Clarity First Newsletter, February 22, 2019


Clarity First

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

When I was a young person I was deeply inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog. It was in that “Catalog of Ideas” that I learned of Bucky Fuller’s advice and admonition to those looking for career guidance: “If you don’t know what to do,” he said, “look around and notice what needs to be done. Then do that.” I looked around and noticed that so far this experiment called humanity was failing at cooperation, collaboration and collective learning. But I also saw exhilarating, exciting examples of people learning to embrace a new kind global citizenship that was built on these skills. So, I stepped onto that path.

Now, 40 years later it is obvious that learning to shift from the winner takes all paradigm that has dominated the history of our species is a very long game. But the enormity of the challenge is the reason to embrace it. Look away from the orange one, and the greed, and malfeasance he represents. Look instead to the millions and millions of people who are caring for each other, in myriad ways, all over the world. That’s where hope and the possibility are. And there is so much possibility. Happy Friday.

(I apologize for going dark last week. The letter was done Friday at noon, but as Debbie had not proofread it yet, I didn’t schedule it for mailing. And that day we ducked out early to xc-ski at Prospect Mountain. We were halfway there before I remembered that I had forgotten to hit the ’schedule’ button. Turning around would have meant forfeiting a sunset ski in the hills. It was a good exercise in letting go.)


Learning, Change and Transition
How to understand the conjunction of fierce aggression and cooperative behavior in humans.

“In his third book, The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution, (Richard Wrangham) deploys fascinating facts of natural history and genetics as he enters a debate staked out centuries ago by Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (among other philosophers), and still very much alive today: how to understand the conjunction of fierce aggression and cooperative behavior in humans. Why are we so much less violent day-to-day within our communities (in pretty much all cultures) than our closest primate relatives, chimpanzees, are within theirs? At the same time, how is it that human violence directed toward perceived enemy groups has been so destructive?”
Book Review: A Bold New Theory Proposes That Humans Tamed Themselves


Team Building, Organizational Health
Diverse voices make the clearest message.

“Marketing may be going through turbulent times, but the industry should consider that a gift according to Magnus Djaba, global president and UK CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi.”

But, he says, the industry’s biggest challenges have “got nothing to do with the proliferation of media channels. It’s got nothing to do with the challenges of ‘frenemies’ who are both media owners and content creators. It’s got nothing to do with the challenges of data.

“Reflecting on his own experience growing up on a London council estate to becoming head of one of the world’s biggest creative agencies, Djaba expressed genuine concern for the future of agencies given the ‘fundamental danger’ posed by the lack of socio-economic diversity.”
Article: The Lack of Socio-Economic Diversity in Marketing is a ‘Fundamental Danger’


Sexism, Organizational Health
Pixar’s first short film to be released online is one which cleverly depicts the often harsh reality felt by many women in a male-dominated workplace.

“How far is she willing to go to get the acceptance she yearns for, and in the end, is it worth it?”
Article: Pixar’s Eight Minute Film About Sexism in the Workplace Cleverly Highlights a Serious Reality


One-on-One Communication
Humble inquiry. The gentle art of asking and not telling

“Cocktail party goers, or spouses, or managers, can sense when they’ve unsuccessfully launched a conversation, or shut one down, or missed a need for a conversation at the right time. But they may not know what other route would have led to a more open, natural, respectful dialogue.

“There are some tactical approaches you can take to get there. Everyone has heard that open-ended questions are better than yes-no questions, for instance, but that golden rule doesn’t always solve the problem. And cultural programming can explain why.”
Article: The Life-Changing Art of Asking Instead of Telling


Typography, Visual Identity
An iconic typeface is now available to all

“If you’ve ever been to a National Park, chances are you’ve come across signage with the same distinctive lettering. The type, which features rounded edges carved into wood in all caps, has become an icon of the National Parks system.

“But it turns out that this text isn’t an actual typeface, as information designer Jeremy Shellhorn discovered when he was working as designer-in-residence at Rocky Mountain National Park in 2013…(He) was redesigning the park’s newspaper and wanted to include the type found on National Park signs. But he soon discovered there was no digital typeface because the letters are simply formed with a CNC router in the park’s sign shop, chiseled into wood. The shape of the letters were determined by the size of the router bit.”

“So, he and his students created a digital typeface using rubbings from the signs themselves. The new face is now available for anyone to download for free in four weights: light, regular, heavy, and outline.”
Article: The National Parks’ Iconic Typeface Has Never Been Digitized–Until Now.


Design Process, Color
What does color mean across the world, and what is the history behind these perceptions?

New Border by Frank Schroeder

“Often we don’t realize just how much our perceptions of art, advertising or objects is influenced by color. ‘Colors’ as we know them, are waves of varying frequency on the electromagnetic spectrum that are received by the ‘cone’ cells in our eyes and translated into images by our brains.

“Our perception of color isn’t just a scientific matter though; many centuries of use have changed the way we view colors and added many subconscious associations.

“Many artists have been aware of this, and intentionally use color to represent certain emotions or associations and influence how the viewer responds to a piece.

“Depending on your age, gender and nationality, your view of color is extremely subjective, and tied to many personal experiences.” This is a neat summary of the primary coors and the meanings various cultures have assigned to them.
Article: The Bias of Color


Advertising, Corporate Activism
River Island clothing brand explores the changing face of modern families as part of new ad campaign.

“The traditional nuclear family now represents less than one-third of families in the UK, while blended families, non-biological families, multi-ethnic families, same-sex parent families and single-person families have grown significantly. Despite this, the multi-faceted family is often overlooked in advertising.

“The campaign is thus an ode to diversity in family units and focuses on images which examine how the traditional nuclear family of yesteryears has transformed. Under the hashtag #ThisIsFamily, River Island seeks to redefine the family stereotype and display it in all its forms.”
Article: River Island Campaign Celebrates the Changing Face of Modern Families



The Turning Tables project is a series of occasional NPR radio stories that seek “to suggest alternatives to the traditional popular music canon, and to do more than that, too: to stimulate conversation about how hierarchies emerge and endure. This year, Turning the Tables considers how women and non-binary artists are shaping music in our moment, from the pop mainstream to the sinecures of jazz and contemporary classical music.”

Last September they broadcast an article on All Things Considered about Meg White, one-half of the White Stripes. While it was Jack White who is widely credited with being the talented one (he was featured on the cover of Uncut magazine just last month and a search for ‘Meg White was a lousy drummer’ will get you a lot of hits) writer Talia Schlanger says; “To question whether someone has earned the right to a seat at the table (or the kit, as it were) in a band that she has been half of since its inception, to play the songs that she originated, is ludicrous.

“But the question is significant, and even helpful, if it helps us understand the way many people see women in bands as accessories rather than authors. In the same 2005 Rolling Stone feature where Jack explains to journalist David Fricke how the foundation of The White Stripes is finding creativity through imposing limitations, Fricke later asks, ‘Are there times when Meg’s style of drumming is too limiting — that you can’t take a song as far as you’d like to go?’ Jack responds: ‘No. I never thought, “God, I wish Neil Peart was in this band.” It’s kind of funny: When people critique hip-hop, they’re scared to open up, for fear of being called racist. But they’re not scared to open up on female musicians, out of pure sexism.’”

“By all accounts, including his own, Jack White was the more outwardly emotionally demonstrative member of The White Stripes — the big personality foil to Meg’s straight man. See the end of any given live performance: Jack’s hair is drenched in sweat and he looks like he might crumple into a catharsis puddle; Meg, whose job was arguably the more athletic of the two, is bone dry and still exuding the same composed air as she did an hour earlier. But do not make the mistake of confusing Meg’s outward persona of nonchalance for a lack of tremendous musical emotion. On the drums, Meg White smashed out carnal, visceral, raw, sometimes funny and always urgent stories that told of the human experience. Maybe that’s the thumping feeling that penetrates our pores and anchors our attention when we listen to The White Stripes. Maybe that’s why we ever cared about the band in the first place.”
Article: Meg White Is The 21st Century’s Loudest Introvert

Article: Dave Grohl Raves About Meg White’s Drumming Style
Video: Meg White Plays Like John Bonham
Video: The White Stripes – Fell in Love With a Girl – The Letterman Show


Image of the Week

The image of the week is titled A Month Before College, by Thomas Holton, 2018. New York City’s nine predominantly Chinese neighborhoods are home to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia. Interior Lives, a show hung through March 24 at the Museum of the City of New York, features the work of three photographers who have spent years documenting the lives of Chinese New Yorkers.
Article: Interior Lives: Contemporary Photographs of Chinese New Yorkers


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