Clarity First Newsletter,
September 18, 2020

“Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come… Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed, to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder.” – Wangari Maathai

Clarity First

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

We are living in a time of simultaneous ecological disaster, existential threat to our democracy, economic crisis, worldwide pandemic and a societal wake-up to deeply rooted and structural racism and sexism. How’s that patriarchal system of command and control working out for us?

But, as EF Schumacher observed, the system of nature, of which we are a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting and self-cleansing. It’s not hard to understand what is going on is a natural reaction to centuries of our species attempting to dominate each other and our planet.

This week I had a check-in with my friend Beth Tener. She reminded me that we are also simultaneously living in a time when we are moving toward a new way of being, a new reality that is not here yet. “When we turn to each other,” she said “when we rely on shared leadership, the problems themselves draw the resources we need to resolve them. It becomes less of an attempt to fix the problems and more of a tuning into a higher vibration, into the truly resource-rich environment of our potential.”

Her comment reminded me of Shumacher again: “An entirely new system of thought is needed, a system based on attention to people, and not primarily attention to goods.”

Thanks, Beth. Thanks, EF. I needed that.

Happy Friday.


It’s time for a new ethic of “contributive justice.”

“At the heart of the populist resentments that roil American politics are grievances about work. Those grievances are about more than job losses and stagnant wages, though. ‘Work’ is both economic and cultural. The people left behind by globalization haven’t just struggled while others prospered; they sense that the work they do is no longer a source of social recognition.”

Article: What Liberals Get Wrong About Work

Diversity, Creativity

Familiar ground may not be the best place to cultivate creativity.

Nick Shepherd/Getty Images/Ikon Images

“Social scientist Adam Galinsky has found that people who have deep relationships with someone from another country become more creative and score higher on routine creativity tests.

“‘There’s something about deeply understanding and learning about another culture that’s transformative,’ Adam says.

In one study, Adam and his colleagues tracked business school students during a 10-month MBA program. They tested the students using standard creativity measures at the beginning and end of the school term. They found that students who’d dated someone from another country during the term became more creative. In another study, Adam found that even the simple act of reflecting on one’s deep relationship with a person from another country caused a temporary boost in creativity.

“Adam’s research outside the lab echoes these findings. In one of Adam’s favorite projects, he looked at fashion lines presented by major fashion houses over 21 seasons. He found that the time fashion designers spent immersed in a different culture ‘predicted their entire fashion line creativity.'”

Article/Podcast: Creativity And Diversity: How Exposure To Different People Affects Our Thinking

Economy 2.0

What would it take to go from proposals to a new economic system? Let’s start with three assumptions.

“For a time, after the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and the retreat of social democracy at the hands of neoliberalism in the West, it was proclaimed that unencumbered corporate capitalism—with all its inequality and environmental costs—was the only game in town, the last system left standing.

“Especially since the Great Recession, this judgment has begun to change. We see hints of this in the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders as a serious candidate for president and the prominence of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Congress.

“At the same time, there has been an explosion of on-the-ground experimentation and new institutional development that includes worker cooperatives (and public support for their development), community land trusts, and rising activism around a range of proposals that would expand the scope of the public sector, such as Medicare for All and public banking.

“But what would it take to go from proposals to a new economic system?

“Let’s start with three assumptions: (1) There must be a long-term vision whose values and goals serve as guides for democratic institutional designs; (2) there must be a design for how local democratic economic forms such as worker co-ops can link up with larger regional, national, and even global structures; and (3) there must be political and cultural movement supportive of these values that affirms ecological and other limits.”

Article: Building a Democratic Economy: Sketch of a Pluralist Commonwealth

Branding, Economy 2.0

While consumer brands overdose on early VC funding, here’s a lesson in building brands thoughtfully and slowly.

“Alexander Stutterheim can’t be rushed.

“These days, you might find him sipping fika (coffee) at his cottage in Öland, a small island off the mainland of Sweden. There he methodically works away on his latest venture, John Sterner.

“If you’ve followed his journey at all, you know Alexander simply does things differently.  Here’s what you must know about him.

“His businesses reflect his ideas: to live and work slowly.”

Article: The Business of (Slow) Fashion

Graphic Design, Web Design, Content Marketing

A really good article on poster design that is also a brilliant example of content marketing

Qode Interactive is a reseller of Wordpress themes. They curate themes for designers, creatives and fashionistas. Their motto is “We Bring Beauty to WordPress”. One of their primary marketing efforts is an online magazine, Qode Magazine. This article in a recent issue is a case study of brilliant content marketing. It presents a simple summary of graphic design trends (Swiss Style, Psychedelic Style, 80s Design, 90s Design) seen through the lens of those trends as posters. It then links the trend to themes that they are re-selling.

“In this article, we’re going to explore the connection between poster and web design. The two are inextricably linked and share the same key function, which is to communicate with viewers through visuals. Both have been heavily influenced by the technological advances that continue to shape and change our world, but also by art in general. As a result, we’ve seen the birth of many different design styles that artists have experimented with and applied to their works.”

Article: From Posters to the Web: The Link Between Print and Digital Design

Social Messaging, Graphic Design

Clear Signage Saves Lives

Photo: Daniel Meigs/courtesy Base Design & Hastings

“Makeshift signs in restaurants and shops are endearing but confusing. This slickly designed signage from Base Design and Hastings does a better job of encouraging safe consumer behavior in the COVID-19 era.”

Article: COVID-19 Needs Corporate Branding

Social Messaging

How do activism slideshows go viral on Instagram? By co-opting popular design aesthetics from brands.

Article: How Social Justice Slideshows Took Over Instagram

How Early Childhood Shapes Your Political Views
Vinyl Just Outsold CDs for the First Time in Decades
Guitars Are Back, Baby!

School Counselors on Supporting the Emotional Needs of Kids During the Pandemic


Just Sayin’


Jamaican reggae singer Toots Hibbert, of Toots and The Maytals, photographed in 1974.

Michael Putland/Getty Images

One week ago today, Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, the lead singer and songwriter of Toots and the Maytals and one of reggae’s foundational figures, died in Kingston, Jamaica. He was 77. NPR produced a fitting short biography and tribute.

“Hibbert’s soulful, electrifying performances thrilled live music lovers for more than 50 years and brought a distinctive Jamaican expression to international audiences. His 1968 song “Do The Reggay” gave a name to Jamaica’s signature beat, but his artistry defied boundaries. His vocals are an amalgam of rousing gospel, vintage soul, gritty R&B, and classic country fused with pliant, indigenous Jamaican rhythms. Hibbert brought a stunning island lilt to Otis Redding’s standard “(I’ve Got) Dreams to Remember,” he transformed Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand The Rain” into a scorching serenade, and forever altered John Denver’s “Country Roads” into a beloved sing-along reggae anthem. ”

Article: Toots Hibbert, Reggae Ambassador And Leader Of Toots And The Maytals, Dies At 77

The Guardian curated and provided links to 10 of his most essential songs.

Toots and the Maytals: Sweet and Dandy (from The Harder They Come)

Article: Toots Hibbert: His 10 Most Essential Recordings

Thank you, Toots. You helped me see the amazing webs that hold and feed us all. You’ll be on my playlists until my end.

Image of the Week

The Image of the Week is by Shimmel Zohar, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who came to America in the 1850s and established the eponymous Zohar Studios on Pearl Street in the predominately Jewish Lower East Side of New York. It’s from a new book titled Predicting The Past — Zohar Studios: The Lost Years by Stephen Berkman. Steven Heller was sent a review copy, and he assumed that “this was one of those enviable, extraordinary discoveries found in some long abandoned warehouse or attic.” But as he perused the pages he realized that “Stephen Berkman did not simply stumble upon Zohar’s lost cache but his involvement is more proactive – indeed creative – in terms of the wit and talent that pervades this entire (images, text and design) remarkable work.” So he tracked him down and interviewed him. The interchange is remarkable.

Steven Heller: When did you begin your interest in and work on this elaborate, dramatic, mysterious 19th century aesthetic? And why were you so inspired to create such an elaborate production?”

Stephen Berkman: This preoccupation dates back to a young age when I found myself slipping into reveries that had the semblance of nineteenth century illustrated engravings. These trance like states can only be described as nineteenth century fever dreams where everything appeared phantasmagorical, like a kind of second hand surrealism that subverted Victorian formalities. Later when I discovered Max Ernst’s surrealistic visual collage novel Une Semaine de Bonté, and Harry Smith’s animated film Heaven and Earth Magic, I recognized them as kindred spirits, and creators of a new visual lexicon.”

Obscura Object

“Innovation was at the heart of the nineteenth century, which represented an era of exploration, discovery and invention, and most importantly it was the century that gave birth to photography. The world was receptive to new scientific revelations and there was a sense of accelerating headlong into the future. But the framework was still incomplete, and blanks in the collective knowledge were often filled in with fanciful explanations. Photography was developed out of this critical mass of science and magic, and hopefully this book embodies that spirit.”

Article: Undercovering a Lost Photographic Genius


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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