Clarity First Newsletter,
July 3, 2020

“I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 1963

Clarity First

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

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, the day that we celebrate the birth of American independence. It was on July 4, 1776 that delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, a document drafted by Thomas Jefferson.  A central premise of that document is that all men are created equal. This year a deadly pandemic — one that disproportionally attacks people of color and low income people — and growing acceptance that systemic racism is a very real part of our society, makes it starkly apparent that this premise is still largely aspirational.

In 1775 Thomas Paine wrote a manifesto called Common Sense. It is recognized as the first public work to advocate for independence from the British. In it he said: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” His words ring truer today than 245 years ago. But now our work isn’t to escape the tyranny of a foreign rule, but instead to overthrow the oppression of inequality and social injustice that is still endemic in our democracy.

“The price of liberty is something more than eternal vigilance. There must also be eternal advance. We can save the rights we have inherited from our ancestors only by winning new ones to bequeath our children.” – Henry Demarest Lloyd, The Divinity of Humanity, 1894

Happy Friday. Happy Independence Day.


Art as social intervention

“This year the questions come up again with a vengeance: What is the role of artists in a crisis? Writers ask, what does my work mean in this larger emergency? Does my personal creativity matter in the vast public sphere? And most immediately, how do I navigate this meltdown?

“When the economy collapsed in 1929, American jobs disappeared at the rate of 20,000 a day. That used to impress people before this pandemic. In the Great Depression, the publishing and arts sectors shrank by about a third, like they have again recently. Creatives were desperate. Then, as now, there was private desperation and there was public desperation.

“Harry Hopkins, the New Deal’s jobs program coordinator, focused on the public aspect and short-term solutions. When Congress questioned the idea of supporting artists and writers with jobs in the Works Progress Administration, Hopkins replied that artists had to eat like everyone else. In response to protests in New York by unemployed publishing workers who felt abandoned, the WPA began a small Federal Writers’ Project and others for art, music, and theater. The notion behind ‘work relief’ was that paying work could sustain morale better than direct unemployment payments.”

Article: How Did Artists Survive the First Great Depression?

Corporate Leadership

One of the biggest grocery brands in the world is committed to net-zero emissions from all their products by 2039. They are starting by informing us, their customers, of the carbon footprint of all of their products.

Early evening view of Unilever office The Bridge in Feijenoord neighborhood in Rotterdam

“One of the most significant projects in sustainable food in 2020 was unveiled last week. The news is important partly because of the company involved: CPG behemoth Unilever, which reaches 2.5 billion consumers every day through 400 brands, which range from Ben & Jerry’s to Hellmann’s and appear on shelves in 190 countries.

“The other reason is that the plan is genuinely ambitious. The company is committing to net-zero emissions from all products by 2039, spending $1 billion on climate and nature projects over 10 years, and planning on labeling each of its products with information about the carbon emitted in the product’s creation.

“This last point is particularly significant. Consumers, especially younger adults, consistently say that climate concerns influence their purchasing. Yet this influence is diluted because most people have little insight into the emissions linked to specific products. Clearly communicating emissions on every product could leverage those concerns in a scalable way, boosting sales of low-carbon products and punishing emissions-heavy options.”

Article: Where Unilever’s Product Labeling Initiative Could Have a Huge Impact


How company purpose helps grow companies, a case study

In this excerpt from her book “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire” Rebecca Henderson tells the story of King Arthur Flour, a company that is selling a commodity product at a double digit growth rate.

“The way in which the combination of mission and the nature of work plays out in practice to support both architectural innovation and the generation of great jobs can be seen particularly clearly at King Arthur Flour (KAF), the oldest flour company in the United States. KAF’s best-selling product, the 5-pound bag of unbleached, all-purpose flour, is not a sexy product, and the market has been shrinking for years. Fewer and fewer people bake, and more and more flour is bought online, where brands often carry little weight.

“But KAF is thriving. Its customers love the company. KAF has over a million likes on Facebook and more than 576,000 followers on Instagram. (For comparison, General Mills, the current market leader with $3.9 billion in sales in “meals and baking,” compared to KAF’s roughly $140 million, has about 85,000 likes on Facebook and 47,000 Instagram followers.) Sales are growing in the high single digits annually — an unheard of growth rate for a commodity product in a 200-year-old industry.

“KAF’s purpose is to ‘to build community through baking,’ and the three co-CEOs (!) have a very clear sense of just why and how home baking can make a difference in the world.”

“This strategy is enabled by a deeply participative, fully empowered workforce that embraces it as a reason for working that extends far beyond a paycheck — and that makes it immensely difficult to imitate. KAF’s Vermont headquarters — now a major tourist attraction — includes a retail store, where visitors can watch baking demonstrations and sample baked goods (made with KAF products, of course) and a baking school, where hundreds of passionate bakers arrive to take classes from King Arthur’s master bakers.

King Arthur Flour’s Instagram page has 576,000 followers. Market leader General Mills has 47,000.

“The company also offers online recipes and baking classes, and a fully staffed baking hotline, where customers can get answers to their baking questions from employees with thousands of hours of baking experience. Everyone is passionate about baking. Everyone goes the extra mile to help the company succeed. The latest financial results are shared with every employee, and everyone is offered training on how to read income statements and balance sheets. The company is very careful about the people it hires, and then equally careful about how they are treated.”

Article: How a Strong Shared Sense of Purpose Can Help Companies Succeed

Graphic Design, World Changers

R.I.P. Milton Glaser. You changed the world we live in, and how we perceive it.

I first learned of Milton Glaser when I bought the album Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits in 1967. I was 14 years old. This poster was folded and inserted next to the record. I hung it in my room that day.

One week ago today Milton Glaser, a giant and a legend of graphic design, died of natural causes at the age of 91. Google him. You’ll find dozens of publications and blogs celebrating his amazing life and amazing contribution. I’m going to let Christopher Bonanos, of New York Magazine, a magazine that Glaser co-founded, do the honors.

“If they’re talented and they’re lucky, designer-artist-creators get to lob an icon out into the larger culture — Leo Fender’s Stratocaster guitar, say, or Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster. If they’re great, maybe they create two. Milton Glaser, though, operated on another plane — he just kept hitting the bull’s-eye, again and again, throughout his seven decades as an illustrator, graphic designer, art director, and visual philosopher and paterfamilias.

“He loved New York City, and celebrated it in multiple ways: with a magazine, with posters, and (most visibly of all) with the three-letters-and-a-red-heart slogan he created. Almost incidentally, he also changed the way you eat.”

Article: Milton Glaser, Co-founder of New York Magazine and Creator of ‘I?NY,’ Dies at 91

Advertising, Inclusion, Diversity

Despite an avalanche of proclamations, progress for women in ads seems to have stalled. Other groups are even more marginalized.


“’Media is one of the only business sectors where equitable representation can be achieved overnight,’ says Madeline di Nonno, CEO, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. ‘Brands are creating ads all year long. The very next creative brief can be inclusive! The stalled progress to achieve cultural equity and inclusion indicates that a lot more work needs to be done to reach gender parity in advertising.’”

More from the report The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University can be found here.

Article: Study: Progress For Women, People Of Color In Ads Has Stalled

Visual Identity, UX

Better customer experience, less waste: It looks like no-contact menus are going to become a thing.

My friend and neighbor, Jim Zaccara, told me that next week his team is going to re-open my favorite restaurant in the world, Hope and Olive. In response to Massachusetts’ insistence on single-use menus, they are instituting this new QR tech innovation. The scannable link is on the table, then the menu is on your phone, and you keep your germs to yourself.

Article: A Signage Design Win: No-Contact Menus Becoming a Thing

Cool News
Article: John Prine Named Illinois’ First Honorary Poet Laureate


Article: How to Guilt People Into Wearing a Face Mask


I’ve mentioned here before that I am a proud member of the Board of Trustees of The Conway School. On Saturday of last week our intrepid and resilient little school graduated our 48th class of students, awarding 17 hard-earned Masters Degrees of Ecological Design.

One of the traditions of the school is to close the graduation ceremony with a song sung by a choir of faculty, administrators, students and trustees. But how to do that when the ceremony is virtual? Zoom does not allow more than one voice to appear at a time. Enter a cool phone app called Acapella. It’s intuitive and easy. The first singer (or player) lays down his or her track. Then s/he sends the file to the next singer, and so on. In our case we passed it to eight more singers. Once all the tracks are recorded the app provides the capability of mixing and adjusting gain levels, and that too is simple and intuitive.

So, this week’s Playlist was sung by a virtual choir that included me (middle right) and eight other members of the Conway community. “We shall learn to lead in love.”

Song: We Shall be Known

Image of the week

The image of the week is from photographer Xavi Bou’s continuing series Ornitographies. He’s been shooting in Northern Spain to capture starling murmurations.

“At sunset in winter in Spain, thousands of starlings gather in enormous flocks, named murmurations for the low fluttering thunder of their wings. The birds move in astounding unison, each mimicking its six or seven of their nearest neighbors as they whirl across the sky.

“It’s breathtaking, sure. But add a hungry hawk or falcon, and your jaw will drop. When the raptor swoops in to attack, its prey bolts in the opposite direction, triggering what scientists call waves of agitation that pulse through the flock at speeds surpassing 50 miles per hour.”

Article: Starlings Fly in Flocks So Dense They Look Like Sculptures


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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