Clarity First Newsletter,
May 14, 2021

“Where we choose to put our attention changes our brain, which in time can change how we see and interact with the world.” – Margaret Mead

Clarity First

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

While it is essential that we pay attention to the very harsh reality that the radical right, which has taken over the Republican Party, is hellbent on shattering our democracy,
it is also essential that we focus our attention on the myriad and diverse ways that humans are learning to live in harmony with the planet and each other.

Every week I scoop a few examples from the torrent. Here’s a fresh batch.

Happy Friday.

Community, Commons

Far from being profoundly destructive, we humans have deep capacities for sharing resources with generosity and foresight.

Locals at the Marienfluss Conservancy in Namibia meet to discuss conservation.
Photo courtesy of NACSO/WWF Namibia

“In December 1968, the ecologist and biologist Garrett Hardin had an essay published in the journal Science called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. His proposition was simple and unsparing: humans, when left to their own devices, compete with one another for resources until the resources run out. ‘Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest,’ he wrote. ‘Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.’ Hardin’s argument made intuitive sense, and provided a temptingly simple explanation for catastrophes of all kinds – traffic jams, dirty public toilets, species extinction. His essay, widely read and accepted, would become one of the most-cited scientific papers of all time.”

Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate in Economics photographed in 2011.
Photo by Raveendran/AFP/Getty.

“Even before Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ was published, however, the young political scientist Elinor Ostrom had proven him wrong. While Hardin speculated that the tragedy of the commons could be avoided only through total privatisation or total government control, Ostrom had witnessed groundwater users near her native Los Angeles hammer out a system for sharing their coveted resource. Over the next several decades, as a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, she studied collaborative management systems developed by cattle herders in Switzerland, forest dwellers in Japan, and irrigators in the Philippines. These communities had found ways of both preserving a shared resource – pasture, trees, water – and providing their members with a living. Some had been deftly avoiding the tragedy of the commons for centuries; Ostrom was simply one of the first scientists to pay close attention to their traditions, and analyse how and why they worked.”

Article: The Miracle of the Commons

Organizational Health, Systems Thinking

Understanding how ecosystems grow, thrive, and regenerate can help leaders steer their organization in the future.

“The concept of a business ecosystem was first articulated by the strategist James F. Moore in his seminal 1993 Harvard Business Review article, “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition,” and the idea has since gained substantial currency. A business ecosystem is a community of enterprises and related organizations that coevolve over time and align themselves with directions set by one or more central companies. Examples of business ecosystems include a computer company and its users, investors, and third-party app developers; or an energy company with its network of suppliers, customers, traders, and resellers; or an auto manufacturer and the suppliers, retailers, and marketers that surround it.

“The ecological analogy is apt because it emphasizes the fact that ecosystem members may both cooperate and compete with one another in complex ways that lead the entire community of enterprises to thrive. But there’s a key difference between biological and commercial ecosystems. In nature, ecosystems can survive and thrive for long periods of time, almost in perpetuity. By contrast, business ecosystems tend to fall apart in a matter of decades, and the “clock speed” seems to be increasing. Furniture manufacturers near High Point, N.C., flourished for more than a century after reaching critical mass in the 1890s, whereas the minicomputer ecosystem, located along Massachusetts’s Route 128, lasted for less than 30 years after its 1960s heyday.”

Article: Forces of Nature

How We Work

How to build a company that realizes $11 million in annualized revenue with no full-time employees

Gumroad is an online platform that “makes it easy” for creators to get paid for what they do. Savil Lavingia created the company in 2011.

“In 2015, we reached a peak of 23 full-time employees. In 2016, after failing to raise more money, I ended up back where I began: a one-person company.

“Today, when I’m asked how many people work at Gumroad, I respond with “ten or so.” That’s how I convert the number of people we have into what others expect. But the truth is more complicated:

“If we include everyone who works on Gumroad, it’s 25.

“If we include full-time employees, it’s none. Not even me.

“We have no meetings, and no deadlines either.”

After the layoffs in 2015, even though the team shrunk, Gumroad itself continued to grow.

“And it’s working: our creators earn over $175 million a year, and we generate $11 million in annualized revenue, growing 85% year-over-year.”

Article: No Meetings, No Deadlines, No Full-Time Employees

Social Messaging

The story behind the most inescapable yard sign of the Trump resistance

“The sign has been everywhere, but the very first one appeared in Madison, Wisconsin, where a librarian named Kristin Garvey came up with the concept in 2016, the day after Trump was elected. “The sense of loss I felt that day was more than I’ve ever felt after an election,” she told me recently. In her low spirits, she put her kids down for a nap and, she says, thought about the people who would be most affected by Trump’s presidency. Garvey pulled together a number of quotes she found from activists, liberal politicians, and different social justice movements and inscribed them in Sharpie on a white poster board. “I don’t really know why I decided on a sign,” she said. ‘Maybe it shows my age more than anything.’

“But it quickly made its way to the internet: According to Garvey, a passerby took a picture of the sign and posted it to Facebook, where it was noticed by local activist Jennifer Rosen Heinz, who then recruited artist Kristin Joiner to stylize the copy with neon hues and pleasingly erratic fonts. The three women banded together to sell physical and digital versions, with proceeds going to the ACLU, Garvey said. Demand became so intense that they couldn’t manage the franchise themselves, so they decided to hand the rights for the sign over to an organization that had the operational bandwidth and could really use the revenue.”

Article: In This House, We Believe


Envisioning a post-pandemic New York.

Visual artist and creative director, Tomer Hanuka, asked his 3rd year illustration students at @sva to come up with a post-pandemic New Yorker magazine cover. Here is what they sent in:

Twitter Thread: Tomer Hanuka

Naming, Cool Tool

A list of company names with their name origins explained.

“This is a dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by adding missing items with reliable sources.

Wikipedia: List of Company Name Etymologies

Personal Productivity

To get more done, add more slack to your schedule

“In Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency, Tom DeMarco explains that most people and organizations fail to recognize the value of slack. Although the book is now around twenty years old, its primary message is timeless and worth revisiting.”

Article: Efficiency is the Enemy

Design Process

The be a better designer, don’t focus on technology or business. Focus on people.

The Crouch family at their annual Thanksgiving dinner in Ledyard, Connecticut 1940.
Lomax collection. Photographer, Jack Delano. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, Reproduction Number LC-USF34–042716-D.

“As we work our way to the heart (and minds) of today’s problems, more is needed. Designers also need to define, understand, and improve the complex relationships among all people — not just users, but also among the stakeholders ”behind the glass”. This complex and sometimes contradictory group includes product owners, business stakeholders technical and engineering teams, even other design teams. They all have their ow priorities agendas, unique abilities – and limitations. It often feels like one large, dysfunctional family. And as a designer, I always feel like I’m showing up for Thanksgiving dinner.

“Design Thinking methods and activities are an established, and usually prudent approach to improving the user’s needs. But it is often not enough. To achieve real progress we need to first reconcile the competing agendas, fix broken communication styles, and find common ground with the stakeholders whose trust and understanding are required for the designers needs. Without that, we cannot fully do our work on behalf of the aforementioned users.

Article: Before Design Thinking, We Need Design Therapy


Rare Evidence Proves Birds Are Able to Change Their Culture to Become More Efficient

Deliberate Cultivation of Playfulness Is the Key to Success in Creative Work

There’s a Perfect Number of Days to Work From Home, and It’s 2

All Designers Are Futurists: Why Bruce Mau Still Believes Design Can Change the World



Graphic Article: Fab Five Freddy Meets Blondie (with Basquiat and The Clash) | by Ed Piskor | The Nib | Medium

In the early 80s, The Clash discovered NYC Rap. The cross-cultural stews that they cooked up with what they learned changed the course of pop music.

Video: The Clash Visit New York

“Of the slew of British punk bands who made their way to the US in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the Clash had more impact than most others in some unexpected ways. Their classic double album London Calling made Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine (the only 90s rap-rock band that matters) take notice and change direction. ‘It was music I could relate to lyrically,’ he says, ‘much more than the dungeons-and-dragons type lyrics of my metal forebears.’”

Video: The Clash – The Magnificent Seven (Official Video)

“’Magnificent Seven’ came out of the band’s increasing musical adventurousness in the recording of 1980’s Sandinista!, in which they soaked up influences from every place they toured. ‘When we visited places,” Mick Jones remembered, “we were affected by that… And for me, New York City was really happening at that moment.’ Jones took to carrying a boom box around blasting the latest hip hop. ‘Joe looked at the graffiti artists,’ he says, ‘and I was taking in things like breakdancing and rap.’ The band, bassist Paul Simenon recalls, was ‘open for information’ when they met ‘people like Futura and Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow.’

“The Clash didn’t only take from hip hop, but they tried to give back as well. Their 1981 run at ‘an aging Times Square Disco,’ Jeff Chang writes, proved to be a major opportunity for graffiti artists like Futura, who painted a huge banner that was unfurled onstage every night and got to deliver his own rap while the band backed him. When the Clash announced an additional 11 shows after the NYPD limited capacity, they showed what Chang calls a ‘naive act of solidarity,’ booking Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five as an opening act. White American punks sneered at the group; the Clash ‘responded by excoriating their own fans in interviews, and future Bronx-bred openers, The Treacherous Three and ESG, received marginally better treatment.'”

Video: The Clash: The Magnificent Dance

“Even more exciting was the fact that the B-side to ‘The Magnificent Seven,’ a dub remix called ‘The Magnificent Dance,’ had made it to New York hip hop radio and made the band unlikely stars among black American listeners. ‘The Clash were ecstatic to tune into WBLS and find that the DJs were not only playing ‘The Magnificent Dance’ up to five times a day, but also doing their own remixes of it,’ writes Marcus Gray, ‘dubbing on samples from the soundtrack of Dirty Harry.’ While the track, with its loping bass line played by Ian Drury and the Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy, primed dance floors for the success of the following year’s funk/disco ‘Rock the Casbah,’ it was the lyrics that most grabbed listeners like Morello and Chuck D.”

Article: How the Clash Embraced New York’s Hip Hop Scene and Released the Dance Track, “The Magnificent Dance”

Image of the Week

The image of the week was shot by photographer, Brad Walls. It’s from a new series, titled Water Geomaids.

Of all the competitions in the Olympic Games, synchronized swimming is one of those mysterious and artistic practices that continue to amaze and delight the most. Now award-winning fine art photographer, Brad Walls, is giving us a unique perspective from above, revealing perfect geometric shapes and forms to please any creative.”

Article: Photographs of Synchronized Swimmers From Above Show Perfect Poise and Pleasing Geometry

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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