Clarity First Newsletter,
October 23, 2020

“Look closely at the present you are constructing: it should look like the future you are dreaming.”
– Alice Walker

Clarity First

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

This week, while trying my best to avoid the news, and while accepting the reality that our family will not gather for Thanksgiving, I was reminded of a lesson I learned when I first started mountain biking: “That rock you’re on? It’s yesterday’s news. It’s already behind you. Instead of fretting about where you are, look up at where you’re going. Put your eyes as far up the trail as you can see and pick a clean line to that spot. Where you are aiming is more important than where you are.”

Or, as Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going”.  Happy Friday.

Learning, Collaboration

A Harvard professor uses simple but clever math to show why social connectors beat out the lone genius.

Photo: Getty Images. Illustration: Inc. Magazine

“Imagine two groups of people. We’ll call them the Geniuses and the Butterflies for short. The Geniuses are, well, geniuses. They come up with one groundbreaking invention every 10 human lifetimes. The Butterflies aren’t nearly as bright. They take 1,000 lifetimes to come up with a world-changing invention.

“But what the Butterflies lack in cognitive horsepower they make up for in social skills. Each Butterfly has 10 friends. The egghead Geniuses are a little awkward. They only have one friend. Now imagine everyone goes about their business trying to learn about cool, new inventions, either by figuring them out for themselves or learning about them from friends.

“Which society does better, the one where the people are a hundred times smarter (the Geniuses) or the one where they’re 10 times more social (the Butterflies)? Joseph Henrich, a professor of human biology at Harvard, runs the numbers and comes up with an answer:

“‘Suppose learning from friends is difficult: If a friend has [an innovation], a learner only learns it half the time. After everyone has done their own individual learning and tried to learn from their friends, do you think the innovation will be more common among the Geniuses or the Butterflies?
Well, among the Geniuses a bit fewer than 1 out of 5 individuals (18 percent) will end up with the invention. Half of those Geniuses will have figured it out all by themselves. Meanwhile, 99.9 percent of Butterflies will have the innovation, but only 0.1 percent will have figured it out by themselves.'”

Article: Why You Want to Be a Butterfly, Not a Genius

Persuasion, Social Messaging, Art

“At the core of any discussion of creativity or innovation is art.”

Photo by

“In 2015, while the members of the United Nations gathered in Paris to discuss climate change, artist Olafur Eliasson and geologist Minik Rosing placed 12 glacial icebergs from Greenland’s Nuuk Fjord in Place du Panthéon square. As commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions took shape and the Paris Agreement formed, the citizens of the city walked amongst the melting Ice Watch installation witness[ing] the ecological changes our world is undergoing. Eliasson and Rosing brought the climate debate to the fingertips of the people.

“Despite being much discussed and studied, climate change remains for many a distant and intangible phenomenon. This perception impacts the actions people are willing to take to address the issue; distance from the concept, in this instance, is akin to distance from the threats. For Eliasson, art like Ice Watch works to overcome this, helping “people not only get to know and understand something with their minds but also to feel it emotionally and physically.” It is art aiming to make complex topics accessible in order to catalyse change.

“Eliasson is not the first to recognise this aspect of the power of art. While many works reflect and respond to what is happening in the world — with iconic examples including Picasso’s renowned anti-war commentary Guernica and Norman Rockwell’s encapsulation of the US Civil Rights Movement in The Problem We All Live With — art has also historically led to action. From Leonardo Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings, which changed the way we study the human body, to Andy Warhol’s commentary on products and celebrity that shaped how we think about and interact with branding and fame. These artistic endeavors, and many others, have shaped cultural debate and changed behaviour.”

Article: The Role of Art in Driving Systems Change

Corporate Social Responsibility

The Patagonia mission statement is very simple: ‘We’re in business to save our home planet’.

“From encouraging employees to take direct action to challenging consumers to ‘Vote the Arseholes Out’, Patagonia says its focus is on addressing the climate emergency not working with influencers or advertising in fashion magazines.”

Article: Patagonia on Why It Won’t Fuel a ‘Superficial Desire’ for its Products

Corporate Social Responsibility

Report says that brands are better than NGOs at tackling environmental, social and governance issues in a holistic manner.

“A new report, the C&E Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer 2020, “found that the approach taken by NGOs to address such issues is often reactive and fragmented, rather than strategic and holistic. This is different to brands which, on the whole, work across a broader range of issues.”

“The research found that while NGOs were often deeply tackling one core issue, many were failing in other areas. For example, one large poverty action charity had a high carbon footprint from flying out to its different organisations across the world. Another printed fundraising T-shirts sourced from a factory paying workers well below the living wage.

“Not only do these missteps threaten to tarnish the reputation of NGOs, but they also need to be wary of being outshone by corporate companies who are able to deliver across a range of issues.”

Article: Covid-19 Forces Brands to ‘Step Up’ with Strategic Approach to Societal Issues

Workspace, Productivity, Color

Oops. It seems that the neutral colors that most of choose for our homes’ walls don’t make for great workspaces.

“With many offices closing their doors this year, many people have found themselves working from home (WFH). Whether you’re working from the kitchen table, or you are one of the fortunate ones with a home office, your environment plays an important role on your mood and productivity.”

Article: Color Psychology: Best and Worst Shades to Paint Your WFH Space

Visual Identity, Social Messaging

Shepard Fairey, who designed the iconic Obama ‘Hope’ poster, designed the cover of the newest issue of Time.

“Look closely at the cover of the Nov. 2-9 issue of Time (above), which hit newsstands today. The newsweekly’s iconic red border is so instantly recognizable that your brain probably registered it as Time cover—even though Time’s logo has been replaced with ‘VOTE.’”

Article: Time Replaces Its Logo With ‘Vote’ on Latest Cover

Branding, Brand Extension, Advertising

Some of corporate America’s biggest ‘what were they thinking?’ moments

[Photos (left to right, top to bottom): Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images, Jozsef Soos/iStock, Rick Friedman/Corbis/Getty Images, Disney, Tropicana, Microsoft, Juicero, Alexander Migl/Wiki Commons, Pepsi]

“Advertising and marketing have always been ripe for missteps and pop-culture absurdity, but the emergence of the internet, followed by the rise of social platforms, created seismic changes in how we consume and enjoy media, products, and even communicate with each other. That has made for some historically fertile ground for brand failure, and here’s our tour through the most notable failures since 1995—with lessons that endure for those wise enough to heed them.”

Article: The 25 Most Spectacular Branding Fails of the Last 25 Years



Article: This Austin Restaurant is Making the Wittiest Pandemic Signs Anywhere



Airbus Unveils World’s First Zero-Emission Commercial Aircrafts
Yes, COVID-19 Really is Destroying the Open Office



This week I fell into a Joni Mitchell internet rabbit hole. It started by stumbling upon this 1975 house party footage of Joni sharing a new song, Coyote.

Other guests included Roger McGuinn and Bob Dylan, and the house was Gordon Lightfoot’s. It’s a snippet from the documentary Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. While it is totally joyous to see Joni swinging so effortlessly, another reason to watch this clip is to see Dylan. I’m pretty sure you’ve never seen Bob Dylan as an accompanist, and a very sensitive and respectful one at that. He is listening. He is in awe.

Four years later, in September of 1979, while on tour to support her album Mingus, she recorded a live show at the Santa Barbara Bowl, and later released it as the double LP Shadows and Light. She played Coyote there, too, this time backed by guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist Jaco Pastorius, percussionist Don Alias, keyboard player Lyle Mays and saxophonist Michael Brecker.

Some fans think that this might have been Joni at her peak.

Another song performed at that show is Amelia. About the song she says: “In this song, I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another, sort of reflecting on the cost of being a woman and having something you must do”.

Rick Beato is a guitarist, keyboard player, producer and a serious fan of great music. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music, and has the ear and the chops to help us neophytes understand what we’re hearing when we listen to greats like Joni Mitchell. He’s got a You-Tube show called, What Makes That Song Great?. In this episode he holds up the album Shadows and Light. He celebrates the amazing band, and then he breaks down exactly what Joni was doing with chord changes and harmonic structures that no one outside of the most avant-garde jazz world had ever heard in the song Amelia.


Image of the Week

“You realise, my goodness, her life is so detailed and crazily connected to everything around her.”

The image of the week is the eye of an octopus, an animal with whom Craig Foster, a South African film maker, swam near and with for more than 80% of her one-year life. During that time the octopus actually approached Foster, and allowed him to touch and hold her. It’s clipped from his mind-opening film My Octopus Teacher.

It’s been called “the best film of 2020“. What makes it so is the film maker’s ability to show that human intelligence is just one intelligence on a planet that is teeming with intelligence.

“Mr Foster, an award-winning film-maker of natural history, managed to adapt to the underwater world the tracking techniques he learnt in the Kalahari desert from the San people, widely regarded as being the best trackers in the world.

“‘It involves a number of things like looking at subtle changes in sand and sand texture to see what animals have been around, looking to see if, for example, there’s been a kill, if a worm has been digging, slime trails, egg casings – there are a multitude of signs underwater.

‘Initially I thought it would be impossible to try and track underwater but I was desperate to try and break into this very cryptic world,’ he said.

“‘This crazy idea was in my mind for a long time and then eventually I started seeing the first underwater tracks, that’s when I first thought it could work but I had no idea that I could develop it into such a detailed way understanding of animals underwater.'”

Article: How I Became Friends With an Octopus

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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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