Invention or Destruction? Making Sense of the “Grey” Economy: A Political Salon with Richard Tyson

This event is by invitation only.

The “grey sector” of emergent, informal economies – the Ubers, knock-off purses, pirated movies, favelas, saving circles, food trucks and gypsy cabs of the world – is now estimated at $10 trillion globally. Faster, cheaper, more local, and more resilient than the top-down systems, informality creates incentives for creativity. Open source, self-organized disaster responses like Occupy Sandy and Ushahidi have outperformed traditional aid operations. The technology-based do-it-yourself Maker movement challenges traditional brands by encouraging people to build their own. Juxtaposed against these examples of innovation, however, is the dark side of informality: terrorism, black markets, cartels, human trafficking, and shadow banking. And not everyone welcomes the grey sector and the surging of the sharing economy: witness the fining of New Yorkers renting out their apartments via the AirBNB informal listing service.

If these emergent systems generate as much good as evil, how are we to make political sense of it? And how do we correspondingly make sense of the personal technologies now enabling it? Can we harness the endless invention and improvisation of informal systems while protecting against the pitfalls? Or does the triumph of informality simply represent the failure of the formal-as-we-know-it? Join design strategist Richard Tyson of the MakerBot Foundation and Greg Lindsay of WPI’s Emergent Cities Project for a Political Salon exploring the greyest elements of the grey sector.


Richard Tyson is the Executive Director of the MakerBot Foundation, a non-profit that helps leaders, teachers, organizations, and communities capitalize on the power of invention. Throughout his career, Richard has advised public and private enterprises on building adaptive capacities—learning, innovation, and social engagement—that foster growth and resilience from disruptive social, economic, and technological change. Richard has previously held positions at Caerus Associates, Helsinki Group, and Monitor/Doblin. He is founder and co-director of the Sensible Systems Institute at SVA's Interaction Design MFA program, on the Advisory Board of UN OCHA’s Data Analysis Project, and has worked with governments, NGOs, and enterprises around the world in the US, Asia, Africa, The Middle East, and Europe.


World Policy Institute Senior Fellow Greg Lindsay is co-author of the international bestseller Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, a critically acclaimed study of globalization and mega-urbanization. He is a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a contributing writer for Fast Company, an affiliate researcher at the New England Complex Systems Institute, and a frequent commentator on cities, technology, and mobility. Greg is a two-time Jeopardy! champion (and the only human to go undefeated against IBM’s Watson). Follow him on twitter @Greg_Lindsay.

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