Clarity First Newsletter,
August 9, 2019

“Nowadays everybody wants to become a leader. No one wants to become a servant. In reality, the world is badly in need of servants, not leaders. A real servant is a real leader.” – Amma

Clarity First

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

When the going gets tough I turn to Amma, the Hindu saint whose singular message is that only unconditional service and love for each other, and nature will relieve the world’s suffering. And boy oh boy, this week the going got really tough.

Amma says: “Instead of thinking, ‘What I can take?’ we should think, ‘What can I give?’ We must perform every action with joy and derive bliss from our work. How is this possible? We gain the real fruits of labor when the intellect and heart come together. It is not tiring for a mother to look after her baby, whereas it is for a nanny. It is not action in itself, but the attitude behind that gives us happiness or sorrow. Whatever we do, we should also think about what we can give others, instead of thinking only about what we can gain from it. This is Karma Yoga.”

Happy Friday.


We do not just prefer healthy relationships; we need them.

“neomi & zoe” by ilan sharif is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

“The foremost pillar of happiness is a sense of belonging and purpose. Cultures that are more communal are more mentally healthy as a whole. People who are alone often die earlier and get sicker before they do.”

“…Connection is so important, but it is so often overlooked and there are few resources available to teach people how to foster real connection in their lives. But there are a few essential ideas that can help….”

Article: Connection Is a Core Human Need, But We Are Terrible at It

Architecture, Culture

“There are not two sides defined by a wall. This is one landscape, divided.”

“What is a border? It’s a line on a map, a place where cultures mix and merge in beautiful, sometimes violent and occasionally ridiculous ways. And a border wall? An overly simplistic response to that complexity, says architect Ronald Rael. In a moving, visual talk, Rael reimagines the physical barrier that divides the United States and Mexico — sharing satirical, serious works of art inspired by the borderlands and showing us the border we don’t see in the news. ‘There are not two sides defined by a wall. This is one landscape, divided,’ Rael says.”

Book: Borderwall as Architecture. A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary
TED Talk: An Architect’s Subversive Reimagining of the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall

Design Thinking

Tim Brown: “Redesign democracy? No problem!”

In his 2009 bestseller, Change by Design, IDEO president and CEO, Tim Brown, with IDEO fellow, Barry Katz, evangelized design thinking to the business world. In an updated edition, to be published in March, they make the case that the practice can scale up to tackle even society’s most intractable ‘wicked problems.’ They’ve foreshadowed the new edition in an article in Fortune.

“Design thinkers have a responsibility to understand the outcomes they are designing for. This is a moment for ‘the visible hand’ of design to make intentional choices about how we wish technology to serve humanity.

“What are the problems to which designers, in partnership with the broader population of design thinkers, should be directing our energies? As we dive deeper into the 21st century, it becomes clearer that the majority of our societal systems are no longer fit for their purposes. They were designed to meet the requirements of the first machine age and have remained essentially unchanged since the 19th and early 20th centuries. What might be the impact if we can successfully apply our design-thinking skills to today’s truly ‘wicked problems’?

“Through the lens of IDEO’s project work over the past decade, we can identify a cluster of dilemmas for which design has begun to chart promising solutions, even at this vast and open-ended scale.”

Article: How Great Design Could Fix the World’s ‘Wicked Problems’

Corporate Responsibility, Ethical Business

Online art marketplace Artfinder has become the first art business to become a B Corporation

“London-based start-up Artfinder was launched in 2010 to open up the art market, making it friendlier and less exclusive, as well as helping artists to make a viable career from their work. Its platform allows creatives to sell pieces direct, making for a wider customer base free from the overheads of IRL galleries, and more affordable prices for buyers. The company has run a number of campaigns challenging sexism in the art world, including one which demanded that major institutions address the unequal gender split of the artists in their collections.”

Article: Artfinder Becomes The Art World’s First B Corporation for Ethical Business Practices

Advertising, Positioning

Students try to help Harley-Davidson wake up to the fact that women like to ride, too.


Participants in my DIY Brand Camp have heard me cite Tom Peters’ assertion that Harley-Davidson does not sell motorcycles. He quotes a Harley executive: “What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.”

While that positioning strategy worked for decades, it completely ignored the fact that women want to feel independent and in control, too, and it completely missed the younger audience that once defined the brand.

So, it’s very interesting to see this student campaign for the brand. But to me the students have missed the mark, too. The three ads in the series pigeonhole women as interested primarily in yoga, hair-dos and skin treatments. Ouch.

Article: Hardcore Self Care

Advertising, Creative Process

Chase says that ads created by machine learning performed better than ads written by humans.

“Chase” by Michael_Lehet is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

“Chase is getting more creative with its marketing language—by tapping machines to write it. The bank announced Tuesday it has signed a five-year deal with Persado, a New York-based company that applies artificial intelligence to marketing creative. Chase began testing a pilot relationship with Persado three years ago, by using the tool for its card and mortgage businesses. That relationship has now expanded across the financial giant’s platforms.”

Article: Chase Commits to Ai After Machines Outperform Humans in Copywriting Trials

Social Media, Politics

If you’ve had it up to here with political posts and discussions on social platforms, you are not alone.

“A recent Pew survey of U.S. adults found that 46% of social media users feel “worn out” by the number of political posts and discussions they encounter on social networks, up nine percentage points from the last time Pew asked the same question, during the summer of 2016.” The survey reveals that just 15% enjoy this type of content.

Article: Social Media Users Are Just Plain ‘Worn Out’ by Political Posts and Discussions

Clarity news

There is just one week left to get the Early Bird discount to the the Fall ’19 Pioneer Valley offering of the DIY Brand Camp. 

A reminder that I am donating all proceeds from this workshop to the Conway School of Landscape Design.

This cohort is shaping up to be a fantastic group of ecological designers, green builders, architects, creative innovators, start-ups, arts organizations and socially-minded non-profits.

I hope to see you at Smith College on September 10.


Last month I told you about the 33rd annual Green River Festival right here in Greenfield. While the show was headlined by artists like Lucinda Williams, Angelique Kidjo, and Rhiannon Giddens, this three day, five stage (including a kid stage) festival is always a great way to learn about artists that haven’t yet crossed your radar.

This year for me one of the standouts in this latter category was Spanglish Fly, a big band from NYC. I’ll let the program guide tell the story:

“Spanglish Fly specializes in boogaloo, the music that originated in the Spanish Harlem music scene in the mid-sixties. Combining Afro-Cuban rhythms with American soul and English lyrics boogaloo was an easy Latin music on-ramp for gringos and super danceable for everybody. Ten years ago Spanglish Fly in NYC decided to revive boogaloo and expand its possibilities. This 11-piece band features double-lead vocalists and great tunes like their bolero/salsa cover of Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good/ Chica Mala Mambo.”

This is a 30 minute live in the studio concert they recorded last year in support of their album Aye Que Boogaloo!

Besides the band’s original songs, there is only one that is post-1970, and that is a cover of Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good. I love a good cover and this is a truly great one.

Image of the Week

The image of the week is named “Woman on a Bridge #1 of 5: Tar Beach” (1988), by Faith Ringgold (1988), acrylic on canvas with fabric border.

“Ringgold’s “story quilts” — painted on canvas with colorful fabric borders — are a vibrant celebration of everyday African American life. “Woman on a Bridge #1 of 5: Tar Beach” (1988), which the artist later turned into a children’s book, is an ode to the summer nights she spent on a rooftop in Harlem as a child, gazing up at the star-studded sky. Other quilts depict a jazz band mid-song and a bustling graffitied subway platform.

“Quilt-making, for Ringgold, is an act of empowerment. In “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima” (1983), Ringgold recasts Aunt Jemima — the smiling face of a still-existing pancake and waffle mix brand based on the racist “mammy” stereotype — as a savvy businesswoman. In another, more personal one, “Change: Faith Ringgold’s More Than 100 Pounds Weight Loss Performance Story Quilt,” she discusses her complicated relationship with food and self-image. ‘In the 1970s food was a feminist issue,’ it reads, ‘and I was a fat feminist.’”

She’s got a show at the Serpentine Gallery in London until September 8.

Article: Faith Ringgold’s Painted and Sewn Survey of United States History

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