Clarity First Newsletter,
November 29, 2019

“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.”
? Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House

Clarity First

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

Wendell Berry is right, we need to know the world we inhabit, and learn to understand what is good for it. Here’s a few examples of people doing so that I found this week.

Happy Friday. If you are in the U.S. I hope you are enjoying a long holiday weekend.

Social Messaging, Storytelling

“Facts alone are not something people engage with.”

Viable Cities is a strategic innovation program now working with nine Swedish cities to help them reach their goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Such an ambitious target will be hard to meet unless all citizens are actively invested. To make this possible, the program hired writer Per Grankvist to fill the unusually lyrical-sounding role of Chief Storyteller.” Image by Anna Hållams

“What, exactly, does a survivable future look and feel like? And why have we so far proved unwilling to adapt our lifestyles and demand the policies that are needed to achieve it?

“In part, this represents a failure to communicate. The scientific community may understand the mechanics of greenhouse gases, but for those without backgrounds in climate science, it can be hard to connect a planet-scale atmospheric calamity with the reality of daily life. An ambitious new project in Sweden is nonetheless developing an unexpected tool that could enable the public to grasp the practical steps that would lead to more sustainable societies: storytelling.”

Article: To Survive Climate Change, We’ll Need a Better Story

Societal Evolution

An excellent argument that evolution applies to culture as well as organisms.

“A masterful educator, David Sloan Wilson begins with basics and then carefully amplifies them. To understand any product of evolution (a hand, cancer, aggression), one must address four areas: function, history, mechanism, and how it develops. A snowflake may be more complex than a hand, but it doesn’t qualify because it has no function. The problem of evil torments theologians but yields to evolutionary analysis. Thus, altruism seems a trait for wimps because selfish individuals prosper, but a group where everyone cooperates always outcompetes a group with selfish members. The author emphasizes that cultural evolution is a multilevel process. A learned behavior spreads by benefiting individuals compared to other individuals in the same group or the whole group compared to competing groups.”

Book Review: This View of Life, Completing the Darwinian Revolution


“All problems have a shape and a form. To solve them, we have to first understand them.”

Image via Wikipedia

“The word genius is thrown around casually, but there are very few people who actually deserve the moniker like Claude Shannon. He thought differently, and he thought playfully.

“One of the subtle causes behind what manifested as such genius, however, was the way he attacked problems. He didn’t just formulate a question and then look for answers, but he was methodological in developing a process to help him see beyond what was in sight.

“His problems were different from many of the problems we are likely to deal with, but the template and its reasoning can be generalized to some degree, and when it is, it may just help us think sharper, too.”

Article: Claude Shannon: How a Genius Solves Problems


Dehumanization is a mental loophole that lets us harm other people.

“A recent experiment took a group of 5-year-olds and showed them a series of pictures of faces. The pictures were of humans, humans digitally manipulated to look like plasticky dolls, or somewhere in between. When the kids were told they were looking at people from a foreign land, the number of images they considered to be human decreased.”

“Nour Kteily is a psychologist at Northwestern University whose research is about understanding one of the darkest, most ancient, and most disturbing mental programs encoded into our minds: dehumanization, the ability to see fellow men and women as less than human.

“’We have this incredible capacity for cooperation; it’s what makes us human in many ways,’ Kteily says. ‘And yet we have this capacity for othering.’

“And that conclusion is opening a Pandora’s box of revelations about the new wave of intolerance toward Muslims and immigrants in America under President Donald Trump — and what it could bring about.

“’Dehumanization doesn’t only occur in wartime,’ says Nick Haslam, a psychologist who is the world’s current leading expert on the topic. ‘It’s happening right here, right now. And every day, good people who don’t see themselves as being prejudiced bigots are nevertheless falling prey to it.’”

Article: The Dark Psychology of Dehumanization, Explained


A notebook and pen can be valuable brain-training tools.

“Research shows that writing stuff down — physically writing, wrapping your hand around a pen and moving it across a piece of paper — is one of the best ways to keep your thoughts organized and your memory sharp. In one study published in the journal Psychological Science, for example, researchers found that people who take notes on their computer tend to retain significantly less information than people who handwrite their notes.”

Article: Handwriting Is an Overlooked Memory Booster

Advertising, AI

“You can’t be a dream. It scares them.”

Copywriters, you can relax. If this experiment is representative of the state of the art, your jobs will not be replaced by artificial intelligence anytime soon. Jean-Baptiste Le Divelec, a copywriter with an international ad agency, joined up with some geek friends and trained a “neural network” on 7 years of Weiden+Kennedy produced ads for Nike and let it “write” an anthem about the brand. The results are hilarious, and more than a little embrassing for those of us who struggle to find words that express our collective reach for meaning.

Article: Jean-Baptiste Le Divelec: When AI Writes a Nike Ad


Netflix shouted out for a competitor, and 7 other ways brands acted smart in 2019

“Branding can be a dangerous game. If you get it right, customers may come rushing through the doors. Get it wrong, and you risk suffering relentless mockery from all corners of the internet. From shameful grocery bags to a pizza made for bees, here are the eight best brand moves of 2019, listed in chronological order.”

Article: 8 of the Strangest Ways Brands Tried to Get Our Attention in 2019


“A lot of people get rap and hip-hop mixed up. Two totally different things. When you say rap, you say an MC, and a DJ. When you say hip-hop, you say graffiti, you say break dancing, you say DJs, you say MCs, it’s the way you dress, the way you talk. All the elements into one. That’s hip-hop.”

“A feature-length documentary film about hip-hop DJing, otherwise known as turntablism. From the South Bronx in the 1970s to San Francisco now (2013), the world’s best scratchers, beat-diggers, party-rockers, and producers wax poetic on beats, breaks, battles, and the infinite possibilities of vinyl.”

Documentary Film: Scratch: Hip Hop Turntablism Documentary

Image of the week

The image of the week is a close-up of the model railway that Rod Stewart has been building, even while on tour, for the past two decades. The photo was shot by Steve Crise for Railroad Modeler magazine.

“He’s one of rock’s biggest stars, but Sir Rod Stewart has finally revealed the fruits of his other great passion – model railways.

“In between making music and playing live, Sir Rod has been working on a massive, intricate model of a US city for the past 23 years. He unveiled it as part of an interview with Railway Modeller magazine. He then phoned in to Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 show to rebuff the host’s suggestion he had not built it himself.

“‘I would say 90% of it I built myself,’ he insisted. ‘The only thing I wasn’t very good at and still am not is the electricals, so I had someone else do that.’

“Sir Rod has released 13 studio albums and been on 19 tours during the time it took to build the city, which is modeled on both New York and Chicago around 1945.

“‘A lot of people laugh at it being a silly hobby, but it’s a wonderful hobby,’ he said. He told Railway Modeller he worked on the skyscrapers and other scenery while on tour, requesting an extra room for his constructions in his hotels.”

Article: I Am Railing: Sir Rod Stewart Reveals His Epic Model Railway City

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.

If you get value from Clarity First, please pass it on.

Not a subscriber? Sign up here.

You can also read Clarity-First on the web.

Leave a Comment