The Clarity First Newsletter, October 19, 2018

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

Toni Morrison tells a story:
Christmas, the day after, in 2004, following the presidential re-election of George W. Bush.

“I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of ‘Oh, fine — and you?’, I blurt out the truth: ‘Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election…’ I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: ‘No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work — not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!’

I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.

Thank you, and a deep bow, to Maria Popova and her always inspiring letter Brain Pickings.

Mirabai Bush and spiritual icon Ram Dass at his home in Hawaii, where they had the conversations that became “Walking Each Other Home.” Photo by Kathleen Dassima Murphy.

“Yes. You have to get close to the root of fear, which is ego identification, because as long as you think you are vulnerable, you are going to be afraid. We often think that vulnerability is a kind of weakness, but there’s a kind of vulnerability that is actually strength and presence.” – Ram Dass
Book Excerpt: Mirabai Bush and Ram Dass on Bringing Fear Close

Advertising, Social Messaging

Real journalism matters.

Recently the Columbia Journalism Review sponsored a print and digital ad campaign designed to remind readers of the value and importance of concrete, fact-based journalism. The campaign consists of people reading what appear to be typical newspapers, but check the title on the masthead. The work was done by TBWA\Chiat\Day New York.
Article: Columbia Journalism Review Debuts New Ad Campaign in The New York Times to Combat ‘Fake News’

Branding, Social Messaging

Branding and design can play a big role in increasing political participation.

City Lab’s Sarah Holder says that the most “politically potent image of 2016” was Trump’s MAGA hat, which she says “initiate[d] strangers across state lines into a club governed by a shared (albeit amorphous) dream.” She notes, “As the country prepares for a midterm election, Republican and Democratic candidates running for positions up and down the ballot are trying to find their own Red Hat—a symbol and a style that sets them apart and sells their message.”

This is an important article. It highlights some of the new brand thinkers who are bringing their insight to the political landscape, and it explains why no brand, non-profit or for-profit, can afford to hide on the sidelines:

“There are three reasons brands ‘may be forced to take sides’ now:
“First, brands target emotions and, at this point in history, the strongest emotions are around politics and social change.
“Second, thanks to the Internet, corporate donations are more transparent, subject to scrutiny, and incite strong feelings.
“Third, the cost of being on “the wrong side” is higher. It includes boycotts and reputation harm.”
Article: Political Branding? There’s No Outside

Learning

The cognitive biases that are tricking your brain

Science suggests that we’re hardwired to delude ourselves. Worse, our various biases are hard to beat. As Daniel Kahneman says in the book, Thinking, Fast and Slow: “The question that is most often asked about cognitive illusions is whether they can be overcome. The message … is not encouraging.” But, never say never. The most effective check against the myriad biases that muddy our perceptions are from the outside: Others can perceive our errors more readily than we can. This gives group learning a whole new meaning.
Article: Your Lying Mind

Learning, Personal Development

In life and business, the person with the fewest blind spots wins. 

“Removing blind spots means we see, interact with, and move closer to understanding reality. We think better. And thinking better is about finding simple processes that help us work through problems from multiple dimensions and perspectives, allowing us to better choose solutions that fit what matters to us. The skill for finding the right solutions for the right problems is one form of wisdom…

“Decisions based on improved understanding will be better than ones based on ignorance. While we can’t predict which problems will inevitably crop up in life, we can learn time-tested ideas that help us prepare for whatever the world throws at us.”

Shane Parrish’s typically in-depth article about the science of decision making is worth bookmarking. It is a comprehensive survey that summarizes the sources of stupidity, how we decide, the top general thinking concepts, the top articles on decision making, and the best decision making books.
Article: The Ultimate Guide to Making Smart Decisions

Design, Adoption of Ideas

We are surrounded by objects that have history, that span centuries — and sometimes we completely ignore them.

What is the first image you visualize in your head when you think about a calendar? Probably a table with numbers arranged in 7 columns and 5 or 6 rows. This one was designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1966.

It wasn’t until the mid-18th century that the calendar as we know it became the norm. By the early 19th century companies were printing them to extend their brand. Today the same form has crossed the digital divide.
Article: A Brief History of Calendar Design

Marketing, Value Proposition, Copywriting

The natural force of marketing, and how customers make decisions

Daniel Burstein uses science to make the case that we can improve our marketing practices. He overlays convincing research with “you can do this at home” examples. Treat this article like a creative challenge, or a punch list, or a focusing lens.
Article: Marketing’s Role at 3 Key Phases in Every Human Decision

Music

Playlist

In the 70s Boz Scags helped create a new California sound by blending soul, jazz and pop into a new definition of cool. In August of 2004 he assembled a band of top-shelf players and two angelic singers and they performed his greatest hits, live in front of a full room at the American Music Hall in San Francisco. 

In an era when samples and loops confuse live listeners with questions of who is doing what, this old school performance by a 10-piece band is mind-blowing.

“Yes, child, once music was live, and, yes, live soul music does make you want to move.” Here’s the whole very tight, and very groovy concert.
Video: Boz Live 2004

Art

Images of the Week

The smaller of the two  images of the week is titled Grandpa Stripes, Mixed fabrics, including cotton, denim, polyester satin, and synthetic brocade, 92 x 94 inches, 2010. The larger is titled Get Ready, Color softground etching with aquatint, 36 x 43 inches, 2006. Both are by Mary Lee Bendolph. Swarthmore’s List Gallery has some of her etchings and quilts hung now. She is fluent in both media, but she is better known for her quilts. “The quilts bring abstraction to the medium of textiles which subtly reflects the experiences and emotions of an African American woman…

“It does not take a trained eye to appreciate Ms. Bendolph’s artistic brilliance or the uniqueness of her vision. Indeed, her work has been compared to that of the masters of modern art, even to improvised jazz, and to the literature of Toni Morrison.”
Article: Piece Together, The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph at Swarthmore’s List Gallery

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 tool of transformation. Learn more.

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