Clarity First Newsletter, June 8, 2018

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

In the 60s and early 70s we, those committed to social change, rallied around the belief that we were creating a new, alternative world. The alternative press printed the news that the mainstream press ignored. Alternative energy provided an option that didn’t rely on burning carbon.  Alternative businesses considered contribution to the community and planet as well as the financial bottom line. Fifty years later I think the metaphor still holds. We don’t need to tweak our collapsing systems. We need to create wholesale alternatives to them. 

New Economy

“The best revolutions do not start at the bottom; they are the work of the upper-middle class.”

In the cover story of June’s Atlantic Monthly, Matthew Stewart does a very neat job of explaining how income disparity locks class mobility, and how in America, home of the free, land of the bootstrap, class mobility is amongst the worst in the world. He makes it clear that the class divide here is already toxic, and is well on its way to becoming unbridgeable. He pleads that this reality is severely damaging our democracy.

Amongst key insights he discovers that he himself is a member of a new moneyed class, that has gone largely unnoticed. (“If you are a typical reader of The Atlantic, you may well be a member too.”) He calls them the new aristocrats because, like their Victorian counterparts, they remain totally blind to the realities of the majority. He also calls them the 9.9%, as this group, collectively, has more wealth than the top .01% and the bottom 90% combined. They live in the best neighborhoods, their kids go to the best schools, they eat the freshest food, they exercise more, they’ve got the best doctors, and they go on the coolest vacations.

The other 90%, though, don’t have it so good. Their kids go to worse schools, they are unhealthier, they divorce more, they die younger, they have fewer prospects and they have little hope for a better tomorrow. Trump voters didn’t only feel unheard, he suggests. They felt a burning resentment about the reality that they are an underclass, and they see no opportunity to change this truth.

He’s hopeful, though. “History shows us a number of aristocracies that have made good choices.” Transferring power back to labor from capital will take federal government action. Rebuilding our neighborhoods and schools will take state and local efforts. But the real power, he says, is in the hands of the 9.9%. “We need to peel our eyes away from the mirror of our own success and think about what we can do in our everyday lives for the people who aren’t our neighbors. We should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it. It probably does.”
Article: The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy

Organizational Culture/Personal Development

Culture as Strategy

This book has a radically simple premise: an organization is only as healthy as its people. The best way for any company to realize its full potential is to help its people reach theirs. If this sounds like the promise of a 70s era self-realization seminar, that’s because both promise that humans have a lot more capacity for growth and improvement. Fifty years later the authors collate what we’ve learned about how we learn, and connect the very obvious dots between personal and organizational success. A very important book.
Book Review: An Everyone Culture. Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.


Organizational Culture/Systems Thinking

Companies that foster creativity enjoy 1.5x greater market share.

Thomas J. Watson Sr., the chairman and CEO credited with turning IBM into an international powerhouse, famously observed that “Good design is good business.” 60 years after his death, his design-centric philosophy has been proven to be prophetic. Today those organizations that embed design into their business practices tend to have a greater market share.
Article: 4 key Stats on the Importance of Design for Business


Group Process

Can remote teams achieve the productivity of the office and still allow the convenience of working at home?

“People often think that constant communication is most effective, but actually, we find that bursts of rapid communication, followed by longer periods of silence, are telltale signs of successful teams.”
Article: “Bursty” Communication Can Help Remote Teams Thrive


“I block ads because I believe ads can be so much better.”

Laura Desmond has been hanging out with advertising students from the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Texas. “What I learned affirmed my faith in the future of advertising. I also walked away with a strong sense that these young students, if given the chance to practice the craft the way they see it, would upend the whole industry,” she says. She took away three insights:
1) They expect more for their time and attention.
2) They respect and give serious credibility to ads, content and memes that get through their ad blocking software.
3) They expect advertising to be relevant and to take them seriously.
Article: The Future of Advertising Is In the Hands of Ad Blockers


Visual Identity

This year’s logo trends represent a pendulum shift that’s swinging from clean, modern aesthetics toward curvy, retro designs.

The folks at Logo Lounge (“the world’s largest logo search engine”) have released their annual survey of logo trends. “Any time we look at trends, we tend to see that there is a pendulum that is swinging. For instance, it’s not uncommon to see an evolution from a flat logo to something dimensional or vice versa. But over the last three years in particular, from a typography standpoint, we’ve seen a transition toward very austere sans serif logos. Google flipped from a serif font to a sans serif, and other major brands like Verizon, Calvin Klein, and Century 21 did the same.”

This year, it seems, brands are turning the other way, from the cool mid-century minimalism of the 50s and 60s, back toward the warm and comfy look more commonly associated with the war years. “When everyone moves to this level of simplicity, designers counter it with some embellishment. Very expressive logos are making a comeback, which is a direct result of nostalgia or reboots,” says writer Bill Gardner.
Article: 2018 Logo Trends


“Now, let’s go talk to some users!”

“We don’t have time not to do research. We don’t have time to redo work. We don’t have time to make catastrophic product mistakes.” Quintin Carlson is a product designer who has spent thousands of hours doing research about user’s experience. Now he’s posting what he’s learned on the UXR Field Guide. Your excuses for skimping on the research just got a lot weaker.
Website: UXR Field Guide



In the summer of 1995, Washington DC keyboardist and DJ Rob Garza and guitarist Eric Hilton discovered a mutual passion for dub, bossa nova and jazz records. They started to share their record collections, building new music from samples of the music they loved. In honor of the fact that a lot of their music is referential, they called themselves Thievery Corporation.

In doing so they created a sub-genre of electronic music all their own, one that built on the trip hop sounds that had started to emerge from England the year before.

To ensure complete artistic control they formed their own record label, Eighteenth Street Lounge Music. Now, 23 years later, they have released eight studio LP’s, two remix collections, two DJ mix albums, and they continue to perform live on 5 continents.

Some call the music downtempo. Their sound is quiet, rhythmic and very, very groovy. This is a really nice 30 minute studio concert that they recorded at KEXP in Seattle in October of 2016 to celebrate their 20th anniversary.


Image of the Week

“This is the image of Walt Whitman that hung above the bed of Allen Ginsberg, as he took his last breath. He revered Whitman, the great poet who heralded the multiple within us, who tended soldiers in the cruelest hours of the Civil War, who wrote a profound elegy for assassinated President Lincoln and projected love and encouragement to the young poets of the future. This love is there for all to draw from, as Allen did, reminding us we are not alone.” – Patti Smith, writing in her Instagram account #thisispattismith.

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

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