Clarity First Newsletter,
March 27, 2020

“It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to be vulnerable. No one has all the answers. We value and learn from the questions and the asking.” – Marc Lesser

Clarity First

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

Let’s not talk about the people in the White House. This week I noticed that I might be more frighted of them than I am of the virus. But let’s be sure to notice the others, from governors, to health care providers, to business leaders, to teachers, to parents, to social service workers, to community members, who all are rushing in to fill the void.

For example, consider my town’s Greenfield Community College. In less than two weeks, under the very reassuring leadership of Yves Salomon-Fernández, our little school moved their entire curriculum and all of their meetings online. In doing so they provided laptops and hotspots for those without the necessary technology. They donated all of the food in the cafeteria to our local survival center. They donated medical supplies from the school’s healthcare programs to local nursing homes and medical facilities. They gave gift certificates from local restaurants to food insecure students, helping two groups at once. And this is just one example of hundreds of thousands of other acts of generosity, resilience, ingenuity and collaboration that are happening all over the globe.

This week my inbox was full of notes and letters from many of you about how you are noticing the lights of hope that are shining through the darkness of fear and uncertainty that we all are experiencing now. Please keep them coming. Tell me what you are learning as we create and embrace a new culture of trust, and respect, and interdependence on each other.

Happy Friday. We can do this. We are doing this.

Collective Experience

“We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

On Wednesday of this week Bruce Stedman, the ED of the Conway School, Graduate Program in Sustainable Landscape Design + Planning, of which I am a proud trustee, sent this brief note to the staff, faculty, trustees and the class of 2020: “Please read this. It resonates with me very strongly, because so much of it reminds me of how I felt after my wife Ellie died in 2000. I think it will help all of us to consider what he is saying.”

HBR Staff/d3sign/Getty Images

“We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

You’re right, Bruce. We are experiencing collective grief, and it does help to name it. Thank you.

Article: That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief

Systems Thinking

America’s coronavirus response failed because we didn’t understand the complexity of the problem.


“Many will be tempted to see the tragic coronavirus pandemic through a solely partisan lens: The Trump administration spectacularly failed in its response, by cutting funding from essential health services and research before the crisis, and later by denying its existence and its severity. Those are both true, but they don’t fully explain the current global crisis that has engulfed countries of varying political persuasions.

“As it turns out, the reality-based, science-friendly communities and information sources many of us depend on also largely failed. We had time to prepare for this pandemic at the state, local, and household level, even if the government was terribly lagging, but we squandered it because of widespread asystemic thinking: the inability to think about complex systems and their dynamics. We faltered because of our failure to consider risk in its full context, especially when dealing with coupled risk—when multiple things can go wrong together. We were hampered by our inability to think about second- and third-order effects and by our susceptibility to scientism—the false comfort of assuming that numbers and percentages give us a solid empirical basis. We failed to understand that complex systems defy simplistic reductionism.”

Article: It Wasn’t Just Trump Who Got It Wrong


A manifesto about learning to accept the reality of impermanence

This is a cool story about making a connection, and then nurturing and building it online. Back in a different decade I published a blog called “Here it is tomorrow again”. I had a read a book that resonated with me, Less: Accomplishing More by Doing Less, by Marc Lesser, a zen teacher in San Francisco. I emailed him and asked for his permission to repost a chapter from the book on my blog. He said yes, and a week later he emailed me again saying: “You look interesting. Want to connect by phone?”. That initiated a series of calls, now Zoom meetings, that 12 years later we still share with each other, usually at least once a month. We always talk for just one hour, one half about me, the other half about him. I’ve never known someone so well who I’ve never actually met in person. We support each other in our learning.

But that’s only the backstory. He too publishes a weekly letter, and last week’s letter hit me in the heart chakra. He wrote this “manifesto” of 35 lines many years ago as an introduction to his first book, Z.B.A. Zen of Business Administration, a book about integrating mindfulness practice with work. He said that he was “surprised how well it seems to fit these current times and the practice of finding our ground within the groundless”…”1. It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to be vulnerable. No one has all the answers. We value and learn from the questions and the asking.”

He closes the post with a guided mediation on finding ground when the ground around us has turned to jelly. Thanks, Marc, for saying ‘yes’ all those years ago.

Article: Finding Ground Within Groundlessness

Organizational Productivity

How to make online meetings better than the meetings we are learning to replace.

“Beyond the fraught health emergencies that so many are going through, many of us are being asked to quickly move our meetings and our classes online.

“Fortunately, there are powerful and inexpensive tools to do just that. Unfortunately, we’re at risk at adopting a new status quo that’s even worse than the one it replaces.

“We can make it better.

“You have a chance to reinvent the default, to make it better. Or we can maintain the status quo. Which way will you contribute?”

Article: A Short Manifesto About the Future of Online Interaction

Just for Fun
Quarantine Tips from My Cat

Social Messaging, Advertising

Leading brands around the world are asking us to stay home

“To stress the self-isolation message, a number of the world’s leading brands have released simple, but effective messages on the importance of staying indoors.” Here’s a wrap of some of the better ones.

Article: Coke, Macca’s, Burger King & Nike Head Host Of Brands Leading The Social Distancing Message

Crisis Communications

The three types of brand communications about coronavirus that are in your in-basket right now

Polly Papsadore, a Clarity Brand Study client, thought we’d all be interested to know why our in-basket is so full now, and which ones deserve to be there. Thanks, Polly. This helps to answer a befuddling question.

Article: Why Every Brand You’ve Ever Bought Something From is Sending You Coronavirus Emails


Being social while social distancing

This week I got a really sweet note from Judith Lorei, who is a member of one of my DIY Brand Camp cohorts: “Hi Mitch. Your Friday posts are a godsend – now more than ever.

“I thought you might appreciate our little village’s response to staying spirited and connected. We’ve started a daily sing on the village common – 2:00 rain or shine. Sometimes 5 people show up and sometimes 15 – social distancing required. Video attached.”

Video: The Montague Village Daily Sing


One evening my friend and colleague Jandro Levins sent me a short note: “I saw this and thought of you and your love of music: Coronavirus Rhapsody.” Click it. It’s a spot-on reworking of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody around a very contemporary theme. Your jaw will drop at the uncanny imitation, and you will laugh from the soles of your feet at its cleverness.

Then YouTube suggested that I’d also like to watch Chris Mann revisit The Knack’s My Sharona as My Corrona. OMG it’s good. (It helps that I’ve always loved the poppy sound of The Knack.) For good measure he also totally vamps Madonna’s Vogue in Stay Home Vogue.

Come to think of it, there might be no better way to laugh at what scares us than to express our feelings in the language of classic rock. Have fun and share.


Image of the week

“Nearly all of Ethiopia’s original trees have disappeared, but small pockets of old-growth forest still surround Ethiopia’s churches, living arks of biodiversity amongst the brown grazing fields. In this film and essay, Jeremy Seifert and Fred Bahnson travel to Ethiopia to gain a deeper understanding of how our fate is tied with the fate of trees.”

Film & Essay: The Church Forests of Ethiopia, a Mystical Geography


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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