Clarity First Newsletter,
October 30, 2020

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh


Clarity First

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

During a time when it seems obvious that some are doing their best to steal a national election, a time when an international pandemic is running rampant, and during a time when fires, floods and storms ravage the planet while we ignore their causes, it’s hard to not succumb to despair.

But as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, when we are carried by despair there is no hope. He also reminds us that when we practice mindfulness and gratitude we can find calm and peace, and that when we do so we also inspire hope for a future of peace for all.

I’m the first to admit that finding calm and peace during these times of chaos is very challenging, if not impossible, on some days. One of the reasons I write this letter, that I share the learning and the related hope that I see springing from myriad pockets throughout the world, is because this act of curation is very therapeutic for me.

I hope that it is helpful for you, too. Happy Friday.


Instead of anxiously waiting for uncertainty to diminish, we can look back. Way back, to the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Image adapted from Joshua Earle/Unsplash Danielle Levis Pelusi/Unsplash

Psychological distress in the face of uncertainty is no accident—we have evolved to be nervous around feelings of threat. Yet science shows that because technology now lets us reduce uncertainty—by, for example, getting peer reviews of pretty much anything before we try it, or by having the ability to glance at what the temperature will be this afternoon, no matter where we will be—we now have an even higher intolerance of uncertainty.

But Yael Schonbrun and Barry Schwartz have an antidote. “Instead of anxiously awaiting clearer rules for uncertainty to diminish, we can look back. Way back, to the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

“In our environment of competing priorities and rampant uncertainties, we can turn to a particular kind of judgment that Aristotle explored in his classic Nicomachean Ethics. This kind of judgment, called “practical wisdom,” means knowing how to balance conflicting aims and principles. This kind of wisdom acknowledges that uncertain risk cannot be eliminated, but guides us in becoming wiser about how we manage it. As we confront terrifying and uncertain trade-offs, we can learn how to wisely judge competing goods. Practical wisdom can help us balance priorities, like physical health, financial security, protection for medical professionals, teachers, and other frontline workers, and the academic, social, and psychological health of our children.”

Article: How Practical Wisdom Helps Us Cope with Radical Uncertainty


In 2020 network science became essential to understanding our interconnected world.


Network science is a field that aims to understand how people, objects, and information are linked, and how connections create complicated phenomena, from viral videos, to pandemics, to metabolic disease. While the field is well established, 2020 might be the year where it came of age, and became essential to grasping our increasingly complicated, interconnected world.”

Article: The Science That Spans #MeToo, Memes, and Covid-19


Improv, like all effective communication, begins with listening. So, practicing improv provides training in listening.

Image by Lamerie via Creative Commons

“We often spend too little time listening to each other and too much time preparing to speak. By focusing more on others’ words and less on our own response, as improv artists do, we can make more progress collaboratively.

“Improvisation is the art of acting without a script. And while, yes, this often happens on stage for entertainment, much of our work life is improvised-especially our conversations. Therefore, improv is a great place to look for insights into how to have better dialogues with your colleagues, stakeholders, and customers.”

Article: Embrace the Art of Improvisational Listening


Books that you’ve already read are far less valuable than unread ones.

In recent years I have shed my life-long collections of vinyl records, CDs and mix-tapes. But I remain firm in my defense of a massive collection of books, many of them just skimmed, not read. The Japanese even have a word for the habit of acquiring books but letting them pile up without reading them: tsundoku (???). It seems that my madness has a reason.

“A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

Article: Building an Antilibrary: the Power of Unread Books

Futures Thinking

In the early 1970s, eight science-fiction writers tried to imagine what the far-flung year of 2020 would look like.

They ended up being both wrong and right.

Article: Here’s What 2020 Looked Like to the Sci-Fi Writers of 1974

Organizational Health

Microsoft’s new remote work policy is great because it recognizes its employees as individuals. 

“Microsoft recently announced new guidance for remote work, and it has potential to change how the company works for years to come.

“The biggest change: making work from home, at least part of the time, the new permanent standard. Also standard is “work schedule flexibility,” which gives employees more freedom to choose the hours and days when they work, along with their workday start and end times.”

Inc. magazine sums up the beauty of the policy in just six words: “Offer as much flexibility as possible”. Mmm. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Article: Microsoft’s New 6-Word Remote Work Policy Is Brilliant. Here’s Why Your Company Should Steal It

Social Messaging, Advertising

Would you hire Trump if he applied to your company?

This effective spot is very simple, therefore easy to produce. But it’s good enough to earn more than 3 million views on Twitter just one day after posting.

Article: This PAC Created a Last-Minute Anti-Trump Ad on a Shoestring Budget

6 Months Into the Pandemic, ‘Greener’ Jobs Are Safer, Higher Paid, More Resilient

Pro Tips From a Speaking Coach to Remove the Dissociation We All Feel When Talking to Someone Else on a Computer Screen.

Reading Literary Versus Popular Fiction Promotes Different Socio-Cognitive Processes, Study Suggests

Personal Covid-19 Experiences Determine How People Will Vote President and Brands



This week my friend and long-time client Sally Mixsell sent out an email to a small group of her friends and colleagues. The subject line was: Worth watching …inspirational….

Her short memo said: “This was shared with me with a note to pass it along. So I am (it’s not a chain letter!). If you haven’t seen it, take a look as we all work to bring more peace to our lives.”

It’s a video produced by It’s a mash-up of a song called The Love by Black Eyed Peas and Jennifer Hudson and a recent speech by Joe Biden. He, in turn, opens the video by repeating the words of civil rights activist Ella Baker:

“Give people light, and they will find the way”.

The song itself is a rework of  “Where Is The Love?,” a single from the band’s 2003’s Album Elephunk. The original song was about police brutality. This one is about why your vote is essential right now.

Sally, you are so right. This is such a beautifully uplifting work. It is definitely worth passing along.

Video: The Love – Black Eyed Peas and Jennifer Hudson

Image of the Week

The image of the week was shot by Ryan Donnell on November 4, 2014, the day of a mid-term election. It’s of the Su Nueva Laundromat in West Lawn, Chicago, the official polling place for about 700 registered voters. It’s from an article that features seven more images of voting in places that were intended for another purpose: Eight of America’s Most Unusual Polling Places.

Lawn Lanes bowling alley. Chicago, 2012.

Wherever you do it, vote.

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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