Clarity First Newsletter,
November 20, 2020

“We must use what we have to invent what we desire.”

– Adrienne Rich

Clarity First

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

For years now my friends and colleagues have been reporting increasingly deep feelings of anxiety during check-ins. After all, four years of watching what John Oliver so aptly named the “Clowntown Fuck-the-World Shitshow” will stress anyone out. But when he innocently coined that phrase in 2016 none of us could have glimpsed the true levels of depravity, corruption, and cynicism to which the Trump administration and his Republican enablers would stoop, nor the ineptitude they would reveal.

So recently I’ve retreated in the only way I know how, to turn the volume down on radio reports and to turn my TV to streaming platforms rather than cable news. Instead I am seeking peace, which happily I’m finding is right within reach.

I’m spending more time on the mediation pillow, and more time watching the light change in the sky, and the seasons change all around us. I’m spending more time with poetry and literature, and more time in the woods.

As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches: “If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.”

As the sun falls lower and lower in the sky I wish you peace, too.

Happy Friday.

Branding, Civics

USA: Can this brand be saved?

This week Fast Company ran a five part series that they called USA: Can This Brand Be Saved?”.They approached the question from a variety of angles and perspectives, ultimately aiming for an in-depth look at what America’s brand is, how it’s changed over the past four years, and where it needs to go from here.”

As a part of the effort they asked one of the world’s leading ad agencies, Wieden+Kennedy, to give some ideas on how the USA might restore luster to the brand. It is brilliant. The deck they present is a master class in brand identity. And, like any good brand, their identified brand promise will fill you with feelings of aspiration and much-needed hope.

Article: The Great American Rebrand


Three pieces of concrete advice on how to approach conversations, open up others to new ideas, and keep discussions productive. 

“Many people don’t discuss controversial topics with their friends and family in an effort to avoid the seemingly inevitable fights and hurt feelings. My extended family now staunchly avoids talking politics for that very reason. But some topics are impossible to ignore, especially if you’re trying to understand or even challenge the opinions of others.

“And although they make me feel like I’m treading on thin ice, these difficult conversations are important to have. Discussing controversial topics with our family and peers helps us learn and grow. We don’t exist in a vacuum and we’re not static. As people, we develop our ideas by interacting with others, testing our thinking, and getting feedback.”

Article: Conversations on Polarizing Topics Are Possible. If You’re Up for It, Here’s How to Start

Idea Spread

What People Like You Like

In his new book, MIT Sloan School research fellow, Michael Schrage, explores the powerful effects of recommendation engines and where they might lead.

Book Review: Recommendation Engines, MIT Press, 2020

Learning, Storytelling

Local libraries shaped a sci-fi legend, or, how to use interactive maps to tell a compelling story

“In one of the most turbulent years in recent memory, readers are turning to the prophetic books of science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler.” So begins a beguiling interactive story told by Aida Ylanan, and Casey Miller, in the LA Times. Octavia Butler was born in Pasadena in 1947. Throughout her life she has frequented LA’s many libraries and bookstores.

“Butler was a voracious reader, checking out any title that remotely piqued her interest. ‘I taste books, taste knowledge and for that matter, taste life experiences as some people taste wine or food,’ she wrote.”

Central to the creative strategy employed by the Times team is the use of maps, superimposed with snapshots of her, her book covers, and the bus tickets she used to get from place to place. They relied on a program called Mapbox, which allowed them to show the reader exactly where the libraries or bookstores in question are relative to each other.

The result is a compelling story told in a completely new and effective way.

Article: The Literary Life of Octavia E. Butler


First principles are the building blocks of knowledge, the foundational understanding acquired from breaking something down into its most essential concepts.

Julia Child on the set of her TV show. Credit: The New York Times

“There’s a reason many cooking competition shows feature a segment where contestants need to design their own recipe from a limited assortment of ingredients. Effective improvisation shows the judges that someone can actually cook, not just follow recipes.

“We can draw a strong parallel from cooking to thinking. If you want to learn how to think for yourself, you can’t just follow what someone else came up with. You need to understand first principles if you want to be able to solve complex problems or think in a unique, creative fashion. First principles are the building blocks of knowledge, the foundational understanding acquired from breaking something down into its most essential concepts.

“One person who exemplifies first principles thinking is Julia Child, an American educator who charmed audiences with her classes, books, and TV shows. First principles thinking enabled Julia to both master her own struggles with cooking and then teach the world to do the same. In Something from the Oven, Laura Shapiro tells the charming story of how she did it. Here’s what we can learn about better thinking from the ‘French Chef.'”

Article: How Julia Child Used First Principles Thinking


“It’s about that fearless spirit and imagination when pushing boundaries.”

How do you make a brand associated with upperclass people braving the elements at their country estates hip and cool? You dress four hip and cool young dancers in the clothes, and ask them to brave the elements on an urban street while reinterpreting one of pop-culture’s most iconic on-screen dance performances, Gene Kelly’s ‘Singing in the Rain’. This ad is so much fun to watch.

It’s a great example of content so good that the audience will share it, meaning that the sponsor doesn’t need to buy the media on which it appears.

Article: Burberry Debuts a Mesmerizing, Modern Take on ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

(Thanks to my friend and colleague Sabrina Hamilton for sharing this wonderful spot.)

Brand Extension

Pizza is a comfort food. Then of course it should be a weighted blanket, too.

File under: “You can’t make this up”.

Article: Instead Of Eating Your Feelings, Wrap Yourself In A Weighted Pizza Hut Gravity Blanket

Special Education Teacher Explains Why She Wants to be Called ‘Accessibility Specialist’

Interdisciplinary Study Shows How Species Interactions Affect Evolution

Why Health-Care Systems Are Funding (Or Building) Grocery Stores

The False Promises of Green Materialism


This week’s Playlist is a cover of The Who’s Baba O’riley by an artist who calls herself Luna (not the band that goes by the same name). She plays it on the Gayageum, a traditional Korean plucked zither.

I like covers because they allow the listener to hear and appreciate the song itself from a completely different perspective. I really like this cover played on a very traditional instrument because it allows me to experience the instrument, which is completely foreign to me, in the context of a song that is completely familiar to me.

Mind opening.

Video: The Who- Baba O’riley Gayageum ver. by Luna

Image of the Week

The image of the week was shot by Rachel Lopez. It’s a photo of the ceiling of a taxicab in Mumbai, and is plucked from her Instagram page named The Greater Bombay.    

She calls the page: “The world’s largest gallery of Mumbai taxi ceiling photos from India.

“I take kaali-peeli cabs, I look up, and this is the art I see.”

Instagram Page: The Greater Bombay

Article: In Mumbai, Uber Must Compete with Vibrant Taxi Roofs.  

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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