Clarity First Newsletter,
December 11, 2020

“Hope is a renewable option:
If you run out of it at the end of the day, you get to start over in the morning.”

– Barbara Kingsolver

Clarity First

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

This week my biggest news is that our son Devan and his partner Esther are expecting a baby girl in May. Our whole family is beaming. Here’s a snapshot of the reveal party last week. That’s Devan and Esther in the upper left. Debbie and I are in the upper right, our son Sayre and his partner Marcy are in the lower left, and our daughter Mia and her partner Brenden close the circle.

Happy Friday.

Come Together

How rural economic development can help us to both close the left/right divide and realize the American dream

This week two articles came across my desk that completely supported each other. That is, they told each other’s stories.

The first is about the work of political scientist Katherine Cramer. She makes a well-founded case that what she calls ‘rural resentment’ plays a major role in dividing America against itself.

“My research has involved inviting myself into the conversations of people in neighborhood gathering places,” she says, “like diners and gas stations and such, in more rural communities in Wisconsin. After about a year of doing that back in 2007–2008, it became pretty clear that, regardless of where I was in the state, there was this sense of people feeling like they weren’t getting their share of political power. ‘All the decisions were made in Madison, or Milwaukee,’ they were saying, ‘they’re made by people in cities. And we don’t get a say in all these regulations that are imposed upon us.’ They were also feeling like they weren’t getting their fair share of resources. In their minds, the good jobs and all the wealth are in the cities. And city people are just kind of oblivious to this, they don’t understand how good they have it. They were also saying, ‘We don’t get our fair share of respect, because the people making the decisions don’t understand our lives, don’t understand the challenges that we face. And really just don’t even like us. They think we’re racist, and sexist, and homophobic, Islamophobic.’ They weren’t using those terms, but that was kind of the sentiment they were conveying.”

Article: Why Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide Might Save Our Lives

The second article is a new report by the Brookings Institution that also names these “outdated, inaccurate images of rural America”, but then goes on to hold up case studies of communities that are realizing both growth and equity in increasingly diverse and dynamic rural areas. “Using in-depth, on-the-ground research in three rural communities across the U.S., the following briefs highlight place-based strategies as well as the policy and capacity-building supports needed to sustain and scale them in the years to come.”

Report: Building Resilient Rural Places: Strategies from Local Leaders to Strengthen Rural Assets, Diversity, and Dynamism

Collaboration, Cooperation

The sharing survive, even thrive.

The six co-founders of Derby Swap Shop, an online skill-swapping marketplace that launched May 4.

“Though a myriad of unknowns still surrounds the coronavirus, what is known is this: Working together has helped many small business owners weather this unparalleled time. Small businesses across a variety of industries are sharing leads, offering advice and encouragement, swapping skills, cross-promoting each other’s work, and, most importantly, building a sense of community among peers in place of competition. What they’ve learned over the past several months offers a blueprint for a more resilient, more collaborative small business ecosystem — even in a post-pandemic world.”

Article: Lessons for Small Business Collaborations Born from the Pandemic

Open Source, Innovation

History demonstrates that the kinds of organizational structures that foster innovation are open, communal, and humble. 

This is a great three-part extended review of the book How Innovation Works by Matt Ridley. Ron McFarland summarizes Ridley’s characterization of innovation: it’s gradual, incremental, and collective, and involves extensive collaboration between parties. “This, I argue, is why open organization principles are so important and play a major role in fostering innovation.”

In part two of the series, he reviews Ridley’s assessment of the environments where innovation and discovery thrive, and demonstrates some essential characteristics of the innovation process. Finally, he brings these ideas alive by recounting case studies of innovative discoveries throughout history.

Book Review: How Innovation Works: Serendipity, Energy and the Saving of Time

Team Building, Organizational Health

COVID-19 has forced changes in the way people work — and created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to increase engagement and productivity.

“Study after study shows that a superior employee experience confers business benefits, just as an excellent customer experience does. Attraction, retention, engagement, productivity, and profit all rise as employee experience improves. In the Thrive XM Index, which ranks companies by “employee well-being,” companies that placed in the top 10 percent outperformed peers in the Fortune 500 by EBITDA margin and return on equity in the second quarter of 2020.

“Designing the employee experience goes beyond figuring out how to make remote work possible and palatable or how to make work sites safer. So how do company leaders create the magic? The design-thinking mindset and tool kit that produce better customer experience can do the same for employees.”

Article: Why You Should Apply Design Thinking to the Employee Experience


Aspiration is not just about showing off.

Amazon describes The Business of Aspiration by Ana Andjelic this way:
“In the traditional economy, consumers signaled their status through collecting commodities, Instagram followers, airline miles, and busy back-to-back schedules. By contrast, in the aspirational economy, consumers increasingly convey status through collecting knowledge, taste, micro-communities, and influence. This new capital changes the way businesses and entire markets operate, and yet the modern aspirational economy is still an under-explored area in business and culture. The Business of Aspiration changes that.”

While I don’t agree that a brand is primarily about the user signaling status, I do find Andjelic’s methodology helpful in understanding the underlying architecture of my own definition of a brand, as a way for an organization or company to signal to their end users how they serve them and their needs.

As an example, consider this recent blog post. In it she identifies signals to look for when predicting a brand’s success by evaluating a sample of consumer brands according to the set of criteria grouped into four segments: culture, consumer, category, and company.

Article: The Brand Checklist

Collective Intelligence, Network Thinking

Principles to support each other in leveraging the promise of networks

As he does so well, Curtis Ogden is thinking deeper about how networks work, and how we can use them to help how we work, and learn, and love and live.

“I am struck by how the network building and weaving field has really mushroomed over the past several years, and with it, so much learning around approaches, structures, roles, strategy, etc. I regularly hear myself say that there is no one right way to go about ‘net work’ for change (which is why I regularly reference this compendium of thoughts on networks – A Network Way of Working’). That said, I have found that “principles” (for lack of a better word) for network thinking and action have been helpful in a number of different contexts to support people in finding ways to leverage the promise of networks (or network effects).”

Article: Thinking Like a Network 3.0

Visual Identity, Social Messaging

The evolution of Biden’s visual language is a glimpse of where political visual identity is heading.

“It’s not unusual for design elements used by winning politicians to pop up in creative assets for other campaigns. After Barack Obama’s 2008 win, his campaign’s typeface Gotham became popular in politics, and this year, a number of congressional candidates ran using logos inspired by those of President Donald Trump and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

Article: Joe Biden’s Branding Was Both Traditional and Trippy, and It Looks Like the Future of Politics

Colliding Work, Personal Values Underscores Need for Purpose-Led Brand Culture

This Week Google Released its Top Trending Searches of 2020

How Our Data Encodes Systematic Racism

2020 Is the Decade of Culture-First Organizations


I’ve told you before that I am a huge fan of good covers. I’ve also told you before how blown away I am by the guitarist Joshua Lee Turner. Since the age of 15 he has been posting on YouTube, working solo and with an ever-expanding roster of great musicians to cover artists as diverse as Patsy Cline, and the Rolling Stones. He’s also released a lot of his own material. I can spend whole evenings flitting about his YouTube channel. Not only is he a monster guitar player, he is also a master engineer who knows how to turn his bedroom into an LA studio, and a sensitive producer who knows how to coax the best from the players in the room.

But I’ve never told you that I am also a serious fan of Christmas music. For years I’ve been building a massive collection of holiday songs by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to the Ramones. So, this year I was thrilled to see that just in time to get us all in the Yuletide spirit, Joshua has released a collection of the ultimate cover songs, Christmas songs.

One of Joshua’s favorite musical partners is singer Carson McKee. They regularly appear together as the Other Ones, and as contributors to Rene del Cid. In this reading of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Carson effortlessly channels the spirit of beat jazz singers.

In this version of White Christmas Joshua and Carson invited two more voices and instrumentalists to completely nail the sound of the Drifters.

Album: Joshua Lee Turner and Friends, Christmas Songs


Image of the Week

The image of the week is by photographer Hannah Reyes Morales. “It is of young eagle hunters as they prepare to compete in the Golden Eagle Festival in Bayan-Ölgii, Mongolia. ‘While I will always be an outsider, coming back to a place often has felt the most satisfying way to travel for me, instead of seeing a new country all the time,’ says the artist. ‘Coming back again and again has meant that I can make deeper connections and [have] more understanding.’”

I’ll let the image’s incongruence speak for itself.

Article: National Geographic’s Best Travel Photos of 2020


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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