Clarity First Newsletter, May 3, 2019


Clarity First

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

Every other week my friend Marc Lesser and I meet via video call for a one-hour check-in. This week he told me that he’s been thinking about power, about how a zen teacher told him once when he was young that he was “pissing away his power”. “We tend to think of power in a negative sense,” he said, “we tend to think of power as it is hoarded and misused. Yet power is a natural and beautiful energy that can be used to create, to contribute, and to change things for the better.”

He challenged me to ask how I am squandering or misdirecting my own power. He’s right, I can see myriad ways I waste my power, or ignore it entirely. On this spring day I ask you to do the same. How do you channel and share your own personal power? How do you fritter or neuter it?

(And speaking of Marc, his latest book, Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader, Lessons from Google and a Zen Monastery Kitchen is an easy-to-use guide to practicing mindful leadership to transform our personal and collective lives.)

Happy Friday.


Hive Mind
Collective intelligence is not an oxymoron.

In September 2018 Nesta, which calls itself an “innovation foundation”,  launched the first wave of Collective Intelligence Grants, offering up to £20,000 to organizations with ideas “for experiments that could advance knowledge about how to best design and apply collective intelligence to solve social problems.”

“We are delighted to announce these first twelve experiments. By combining human intelligence and technology they aim to find new ways of solving divisive problems, enable us to see the world through others’ eyes, and help us to become smarter together.”

Article: Experiments in Combining Human and Machine Intelligence for Social Good


Change and transition
How a meme grows

Designer Valentina D’Efilippo and front end engineer Lucia Kocinkova have created a fascinating interactive infographic that documents the life, anatomy, and footprint of the #MeToo movement on social media.

“The infographic compares the #MeToo movement to a dandelion. The creators researched conversations that are indicative of those respective phases, and when the viewer hovers over the seed on the dandelion, they can read those tweets or conversations about key events. The color of the seed represents the number of likes, the size of the seed represents the number of followers, and the pattern represents the number of comments. There is a circle around the center of the dandelion that depicts a timeline as to when each of these events occurred.”

Article: The Incredible Spread Of #MeToo Visualized


Design Process, Learning
Too many design decisions occur in isolation, are based on gut feel, or are not carefully examined.

While addressed to designers, this concise article is useful for anyone who wants to make better, more informed decisions in any part of their life.

“Design involves decisions, and those decisions are often flawed because our brains are wired for survival. The same brain features that literally helped us survive in the wild do not serve us well in the 21st-century workplace.” The article summarizes why we often fall into four common decision traps and how to avoid them.

Article: A Designer’s Guide To Better Decisions


There are two types of innovators. One peaks young.

“Young and old alike can rejoice in a new finding by researchers at Ohio State University and the University of Chicago. There is hope for us all when it comes to creativity, they say.

“According to the study, published in the journal De Economist on April 26, there are two types of creativity that can blossom at different points in a person’s life. Conceptual innovators tend to do their best work in their mid-twenties, while experimental innovators peak in their fifties, the researchers contend.

“The reason for this difference is that radical thinkers who come up with something new usually do so before they are steeped in the conventions of their field. Meanwhile, experimenters take decades of trial and error and accumulated knowledge to make unusual connections, going beyond the conventions of their domain.”

Article: The Two Types of Creativity That Peak at Different Ages


Organizational Culture
Creativity needs discipline.

“Despite the fact that innovative cultures are desirable and that most leaders claim to understand what they entail, they are hard to create and sustain. This is puzzling. How can practices apparently so universally loved—even fun—be so tricky to implement?

“The reason, I believe, is that innovative cultures are misunderstood. The easy-to-like behaviors that get so much attention are only one side of the coin. They must be counterbalanced by some tougher and frankly less fun behaviors. A tolerance for failure requires an intolerance for incompetence. A willingness to experiment requires rigorous discipline. Psychological safety requires comfort with brutal candor. Collaboration must be balanced with individual accountability. And flatness requires strong leadership. Innovative cultures are paradoxical. Unless the tensions created by this paradox are carefully managed, attempts to create an innovative culture will fail.

Article: The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures


Corporate Responsibility
“We hope to set the bar for our industry.”

“This week H&M announced that “all of its online clothing items will now carry a “transparency layer.” This feature will give customers detailed information on each piece of clothing, including “production country, supplier names, factory names and addresses, as well as the number of workers in the factories.

“The brand added that customers shopping in physical stores can easily access the same information. As explained in a press release, customers will be able to use the H&M app to scan an item tag; the app will then list off the transparency layer that is found online.

“…H&M reported that the launch also includes giving customers the ability to see what materials were used to make each item.”

Article: H&M Added Information on Production to Its Online Garments


Design Resources
Creative Commons has released their new library of copyright free images.

“Today CC Search comes out of beta, with over 300 million images indexed from multiple collections, a major redesign, and faster, more relevant search. It’s the result of a huge amount of work from the engineering team at Creative Commons and our community of volunteer developers.

“CC Search searches images across 19 collections pulled from open APIs and the Common Crawl dataset, including cultural works from museums (the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art), graphic designs and art works (Behance, DeviantArt), photos from Flickr, and an initial set of CC0 3D designs from Thingiverse.”

Article: CC Search is Out of Beta With 300M Images and Easier Attribution



Brian Eno famously said that “the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band”. Stripping rock down to the plaintive sound of unadorned electric guitar, a clean and clear electric bass used to provide counter melody, and a steady no-frills, no fills drum beat to hold it all down proved to be a foundation on which generations of bands could build.

Now, more than a half century later, Camp Cope, a trio from Melbourne are reinventing the sound yet again. And it’s cool to think that they were as likely to learn the cannon from Kathleen Hanna or Karen O as they were Lou Reed or Mark Smith.

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Georgia McDonald, bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich, and drummer Sarah Thompson don’t reinvent the sound as much as make it their own. I think of this music as “chamber rock”. That is, it swings, it rocks, it excites, but it does it at a volume that does not need a stadium to hold it.

Instead MacDonald’s emotive voice and the band’s tight and warm groove would be welcome at a house concert. Which is great, because MacDonald’s lyrics, which are socially and personally relevant and smart, deserve the attention that only an intimate setting can allow.

Studio Concert: Camp Cope Live on KEXP


Image of the Week

“Joe Light was an African-American man from Tennessee, but he called himself an American Jew.  He spoke his views to the neighborhood by messages posted on his house and shop.  Later, he was encouraged to paint.  Small works are seen mounted on his antique shop, and a number of paintings owned by the Souls Grown Deep collection can be seen here.”

Photo Essay: The Hand Painted Signs of Joe Light, Memphis TN Southern Folk Artist 


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