Clarity First Newsletter,
April 3, 2020

“Hope remains, only in the most difficult task of all: to reconsider everything from the ground up, so as to shape a living society inside a dying one.” – Albert Camus

Clarity First

A notebook about how we work, and learn, and love and live.

While very little is sure, one thing is apparent. This health crisis has revealed in glaring relief how and why shareholder capitalism, one that rewards a select few, is a failed experiment. A stakeholder capitalism, one that includes and empowers everyone equally, seems like such a natural evolutionary step.

I’m not naive. I recognize that the world lurched to the far right after the 1918 pandemic. But this isn’t then. The whole world is changing faster than anyone could have imagined just 30 days ago. Just maybe this pandemic will act as the wake-up call we sorely need. Happy Friday.


History has a way of repeating itself, and it is is inexcusable not to learn from the past.

Last week Ryan Holiday posted an article that puts our current situation in perspective. He describes the Antonine Plague of 165 CE, “a global pandemic with a mortality rate of between 2-3%, which began with flu-like symptoms until it escalated and became gruesome and painfully fatal. Millions were infected. Between 10 and 18 million people eventually died.”

He notices the parallels. “It shouldn’t surprise us that an ancient pestilence—one that spanned the entire reign of Marcus Aurelius—feels so, well, modern…This pattern of disease is nauseatingly familiar. It’s a pattern that has repeated itself like a fractal across history. Indeed, we could be talking about the Bubonic Plague (aka the Black Death), the Spanish Flu of 1918, or the cholera pandemics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, just as easily as we are talking about the Antonine Plague and thinking about the coronavirus pandemic that is spreading across the globe. As Marcus would say, all we’d have to do is change a few dates and names.”

And he notices, though doesn’t specifically name, the stark differences between how our president is responding to the challenge. “Like all great heroes, Aurelius surprised everyone by rising to the occasion. He had no ego, and had a keen eye for surrounding himself with brilliant public servants. As his biographer Frank McLynn explained, the emperor’s ‘shrewd and careful personnel selection’ is worthy of study by any person in any position of leadership. He searched for and brought in the best. He broke the mold and filled his staff with talent, not aristocrats or cronies. He actually listened to advice. He empowered people to make decisions. He hired Galen, the most famous physician and polymath of antiquity, to lead medical lectures and anatomy demonstrations, wanting to elevate “the intellectual tone” of his court. It was Galen who he empowered to lead the efforts to combat the plague, the smartest medical mind of his time.”

Article: When the System Breaks Down, Leaders Stand Up

Futures Thinking

Futurists and sci-fi writers look ahead to how the coronavirus could reshape everyday life

People strolled through the Arcade Building in Coolidge Corner. Most of the businesses inside were closed last week.LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF

“The world has never felt quite this much like a dystopian science-fiction movie with an overheated, overwritten plot. So how do you get a view that extends beyond the latest twist in the coronavirus crisis?

“Scott Kirsner did two things. First, he sought input from business people on Twitter . ‘In your business’s current planning’, he asked: ‘When do you expect the crisis will have subsided?’ 78 percent of the respondents said they’re betting on about six months — by roughly September. That number was split evenly between people who are expecting their companies to be returning to some kind of even keel by June, and those looking to September, instead. (The remaining 22 percent expected it to last until December, or even into 2021.)

“Then, I took that September timeframe and asked a handful of business futurists and science-fiction writers what they expect the world to be like then.”

Article: It Actually May Be The End Of The World As We Know It

Civic Health

What will become of civic life during Covid-19?

“There are so many unknowns: precisely how this disease will spread, the impact of social distancing, and how to really tap into our individual humanity for the greater good of society. Fear and anxiety can stoke the worst in humanity. But we need to tap into our empathy, compassion, and humility. We each need to lead by example in our home, families, workplace, and community. It will be an opportunity for the social sector to show by example and demonstrate leadership. Now is the movement to establish new, more inclusive norms.

“One of the strange features of this precarious moment is that loving thy neighbor as thyself means avoiding your neighbors in person. But if we act now to help each other weather the crisis ahead—not only as health professionals and patients, but as community members and neighbors—we can emerge from social isolation civically stronger.”

Article: Civic Health and Social Distancing

Learning, Collective Intelligence

How our collective intelligence has helped us to evolve and prosper

“Humans are a puzzling species. On the one hand, we struggle to survive on our own in the wild, often failing to overcome even basic challenges, like obtaining food, building shelters, or avoiding predators. On the other hand, human groups have produced ingenious technologies, sophisticated languages, and complex institutions that have permitted us to successfully expand into a vast range of diverse environments. What has enabled us to dominate the globe, more than any other species, while remaining virtually helpless as lone individuals? This book shows that the secret of our success lies not in our innate intelligence, but in our collective brains—on the ability of human groups to socially interconnect and learn from one another over generations.”

Abstract: The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter


Here are some things you can do during lean times to keep your business alive.

“As tempted as you may be to slow or even cut your marketing during uncertain times, it’s actually recommended that you do the opposite. You must work hard to remain top of mind in order to continue to reach, convince, and convert your customers, and during times of famine, that requires additional effort.”

Article: Why (and How) You Should Maintain Instead of Cutting Marketing During Uncertain Times

Just For Fun

This is one of the most amazing Rube Goldberg set-ups I’ve ever seen. A completely delightful waste of time.

Video: How to Pass the Salt While Maintaining Proper Social Distance

Advertising, Social Messaging

Short ad aims to curb coronavirus-related xenophobia, but its message is universal.

“The symptoms of coronavirus to watch out for are fever, cough, shortness of breath, and an increase in xenophobia. As the virus has spread, so too have incidents of racism against Asians, and a rise in people avoiding Chinese restaurants and Asian-owned businesses.

“In an effort to raise awareness and push back, the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice worked with Toronto-based agency The Hive on “Stop The Spread,” a campaign that includes handing out bottles of branded hand sanitizer on the streets of Toronto. Sure, the sanitizer keeps your hands clean, but it’s really aimed at getting people to consider their actions and attitude toward the Asian community.”

Article: How to Stop the Spread of Racism During the COVID-19 Coronavirus Outbreak


How to smell a tree

A lot of my friends and colleagues tell me that they are trading commuting time with time in nature. David Haskell suggests that to really experience our place in the natural world we should do more than just look at and listen to the trees. He says that we should stop and smell them, too. He offers five guided practices that yield a “wordless sensory experience, a connection that unites human bodies and consciousness to plants’ inner worlds”. If this suggestion conjures images of people literally hugging trees, relax. He starts right in your kitchen: “Treat your nose to an inventory of the trees in your home. Lift a cup of black tea to your nose. Camellia leaves, redolent of East Asia mountains. Dig your thumb into orange peel. Sharp oils, deterrents for hungry inspects. Unscrew the cinnamon jar. Whose hands peeled this bark from the coppiced tree?”.

“Aroma is the primary language of trees. They talk with molecules, conspiring with one another, beckoning fungi, scolding insects, and whispering to microbes. Aroma is also our primal tongue, a direct link to memory and emotion, an inheritance from the communicative networks that sustained the first animal cells. The receptors in our nasal passages are ready to listen. We have over one hundred different olfactory receptors, able to discern at least ten thousand odors. The English language is too meager to categorize this multiplicity, but our bodies know how to respond. Noses, though, need the help of conscious intention to put them in the right place.”

Article: The Aromas of Trees: Five Practices


April is National Poetry Month, so I’m going to share a poem every week of the month. This one was written by Lynn Ungar on the 11th of last month, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. She calls it Pandemic.

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath —
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.


File this under “I needed that.” As musicians around the world are quarantined to their
own homes, they are reaching out to each other to play together. A couple of weeks ago, members of the Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest “got together” to record Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the popular movement from his Ninth Symphony. In releasing it, they said “We’re adjusting to a new reality and we’ll have to find solutions in order to support each other. Creative forces help us, let’s think outside of the box and use innovation to keep our connection and make it work, together. Because if we do it together, we’ll succeed.”

One viewer said about the experience of watching this short film:
“Expected: a melody we’ve all heard many times
Expected: the slow build as each musician comes in
Unexpected: all of a sudden being overwhelmed by the beauty of it all”

Video: Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest, From Us to You


Image of the week

“While it predates the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying social distancing by several years, José Manuel Ballester’s Concealed Spaces project reimagines iconic works of art without the people in them (like what’s happening to our public spaces right now).”

Article: Iconic Art & Design Reimagined for the Social Distancing Era


What’s Clarity First?

If you’re new to Clarity First, it’s the weekly newsletter by me, Mitch Anthony. I help people use their brand – their purpose, values, and stories – as a pedagogy and toolbox for transformation. Learn more.

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