Clarity First Newsletter, December 30, 2016


I’m not accustomed to feeling so vulnerable over such a long period. I don’t feel like I’m walking toward January 20th as much I sense that date marching towards me. One thing is crystal clear, these aren’t usual times. The usual responses won’t work any more.

Maybe that’s part of the good news, we’re being forced to step back and consider the state of our state, how we got here and where we need to aim next.

Buried in that thought is the concept of “we”. Science says that we’re a learning species, and history suggests that we, the species, need to co-learn how to leave tribalism behind in favor of a much larger – globally large – understanding. Humans are a social species and social species do best when the most individuals can make a meaningful contribution.

So, while I am scared shitless in a way I’ve never known before, my Utopia Radar keeps pinging. For me, one of clearest pings I’m hearing is the response to this letter, Clarity First. From the start this weekly missive has met a really engaged readership. Many of you have gone out of your way to tell me how the letter serves you, and how you use what you learn from it. You affirm my notice that there are a whole lot of people who understand that what got us where we are is not going to get us where we need to go. And we’re willing to do the work.

At the end of this very challenging year it is really gratifying to publish this best-of-the-best issue of Clarity First, 2016. There is a lot of good news to share and a lot of new skills to learn, and apparently, quite a few people who want to be part of the solution.

Happy 2017. If I’m not walking toward where I want to go then I’ve given up. This newsletter provides me a way to explore a new emerging paradigm, one that aligns toward one species under one sun. And please keep commenting. Every letter is also published as a blog post. You can comment here at any time.

Happy new year. Thank you for sharing this learning journey with me.

– Mitch

Most-opened stories from 2016

Well, five months of 2016. Clarity First was launched in August. These stories are listed in the order of their popularity, starting with the most popular.

1. Here are a few positive things you can do right now  

Article: If You’re Overwhelmed By The Election, Here’s What You Can Do Now

2. Rules of thumb that make collaborative team work easier 

Jonathan Rosenberg leads the Google teams that developed Chrome and Android. When asked to share life experiences with students from his alma mater he compiled this list of rules of thumb. We especially like #1: Be a broken record. “When you think you’ve communicated something too much, you’re probably just beginning to get through, There is no such thing as too much communication”.

3. Inspiration from school kids   

When we believe in students, show them the practices and procedures of excellence, and then expect excellence in the form of presentation-grade work, they soar even more than we can imagine. That’s the theory that drives The Center for High Quality Student Work.

4. Rules for an art department that work for any department 

In the 50s and 60s, Sister Mary Corita Kent ran the art department at the Immaculate Heart College. The rules that guided that innovative program are relevant today for any organization committed to innovation, growth, and creativity.

5. Your life will change when you change your mind 

We love a good manifesto and that week we stumbled upon a great one.

Manifesto: The Motivated Mastery Manifesto. 

6. Email is rubbish as an internal communications tool.

Email was never designed to be a channel for many-to-many conversations, but that’s how we’re all using it. Here’s four email alternatives that groups are using to transform the way they get things done.

Article: Email is killing internal comms – here’s four alternatives.

7. Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions

Let’s stop blaming ourselves and each other. We’re really trying. Most problems are rooted in the unintended consequence of previous efforts to reach for change. Let’s stop blaming and stopping. Let’s start learning and moving faster. Great article that ties Peter Senge’s laws of system thinking to navigating a complex adaptive system like the education system.

Article: The 11 Laws of Systems Thinking

8. What business are you really in? 

Kodak famously ignored their understanding that they were in the memories, not the film business. Here’s a fun game that you can play at home to uncover what business you are really in.

Article: Ira’s “What Business Are You In?” Game

9. Business is personal. 

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, one didn’t take a political stance in business. After all, you may alienate a big percentage of your audience. That was then. This is now. The world isn’t so innocent anymore. Here’s what one company learned when they took a public stand about the “open embrace of racism by the Republican Party in this election”. It turns out that speaking the truth is very good for business.

Email Letter: Letter to America’s CEOs

10. Write a better email. Get quicker and higher-quality responses.

We’re all busy. Let’s stop wasting each other’s time by improving how we use email.

Article: How to Write Email with Military Precision.


Counting just clicks, Paolo Nutini is the Clarity First Artist of the Year. I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, soul music soothes troubled souls, and a lot of people are feeling troubled.

In that post I suggested that you start here. If you like that, then you’ll love his take on a song that Etta James made her own, I’d Rather Go Blind. Now that you’re in the mood, hook up the monitor and the good speakers and crank this rather incredible 90 minute show at the Roundhouse in London. All this and brains, too.

Image of the week

The images in the headers are two of Arne Svenson’s portraits of his New York neighbors taken through apartment windows. We featured them in Clarity First #1. To date these image are more popular than any other.

What’s Clarity First?

If you’re new to Clarity First, it’s the weekly newsletter by Clarity, the consultancy that helps mission-driven companies use their brand – their purpose, values, and stories – as powerful tools for transformation. Learn more.

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