Strands of Genius Throwback: NashvilleStrong, Racism is an Ad Campaign, What Does Systemic Mean

plus our thoughts on systems vs. people, and how the project with Dolly Parton came together

Rosie and Faris are on holiday this week, so this is a rerun of Strands from earlier this year featuring our project with Dolly Parton!


At the start of the pandemic, my dad approached me, asking if Faris and I might want to make a short video for the city of Nashville. It's been a while since we've been on this side of the creative process, but seeing as though our travel plans were canceled for the foreseeable future, we jumped in with excitement.

We talked about how the world of music looks a little different these days, with stages empty and tour buses parked -- but also about how songwriters have always turned their struggles into stories, and stories into songs. 

We asked Matt Burch (who you were introduced to a couple of weeks ago as a guest curator) to take our thoughts and turn them into a more punchy script. We asked Cal & Aly if they'd be down to shoot and direct. Our friend Paulie jumped in with some audio edits. And y'all know how much we love Ashley, but we can't tell you how far above and beyond she went to help us bring this to life. 

It felt like Humble and Kind was an obvious background track, and we were thrilled that Tim McGraw agreed.

But I couldn't shake this feeling that the voiceover should come from a woman. I hemmed and hawed and asked Faris if I should let it go, or not. He told me that I'd regret it if I didn't at least try to bring in that feminine energy. And so, I called my dad. 

"Who were you thinking, then?" was his response.
"Dolly Parton," I said, and paused there. "Thoughts?"
"Oh man... That would be pretty special."
"She's always been about people more than politics, about bringing people together, about using music to help people through tough times," I continued. "Think there's any chance?"
"You never know until you ask," said Dad, so wisely ;)

Y'all, when I said "Dolly Parton," I want you to know that I didn't believe for a second it would happen. It was my moonshot. But that's why you go for the moonshots -- because sometimes dreams *do* come true.

For a few weeks, I listened to 9-5 and Light of a Clear Blue Morning on repeat. I was shaking in my boots when we got a note from her team saying that she loved the idea and would be happy to be a part of it. I mean, WHAT?! I may have shed a tear or two.

I'm so proud of our team, and of this work. And I'm excited to share it with you today!

The week of June 22nd, we were especially thankful for: 

the opportunity to collaborate with friends and family, serendipitous timing, Dolly Parton, Tim McGraw, and all of the love from the Nashville scene.

:: THE LINKS :: 
  • “We're all ready to wake up from this and get to work on writing our greatest hit yet. There's gonna be heartbreak, but there's hope too—and faith. Truth is, it's gonna take a lot more than three chords, but that's a start. Let's add a chorus a million strong. A chorus that believes in one simple thing: each other.” Thanks to Muse by CLIO for the spotlight!(Muse by CLIO)


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As Lakoff points out in the bonus link above, there are essentially two different models we use of causation, and thus interventions, and they essentially operate on a spectrum from direct to sytemic. Another way we think about this, in terms of personal behavior and politics and so on, is along a slightly different spectrum, between individual causes and systemic causes relating to what happens in your life.

On one end, you have extreme individualism, the belief where anything that ever happens to you is a direct result of your own actions. (We assume no one rational actually believes this, since you being born was definitely not as result of your actions, but a slightly less extreme version of the belief is often espoused.)

Meritocracy exists on the far left of the spectrum and it’s enshrined in the USA in statements like “I think the American Dream says that anything can happen if you work hard enough at it and are persistent, and have some ability. The sky is the limit to what you can build, and what can happen to you and your family.” [Sam Weill]

One counterpoint to this came from Obama: Without the state infrastructure to support it, individual effort doesn’t go very far. Obama said, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for.”

But, at the furthest right, individual impacts on their own life are limited. The system predetermines genetics, where you are born and to whom, and is set up in ways that either support or suppress your economic success. The most extreme version of this negates the possibility of free will, since all thoughts and behaviors are emergent functions of your genes and upbringing, and consciousness itself is an epiphenomenon… which is to say perhaps your brain isn’t making decisions, but instead giving you the impression you are making decisions, as a way of informing you about decisions that have already been made.

Individual actions are of course systemically constrained and guided by laws and social codes. A person can literally do anything they want — but people mostly don’t do things that come with extreme legal or social consequences. You tend to act within the system.

In psychological terms, this can be understood as the locus of control: how much you feel like you control your life versus your circumstances. But in political terms, it means that individuals aren’t as important as the systems they build, change, or damage.

For example, because judges are lifetime appointments, changing judges changes the system in a way that even voting cannot. This suggests that, as Popper pointed out below, we should make them as robust as possible. However, because we find systems harder to grasp, we tend to focus on the individuals, and invest these singular persons with outsized qualities, good and bad. We put all our hope in them and make them the heroes [or villains] we need. But perhaps that’s the problem.

Unhappy is theland that needs a hero.” Brecht


This leads to a new approach to the problem of politics, for it forces us to replace the question: Who should rule? by the new question: How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?

If we can ever be of help to you, even outside of a formal engagement, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

faris & rosie & ashley | your friends over at

@faris is always tweeting
@rosieyakob hangs out on instagram
@ashley also writes for deaf, tattooed & employed

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It's called Genius Steals because we believe ideas are new combinations and that nothing can come from nothingBut copying is lazy. We believe the best way to innovate is to look at the best of that which came before and combine those elements into new solutions. 

Co-Founders Faris & Rosie are award-winning strategists and creative directors, writers, consultants and public speakers who have been living on the road/runway since March 2013, working with companies all over the world. Our Director of Operations is nomadic like us, our accounting team is based out of Washington, our company is registered in Tennessee, and our collaborators are all over the world. Being nomadic allows us to go wherever clients need us to be, and to be inspired by the world in between.

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