of dons, capos, and lieutenants made famous in The Godfather. Most of today’s gangs, along with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, are loosely affiliated cooperative networks—and are as likely to recruit website designers and hackers as they are thugs and enforcers.”

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Like computer hackers, the UX zealously adheres to the practice of logging every single project, activity, success, and failure into an ever-expanding database.

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The UX embodies the hacker mentality. They take on the establishment, not just to satisfy an urge to fix and improve but also for the betterment of society. Like the eighteenth-century pirates and modern computer hackers, they seek to do so by developing an intimate understanding of the system that they wish to improve so they can effectively rebuild it.

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Note: What would a UX for education look like? Could 4.0 play a role?

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Camouflage isn’t a strategy just for the devious but for those who may need their work to stay under the radar until they have the right buy-in and support.

Note: what forms of camo could we create for builders of future of school

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Similar to Florence Nightingale’s introduction of the nursing profession, this approach introduced a new category of worker into health systems: the indigenous worker who already had the access and trust of the local population.

Note: what if this happened in US? Could it?

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This kind of obsessive knowledge of the system you’re trying to fix is essential for any hacker. You need to understand the rules in order to know how to break them or pioneer something different.

Note: who is doing this in 4.0 community? on 4.0 team?

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Slutkin then developed a community role for “violence interrupters”: outreach workers called in to delicate situations where violence could occur, much like the community outreach workers he

Note: wat woul a bureaucracy interrupter look like? whwn wouldthey intervene?

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One violence interrupter Slutkin told us about was working with a group preparing for a revenge killing when he got a call about another conflict building nearby. He asked the first set of guys to go over and help him with the other group. He solicited their advice in getting the second group to calm down. He got their minds totally fixed on helping the second group—and forgetting about their own problems.

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teenager who was hiding out in the basement of his parents’ house in Chicago because a peer had told him that he would be killed if he went back to school. He hid in the basement for six months. His parents finally called a violence interrupter, who went into the school and called in a favor from the student who had issued the threat.

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percent and shootings by 44 percent in communities where it operates. The organization is also changing the norms around violence. In communities where Cure Violence has a presence, people are four times more likely to show little or no support for gun use.

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Slutkin told us that Cure Violence faced pushback from federal agencies, academia, law enforcement, prison systems, and competitors working on violence reduction. Because Slutkin didn’t have

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Another big issue with the solution was a moralistic mind-set. “The idea that those who commit violence aren’t bad really disrupts people’s ideas. So many actors are addicted to this good-guy-versus-bad-guy script. And a lot of the press is in the same realm.”

Note: who are the good and bad guys in education? hmw transcend?

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Slutkin is trying to get his solution adopted by local governments, police forces, and community outreach networks. But Cure Violence doesn’t scale through strict replication. Rather, the organization builds partnerships with city groups and other organizations to transfer their methods. They apply more open-source principles for spreading their methods, and host training initiatives to share their learning.

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IMAGINE A TWELVE-YEAR-OLD ASKING: “WHAT if we didn’t have to go to school?” Okay, maybe it’s not so hard to imagine a twelve-year-old asking that question. But what if it were a philosophical query that provoked real change in the way people valued and structured education?

Note: hello!

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In 2011 Stephens founded UnCollege, giving himself the job title “chief educational deviant.”

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Rheingold told us, “We are in an era of extremely rapid change. What works today won’t work tomorrow. We are going to need misfits for society to find its way. Misfits who can point out tomorrow.”

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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.

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The Mars simulation is similar to many live-action role-playing games (known as LARPs). Though LARP is a misfit subculture often associated with nerds running around with swords in the woods, it is being used increasingly as an experimental artistic medium to explore alternative worlds.

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LARPers call it “bleeding” when what you feel or learn within a game moves into your everyday life.

Note: hmw make larps abt futureofschol?

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The name comes from the recognition that certain stories serve as “hieroglyphs” or symbols—like Isaac Asimov’s robot—that activate the minds of engineers, entrepreneurs, and scientists around how an innovation can come to be. In other words, the platform fosters an appetite among innovators to bring science fiction “hieroglyphs” into reality.

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At the moment, Rose feels that with many of the problems we go after, we look for solutions that pay off within a few years. “But so many of the problems we face—from climate change to environmental collapse—are not problems created overnight, nor problems that will take just a few years to fix.”

Note: how many years to fix edu? til new way of school?

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What makes La Barbe unique is that it is an entirely decentralized organization, without any one leader or spokeswoman.

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What can we learn from the festival spirit to inspire everyday life?

Note: which of our programs is festival, what is good, bd abt only festivals?

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Good for Nothing brings together innovators who want to “think, hack, and do” through “gigs,” one-to-two-day pop-up events organized around a spirit of informality.

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FOR GIB BULLOCH, A CONSULTANT at Accenture, volunteering

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were only

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For Fernandez, the transition was possible because the Kings had always maintained a kind of resistance identity. They just needed to reclaim and celebrate this aspect. Fernandez wanted to show that one of the deadliest street gangs was also human. Like many corporations, many gangs in the United States had become Goliath-style organizations. They were becoming undone by their size. The Latin Kings’ unprecedented growth in the nineties brought internal divisions and strife. In corporations, these growing pains result in passive-aggressive emails, firings and redundancies, or frustrated phone calls; in a street organization, such instability is met by internal purging. Latin King members who were perceived as lacking loyalty were sentenced to execution by King Blood.

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For Fernandez, humanizing an organization like the Kings brought a lot of resistance, both internally as well as from the outside world, where many didn’t see the reforms as made in good faith.

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To differentiate himself from the top-down, violent, and terrorizing leadership of his predecessor, Fernandez made sure not to tell people what to do but to hear out the perspectives of different boroughs. His ability to take in the opinions of the Latin Kings who weren’t in high-up positions meant there was less resistance when the time came to make a switch in strategy. Everyone felt they knew the origin or source of Fernandez’s thinking. For Fernandez, this strategy was partially self-motivated.

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Many on the outside, notably the FBI, accused the Kings of being “a vicious gang with a PR campaign.”

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In the field of education, a group of emerging thinkers called Wisdom Hackers has come together to see how to build up a community for peer-to-peer philosophy. The aim is to build an informal collective, much like the structure of Anonymous or a loose guild or entourage, to enable individuals to carve out space to wrestle with big questions.

Note: We gotta get into this group!