Clarity First Newsletter,
May 15, 2020

“Traditionally, life has been divided into two main parts: a period of learning followed by a period of working. Very soon, this traditional model will become utterly obsolete, and the only way for humans to stay in the game will be to keep learning throughout their lives and to reinvent themselves repeatedly. ” – Yuval Noah Harari

Clarity First

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

“Return to normal” is such an unrealistic promise. The “normal” that the pandemic revealed is a world of epic inequality between races, income disparities that protect a few while threatening many, a fragile economy that is fundamentally dependent upon perpetual but unsustainable growth, a medical infrastructure incapable of responding to unusual demand, and a species-wide inability to connect human health to planetary health.

Recently, Arundhati Roy, wrote in the Financial Times that ‘the Pandemic is a Portal’. “Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

“We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

I’m with her. I’m ready to imagine another world. Are you? Happy Friday.


Altruism, like the coronavirus, spreads exponentially.

“It’s not only pathogens like the coronavirus that spread exponentially. For decades psychologists have documented the dark side of ‘social contagion’: binge-eating, risk-taking, and countless other deleterious behaviors. Yet only recently have academics turned their attention to the phenomenon’s brighter side. Their findings are heartening. Kindness, it turns out, is also contagious.

“This is important to keep in mind as we track both the brutal trajectory of the coronavirus and our response to the crisis. Thousands of everyday people are donating their time and money to help strangers. In a way, we’re witnessing dueling contagions: one deadly, the other ameliorative. Mirror images of each other.”

Article: The Spreading of the Kindness Contagion


A pandemic is a communication emergency as much as a medical crisis.

The initial coronavirus outbreaks on the East and West Coasts emerged at roughly the same time. But the danger was communicated very differently. And because of the ways the message was conveyed the outbreaks in both places have been very different.

“The initial coronavirus outbreaks in New York City emerged at roughly the same time as those in Seattle. But the cities’ experiences with the disease have markedly differed. By the second week of April, Washington State had roughly one recorded fatality per fourteen thousand residents. New York’s rate of death was nearly six times higher.”

“Public-health officials say that American culture poses special challenges. Our freedoms to assemble, to speak our minds, to ignore good advice, and to second-guess authority can facilitate the spread of a virus. ‘We’re not China—we can’t order people to stay inside,’ Dr. Richard Besser, a former acting C.D.C. director said. ‘Democracy is a great thing, but it means, for something like covid-19, we have to persuade people to coöperate if we want to save their lives.’”

Article: Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead. New York’s Did Not.

Social Messaging

This is the time to stand up for language.

“These are hard times for facts and for words, which have been devalued and distorted. A time of betrayal not only of language, but for it. Language is under siege.”

“Our conflation of entertainment with news has led us into a cultural landfill where garbage passes for food. Hungrily we stuff it into our mouths without noticing how rank it tastes, or that it’s burning our throats and cutting up our tongues.”

“…This is the time to stand up for language. Not only to defend ourselves against the gibberish being tweeted out from on high, but to defend the truthful word itself from desecration.

“Because without a public discourse tied to knowledge and to meaning, a common language we can rely on to settle arguments and negotiate our social differences, a time may come when we have no useful access to metaphorical weapons. Without a language for conflict resolution, some groups among us may resort—as anti-government cattlemen like the Bundys have, on a small scale, in recent memory—to literal weapons.

“For those of us who love language more than guns, I’m thinking, now is the moment to deploy it. To act on the conviction that true words can rise again.”

Article: If Language is a Weapon, Now is the Time to Deploy It.

Social Messaging

Mothers’ Day was designed to help women gain power to change modern society.

“If you google the history of Mother’s Day, the internet will tell you that Mother’s Day began in 1908 when Anna Jarvis decided to honor her mother. But “Mothers’ Day”—with the apostrophe not in the singular spot, but in the plural—actually started in the 1870s, when the sheer enormity of the death caused by the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War convinced American women that women must take control of politics from the men who had permitted such carnage. Mothers’ Day was not designed to encourage people to be nice to their mothers. It was part of women’s effort to gain power to change modern society.”

Article: Letters from an American, May 9, 2020


Weeds do more than grow.

“Across the paved streets of the UK and France, sidewalk chalk is beginning to be employed by more than just children as rebel botanists regularly break street-chalking laws to write the names of wild plants and flowers growing through cracks in the cement.

“Beginning in France—and leading to a campaign called More Than Weeds in London—this act of highlighting the names of wildflowers and other plants has drawn significant attention on social media, where images and videos are racking up hundreds of thousands of fans.”

Article: People Use Chalk to Write Plant Names on Sidewalks to Help People Connect With Nature 

Creativity, Learning

David Byrne is more cheerful now.

Paul Robicheau for WBUR

Last weekend an interview with David Byrne (Talking Heads, Luaka Bop Records, collaborations with Twyla Tharp, Brian Eno, St. Vincent…) (Apparently the guy does not sleep) was featured on the Freakonomics radio show. In it he talks about the fact that humans have a built-in “negativity bias”, a survival trait that makes us tend to focus on the bad news and ignore the good. He describes how he’s used collaboration, especially collaboration with really diverse people, to overcome his own negativity bias.

I’ve mentioned here before that one of his latest projects is a great online mag called, Reasons to Be Cheerful.

Podcast: David Byrne on Freakonomics


How can advertising help set your brand apart when every single ad uses the exact same creative strategy?

As major brands recognized that the creative strategy they had planned on using for 2020 would appear to be completely tone deaf right now. So they scrambled to present themselves as good corporate citizens who are sensitive, have been around for a long time and are there for you. This brilliant piece of editing demonstrates dozens of international and regional companies using the exact same creative strategy. In fact, it feels like they all used the exact same storyboard.

Article: Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same


Revolutionary tech gets the retro poster treatment.

“Uswitch has taken six pieces of revolutionary tech and given them posters fit for the Mad Men era. They all serve as a reminder of just how life-changing some of this tech is. By comparing the likes of the PlayStation 5 to having an entire arcade in your living room, it makes us realise just how surprising such tech would have been just 60 years ago.”

Article: Modern Tech Gets a Retro Makeover in New Spoof Ads


Portrait by Jesse Duquette,

Little Richard famously said: “Elvis may be the King of Rock and Roll, but I am the Queen.” Last week the Queen of Rock and Roll died. My friend Jude Armitage wrote me this lovely remembrance: “I am truly bereft today to learn of Little Richard’s death at 87. I loved this guy – he inspired my confidence and my boldness. He took flamboyancy to a new level and never flinched. I am more sad about his death than any other musician we’ve lost in recent time. Be sure to play a song or two of his today – and dance. And sing. Hit the high notes.”

I will Jude. Here’s three to get the party started.


Long Tall Sally – Tutti Frutti, from the 1956 film, Don’t Knock the Rock is an all-black band lip-synching in an all-white room. It establishes the context of the society he seduced with his screams of release. It illustrates the society he changed forever.

Good Golly Miss Molly, recorded live in 1958

Little Richard Live in Paris 1966. A full 27 minute set caught during the height of Beatlemania.

Image of the week

“Each spring, California’s Antelope Valley explodes with color as vast quantities of flowers bloom. While there are several types of wildflowers in the mix, it’s the state flower—the California Poppy—that is the star of the show. Typically visitors flock to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve to take in the breathtaking scene, but this year is proving a bit different.

“With the reserve temporarily closed due to COVID-19 measures, in-person poppy watching isn’t possible. But thanks to NASA, we’re able to have a whole different perspective on the event. As the poppy fields are located close to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, it’s only fitting that a land imager aboard the Landsat 8 satellite captured the superbloom at its peak.”

Article: NASA Publishes Extraordinary Satellite View of California Wildflowers in Bloom

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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