Clarity First Newsletter, February 17, 2107

Clarity First
A notebook about how we work and learn and love and live.

I am a child of the fifties, coming of age in the sixties, in the Berkshires. I was nourished with a stew of a vibrant middle class, safe streets, Norman Rockwell Post covers on the coffee table, church suppers, natural beauty, art films in Stockbridge, a Pulitzer Prize winning daily newspaper and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood. This is to say that I was born into a very privileged and advantaged vision of what America could be.

By the turn of the seventies I was acutely aware that this was only a vision, not a reality. But between youth group retreats, the promise of the Woodstock generation and inspiration from the Whole Earth Catalog, I also came to believe in the potential for transformation.

Four decades later that vision seems more challenged than ever. Not because it’s unrealistic, it’s eminently achievable for everyone, but because along the way I never internalized that democracy is a contact sport. Until now. It’s time to get in the game.

Like every element of the design process, listening is a learned skill. 

A really useful guide to listening to better understand those we serve.
Article: Learning to listen from

Listen first.

Social profit organizations are increasingly being asked to measure progress indicators and ultimate intended outcomes. But sometimes it’s easy to overlook a centrally important source of insight right in front of us – feedback from the people we ultimately seek to help.
Article: An Under-Tapped Source of Insight: Listening to the People We Seek to Help

Turning assessment upside down

Our introduction to assessment was typically in school where it exists primarily to judge us. It’s something that comes at the end of a process. It’s purpose isn’t learning but sorting the winners from the losers when all is already done. But what if we practiced formative assessment – assessment practices whose primary purpose is to improve outcomes rather than judge them?
Book Review: The Social Profit Handbook. The Essential Guide to Setting Goals, Assessing Outcomes, and Achieving Success for Mission-Driven Organizations

You learn amazing stuff while dropping down steep hills through sharp corners over big rocks.

The first year I started mountain bike riding, it was not unusual for me to do three complete endos (front of the bike down, back of the bike going forward over your head) per ride. Flip yourself over on a stone wall a few times, and you begin to ask why it’s happening. Get enough answers, and riding starts to look like a series of life lessons.
Article: 10 Lessons I Learned on a Mountain Bike

A really nice example of a clean and clear brand identity

Reducing your brand promise to a simple statement of how you help is tough work. Add the challenge of expressing that promise visually and as a positive web experience and the work becomes exponentially more difficult. So I was really impressed this week when colleague Marc Lesser shared his organization’s new website. I’m especially impressed with the elegantly straightforward way the landing page describes the benefits of using mindfulness as a leadership development tool, which is what they do.
Website: Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

Facebook is more than 2x as popular as the next most-popular social network.

The. future. is. social.
Article: 5 Under-the-Radar Social Media Studies to Make You A Smarter Marketer

Photos of this week’s Communicating Impact with Brand Clarity workshop

This week, in partnership with Suzanne Beck and the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, I conducted a new version of the DIY Brand Camp. Communicating Impact with Brand Clarity helps leaders of nonprofits use clarity about who they serve and how they help to improve both client and donor relationships. We built a great learning community together. Here’s some photos of two of the afternoon sessions.
Photo Essay: Photos of a Learning Community


Music has a unique ability to reveal commonality and resonance where one expects to find difference and discord. A favorite example is classical pianist Christopher O’Riley’s interpretations of the music of Radiohead. He is the host of the weekly NPR program From the Top. A regular part of the show features him playing preludes and miniatures by composers such as Debussy and Rachmaninoff as interstitials. With no fanfare he began supplementing the classics with his renderings of the rock band from Oxfordshire. The show immediately began getting emails from listeners inquiring “Who is this Mr. Head and where can I find more of his beautiful music?”. Start here: Everything in its right place.

Images of the week

The photos in the headers are of Flynn’s Stationery Store, NYC, circa 1930. They are credited to M. Baer Salov from Montclair, NJ. They’re from Drilling Down in a Vintage Photograph, Stories Inside a Photo, an article by Jim Linderman who, in the words of the New York Times, “mines the margins of pop culture” on his blog Dull Tool Dim Bulb.

What’s Clarity First?

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

If you get value from Clarity First and want to support it, please pass it on, hire me to help your organization get clear on who it serves and how you help, or simply think of me when you think about sharpening your communications pencil.

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