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No. 1.5: Distributed, Not Divided: Creating Cohesion in Activist Movements
In today’s newsletter…We're 100!
Progress Report started in the midst of the pandemic, when we all needed a reminder that progress—in the workplace, in corporate impact, in broader activism—is always possible. As it turns out, that reminder is evergreen. For our 100th edition, our team shares quick thoughts on progress in all its forms.
In today's newsletter...The Tech Revolution(s)
Ultimately, there are usually several tech revolutions happening at a time, not just one. And successful businesses often match their priorities to the rates of change, rather than investing in only the fastest moving tech. But how do you know where — not if — to match the market’s speed?
In today's newsletter...Rethinking Feminized Technology
The servility of tech like Alexa has only amplified existing gender norms in an era of supposedly progressive tech. What does this tendency say about the broader state of human-tech relations? And how can we ensure that tech progress truly is progressive?
In today's newsletter...Untyped Connections
If we are experiencing a loneliness epidemic, how can brands help the world past it? How can we pull even the most disparate groups together to create common grounds for even the most unexpected of us? And how do we do it in a new and untyped way?
In today's newsletter..Sofia Caraza Takes Over
In this special takeover newsletter series, we highlight our team members and the ways in which they achieve progress in the day-to-day. This time, SYLVAIN Strategist Sofia Caraza shares her interests, tactics, and takes.
In today's newsletter...Broken Promises
Trust is foundational to all interpersonal relationships. In the workplace, broken trust can have big stakes: a team member resigning or a client relationship ending. What harm do unfulfilled promises cause? What can we do when breaking a promise seems inevitable? And how can we regain trust after breaking it?
- Lean into trust, from Sheila Villalobos
- Watch out for flaky behavior, from Katie Driscoll
- Reframe your promises, from Tessa Kalinosky
In today’s newsletter…The State of Europicana
Our Amsterdam team discusses Europicana, a state in which the brand cultures of the U.S. and EU are blended together, and everyday life in the cosmopolitan capitals of either region begin to feel strangely similar.
How are consumers reacting to this homoegenity? And what can brands do to bypass the traps of Europicana?
In today's newsletter...Matthew Carter Takes Over
In this special takeover newsletter series, we highlight our team members and the ways in which they achieve progress in the day-to-day. This time, SYLVAIN Designer Matthew Carter shares his interests, tactics, and takes.
In today's newsletter...Consider the Centaur
The past six months — ChatGPT launched to the public in November — have been a period marked by deep reflection (by some) and existential anxieties.
The future has become dramatically obscured by the complexity we’ve introduced into today. Some systems and structures will fall. New ones will rise rapidly from the ashes, like a reborn Chicago after the Great Fire. What seems unavoidable, the one thing technocrats and policy wonks alike seem to agree on, is that the game has changed.
If there is no turning back, is there a positive picture looking forward? Can I interest you in becoming a centaur?
In today's newsletter...Gut Instinct
The world of strategy and design relies heavily on research to ground insights and decisions. Is there any room for gut instinct in the kind of work we do? And if there is, how can one build up those intuition muscles?
- Consider extenuating factors, from Lou Guy
- Lean into uncertainty, from Claire Choi
- Let your experiences guide you, from Megan Jamieson
In today's newsletter...Kayla Hunsel Takes Over
In this special takeover newsletter series, we highlight our team members and the ways in which they achieve progress in the day-to-day. This time, SYLVAIN's Operations Manager, Kayla Hunsel, shares her interests, tactics, and takes.
In today's newsletter...End of an Era
We live in a world of constant change, but accepting the inevitability of that change can be difficult. How do we realize and accept when something (whether it be a team, initiative, stage of a company, or project) has run its course? And how do we know where to go from there?
- Let endings inform your beginnings, from Jenny Cavaioli
- Leave things in the past, from Chandler Saunders
- Stay true to your vision, from Justine Deutsch
In today's newsletter...Special Edition: SYLVAIN’s Impact
For a company seeking to achieve more than commercial gains, does growth necessarily equal progress? Our second annual impact report, Growth ≠ Progress: A rigorous look at SYLVAIN'S dedication to corporate responsibility, culture, and the greater good, answers this question and much more. Like last year, this assessment is our attempt to hold ourselves to the same ethical and social standards we expect of our clients.
In today's newsletter...Payal Peirera takes over
I’m Payal, an engineer turned copywriter turned strategist, just trying to keep my left and right brain happy. Little things that bring me joy: cooking a recipe from The New York Times, people watching at a park, collecting zines about food culture, and curating NYC guides for everything from bakeries to bookstores, dancing to date nights, museums to midnight cravings.
In today's newsletter...Eternal Relevance
Many of our most-loved celebrities, institutions, and brands have perfected the balance of timelessness and timeliness. Yet, we exist in a time where culture is so fleeting, making it harder and harder to strike that balance. How can leaders ensure they’re staying true to their origins while also being molded by new societal needs? Is it even possible to achieve eternal relevance? Or is there something that’s become more important to strive for?
- To be a timeless brand takes time, from Rory Kolkman
- Forever building another good day, from Sofia Caraza
- What does an enduring brand smell like? from Barry Shafrin
In today's newsletter...Responsibility
The hype around ‘growth’ as the be-all and end-all marker of success in business has become ubiquitous. The general consensus amongst leaders is “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Whether that growth be in employee count, products, services, or profit. But especially in the thralls of a recession, it’s important to remember that while growth itself is usually positive, we must also apply a healthy criticism to it. After all, there are many ways to prosper beyond traditional growth—ways that are more socially, economically, and environmentally responsible.
In today's newsletter...Our Progress Report Newspaper
Whether you’re easing or jumping into 2023, our Progress Report Newspaper has something to inspire and guide you. If you missed it in December, now is the time to dive in.
In today's newsletter...Best of 2022
We’re rounding out the year by rounding up our most-read pieces alongside some net-new content and distinctly-SYLVAIN fun and games. Introducing the Progress Report Newspaper: Best Of 2022. It’s a collection of our best newsletters from 2022—our musings on the ideas that inspired and challenged us the most. The chapters on Curiosity, Identity, and Creativity reflect both the state of the world and the challenges we're working on for our clients. Those on Power, Growth, and Responsibility explore the key themes we've been navigating internally.
In today's newsletter...Growth
As humans, we’re hardwired to seek comfort, and, as a society, we’re increasingly conditioned to view stress as a burden to be managed and minimized. But, while we’re trained to see discomfort as a sign of a problem, in reality it’s a sign of progress. So, it’s time we each reappraise discomfort. Instead of running away from it, we must run towards it with open arms because discomfort is the breeding ground for growth.
In today's newsletter...Learning and Development
In today’s strained talent and macroeconomic climate, leaders should reorient learning and development towards ‘soft skills’ like empathy, optimism, grit, and mindfulness. These resilience skills not only empower individuals, they also have a multiplying effect on morale and output for teams.
In today's newsletter...Taste and Tastemakers
While platforms and content have revolutionized, our interpretations of ‘taste’ and the taste-makers we choose to elevate have not kept up. A more nuanced, truly subjective treatment of ‘taste’ is necessary for brands to connect with consumers.
In today's newsletter...soft living
Behind the provocativeness of “quiet quitting” is the broader idea that hustle culture is no longer working for many of us. Instead, there’s a growing contingent of people seeking a “soft life” that’s low stress and based on each individual’s definition of joy. What can employers and managers do to support those who embrace this movement? And what does this mean for the broader cultural and brand landscape?
- Finding a shared sense of purpose, from Payal Pereira
- Loud breaks > quiet quitting, from Barry Shafrin
- Take a cue from Beyoncé, from Fadé Akinsade
In today's newsletter...recipe testing
When starting a new venture or project, it’s useful to rely on others’ (or even your own) existing ‘recipes.’ But is there a danger in relying too much on an established framework or instruction manual? How do you know when to diverge from the steps and improvise a little?
- The difference "hand taste" makes, from Jess Vander
- Acquire a master's mindset, from Rory Kolkman
- Seek out the scenic route, from Natalie Berry
In today's newsletter...The State Of Creativity
As a society, and as an industry, we worship creativity. But creativity isn’t inherently virtuous—in fact, creativity unchecked can lead to disastrous outcomes. In this issue, SYLVAIN Managing Director Aaron Powers analyzes creativity and provides a more effective way for harnessing its power.
In today's newsletter...cyclical culture
It’s said that past trends eventually rear their heads again. If that’s the case, then how can we look to the past to anticipate what’s coming? Can any person — or any brand — develop trend-watching skills? Or have platforms like TikTok, where a multitude of trends coexist at once, debunked the narrative of cyclical culture entirely?
- Find and study subcultures, from José Osmena
- Look backward first, from Harmand Ponder
- Use trends as building blocks, from Justine Deutsch
In today’s newsletter...The State Of Internships & Gen Z
Gen Z is navigating an ever changing professional landscape. They have a growing desire to not only contribute to but also create purpose-driven and impactful work.
In this issue, SYLVAIN's strategy and design interns evaluate the qualities and mindsets that your new Gen Z teammates, made up of innovators, trailblazers, and social media politicians, are bringing to the workplace.
In today's newsletter...rose-colored glasses
It’s difficult to be honest with ourselves about shortcomings, which can mean that we look at our own brands, projects, and teams with overly generous eyes. But progress comes from exercising a critical, truthful perspective. How do we learn to take off our rose-colored glasses and embrace self-awareness and self-honesty? Is there any benefit to keeping an unrealistic yet optimistic outlook?
- Practice kindness over niceness, from Jillian Rosen
- Avoid generalization traps, from Megan Jamieson
- Use optimism to advance, from Shannon Gerety
In today’s newsletter...The Curiosity Crisis
The way we live today actively discourages curiosity—everyday we’re inundated with an information overload that leaves us overwhelmed rather than inquiring for more. Without intention or realizing, we’re discouraging and diminishing this fundamental human trait. As a society we are facing a curiosity crisis that no one is acknowledging.
Managing Director Chris Konya assesses the value of curiosity and provides a path forward for rectifying this curiosity crisis. How can we all proactively stoke curious energy, in ourselves, our teams, and our customers?
In today's newsletter...the transparency trade-off
There was a time when consumers and employees did not demand to know how the sausage was made. But today, they're expecting complete transparency, and rightfully so. When transparency becomes top priority, is anything else lost? Is it possible for mystery to exist in the age of full disclosure? Are there opportunities to infuse magic back into your internal and external processes in ethical ways?
- Lead the unexpected, from Sofia Caraza
- Model honesty and openness, from Amanda Medina
- Inspire magical emotions, from Natalie Berry
In today's newsletter...pushing persuasion
From activists to artists, leaders to influencers, comedians to politicians, a lot of professions are driven by persuasion. But with how polarized our world is today, there are limits to it. We might have the numbers, the evidence, and all the hard facts to make the best case, but, oftentimes, that's not enough to fully convince people. Aristotle said, “to educate the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” What are ways in which we can educate the heart? How far should we go to persuade someone? When does persuasion become manipulation?
- Combine narrative with fact, from Cara Lohman
- Create safe spaces for discussion, from Payal Pereira
- Use fiction to inspire empathy, from Osei Kwakye
In today's newsletter...baby steps
When entering a new territory or tackling an ambitious problem, it can feel less risky to tiptoe in, start with small decisions, and take your time. But what about when big, swift change is needed? Could baby steps even be considered unethical in the modern reality of social and political upheaval and climate disaster?
- Confront your problems head-on, from Samantha Kuo
- Commit to pursuing complex questions, from Anonymous
- Put it all on the table, from Mykala Daniel
In today's newsletter...crystal balls
As humans, we try our best to predict the future because it helps us to deal with uncertainty and prepare for what’s to come. From religion to finance to politics to sports to weather, predictions are central. But many of our predictions turn out to be wrong. So, why do we continue to forecast? Can incorrect predictions still hold value?
- Use the past to predict, from Chandler Saunders
- Go for the long shot, from Tessa Kalinosky
- Tap into evolutionary science, from Eric Ferrer-Vaughn
In today's newsletter...sidelining skeptics
In many ways, skepticism is a defense mechanism against the falseness of the online world we live in. We need to be skeptical of everything we see, or else we risk falling for things that aren’t true. But when you’re the one trying to rally people around a new idea, skeptics can be frustrating. How do we learn to not let the skeptics get us down? And how might we use the insights from our skeptics to actually propel us forward?
- Value your naysayers, from Cara Lohman
- Craft your own self-policing toolkit, from Caroline Odom
- Institute helpful constraints, from Lindsey Marshall
In today’s newsletter...Power in the Face of Nihilism
We’re facing a rising threat of nihilism. But progress doesn’t exist without action. If we’re stilled by a feeling of meaninglessness, there is no progress. There is also a deeper problem—nihilism is simply narcissism. We turn inward instead of turning to each other.
Managing Director Joey Camire evaluates how, in the face of real world problems, leaders can give power to those who feel powerless. How do they ensure that we’re all able to look beyond our own nihilism to lift others up and act on the issues that matter most?
In today's newsletter...beyond empathy
Spend a few minutes on TikTok or Twitter and you’ll soon realize that everyone’s become obsessed with empathy. It seems like an innocuous—maybe even beneficial—trend, but when we prize empathy this much, are we overlooking something else? Is there any harm in making empathy this trendy? And how do we harness empathetic energy into action, within our work lives and beyond?
- Engage with empathy, act with compassion, from Payal Pereira
- Embrace self-involved empathy, from Jillian Rosen-Filz
- Ensure psychological safety, from Osei Kwakye
In today's newsletter...alternative growth
It feels like we all use the same language to talk about growth. In children, it’s usually age, height or clothing sizes. In the business world, it’s all about revenue and valuation. But, in reality, progress is multi-dimensional and sometimes non-linear. What are other ways that brands can think about and talk about their own growth?
- Consider more growth factors, from Jess Vander
- Embrace the awe, from Jenny Cavaioli
- Transform through introspection, from Chandler Saunders
In today's newsletter...reframing familiarity
We perceive the familiar as boring, and this feeling often leads brands to take drastic measures like complete rebrandings or reorganizations. Yet, inattentional blindness tells us there’s actually so much unexplored territory, even within the spaces that feel most familiar. How can we pay a bit more attention to what already exists in order to create something even more powerful? What can deep familiarity with ourselves, our teams, and our products lead us to? And how can brands be more aware of their day-to-day blind spots going forward?
- Invert the process, from Mykala Daniel
- Unblur your surroundings, from Sofia Caraza
- Manufacture anomalies, from Natalie Berry
In today's newsletter...rear-view mirrors
It’s much more difficult to act in the present and plan for the future when you don’t understand the past. Yet, as individuals or organizations, we do not spend enough time reflecting on past decisions and outcomes because we live in a fast moving world that forces us to react. How do we prioritize these moments of assessment, contemplation, and honest dialogue? How do we identify the right balance between reflection and action? Because we need action.
- Anticipate repeat mistakes, from Chloe Sutter
- Embrace the tension, from Ilana Bondell
- Live beyond the model, from Lucas Albrecht
In today's newsletter...lines in the sand
High-growth projects, platforms, and companies can sometimes spin out of control, with unintended use cases and ethical dilemmas abounding. At some point, structure needs to be implemented so that all stakeholders are on the same page about the purpose, limitations, and consequences. How do leaders know when to institute these guardrails? What is the best way to both create them and communicate them? And how can we stay within the realms of 'responsible innovation' while still leaving room for spontaneity?
- Live out your product experience, from Joey Camire
- Center the vulnerable, from Trevor Larry
- Create a culture of responsibility, from Sheila Villalobos
In today's newsletter...fresh start energy
Whether it’s a new year (hello 2022!), a new job, or a new project, fresh starts provide the opportunity for reflection and change. But new beginnings can also feel intimidating and chaotic. Even the task of figuring out what goals to work toward can leave us frozen in place rather than moving forward. So, how can we harness the excitement of this time to make lasting changes without getting overwhelmed?
- Notice what your body is saying, from Payal Pereira
- Fine-tune your way through, from Shannon Gerety
- Give yourself some grace, from Meron Medhanie
In today's newsletter...2021's Greatest Hits
As we close another year, we find ourselves doing some reflection. And here at SYLVAIN, we’re pretty proud of the content—from talks to podcasts to playlists—we’ve produced. So, for our final Progress Report newsletter of 2021, we’re sharing a round-up of our top 10 content highlights from this year.
In today's newsletter...From Bystanders to Stewards
While the consulting industry is quick to show off its products and services related to social progress, its own internal practices remain under (too) little scrutiny. Beyond the odd exception, consultancies are not presently held to the same standards as the companies whose operations, actions, and long-term impact they are responsible for steering. But they should be. Enter a new shift for consultancies — from bystanders to their clients to stewards of public good.
In today's newsletter...Agency Is the New Luxury
Luxury has found a new form. A form that empowers consumers to actually reimagine and reengineer their lives for the better, rather than only aspiring to. Enter luxury’s new era: agency.
In today's newsletter...the intercultural boom
As we've seen with many workplace scandals, it's not enough to simply put a diverse group of people in a room together. Companies have to ensure that every voice feels heard and valued. But when you combine a variety of backgrounds, ages, cultures, and beliefs there will be some inevitable misunderstandings. So, how can companies foster camaraderie and understanding in today's intergenerational, intercultural workplace? And how do we ensure that we don't over prioritize purpose camaraderie at the expense of purpose clarity? How can our diversity work for us instead of against us?
- Get to the root of your intentions, from Payal Pereira
- Make space for stories you don't relate to, from Julie Lubbers
- How to cultivate connections through play, from Jos'e Oseme~na
In today's newsletter...the proactive apology
It’s impossible to go a week without hearing about a new public figure, celebrity, or brand that’s been “canceled” or exposed for less-than-favorable actions. The reactive apologies that inevitably come, and even the behavioral or policy changes that may follow, often feel forced and disingenuous. In response, some brands (and their leaders) are getting ahead of potential criticism by becoming their own worst critics, admitting mistakes and oversights made in the past before they can get publicly called out for them. But how can a brand make a proactive apology work in their favor? What necessitates this kind of transparency? And how does a brand strike the balance between honest and actionable?
- Guiding your public rhetoric inward, from Osei Kwakye
- We’re all human, just don't overdo it, from Joanne Bolens
- How to match your harm with healing, from Lindsey Marshall
In today's newsletter...Relinquishing Our Power
Society—and the business community, specifically—has seemingly de-prioritized much needed action toward racial equity. Perhaps we lost the battle with empathy amnesia. Or simply reprioritized our emotional energies following The Year That Never Seems to End. Regardless of the reason, recommitment is the first step, and relinquishing our power is the second.
In today's newsletter...disposable culture
Throughout the 20th century, consumer brands played a big part in influencing our beliefs, habits, and cultural practices. They were omnipresent in our lives. But today, brands are playing defense, pandering to fleeting trends and scrambling for relevance in an ever-mercurial world. Why? Because popular culture today is fast-paced and disposable. From TikTok trends to language and lingo, fast fashion and the news cycle, to the products we use every day—there’s always something newer, better, and more exciting that steals our attention. So how do brands provide lasting significance when culture’s collective interest is always fleeting? Can they ever connect with us again in the ways they once did? And if so, how?
- How to tap into the right gems of the past, from Ilana Bondell
- When too much of a good thing is just too much, from Nora Mestrich
- On the mend from disposable to reparable, from Payal Pereira
In today's newsletter...The Potential in Our Plurality
Throughout history, societies have flourished from openness, and faltered from insularity. The American ideal, when achieved, was envisioned around openness – it’s what has allowed us to recruit industrious minds, to invent and innovate at a global scale. But today, we face potential wide-spread insularity as a nation fiercely divided and starkly aware of our deep interdependency. So how can we push past "diversity" and champion "plurality" in our work? What's the difference? And is it our responsibility?
In today's newsletter...virtuous brands
There's a lot of talk about virtue, virtue signaling, and the ways in which virtues are evolving and dividing within culture today. While companies aren't people, in an age post-Citizens United, they're certainly trying their hardest to act like it, by drawing clear lines around what they believe and stand for to create a "natural" connection with like-minded consumers. So what then are the virtues companies and organizations are or should be promoting? Are we getting it right? Wrong? Or missing the point?
- Why companies must work for their people, from Jillian Rosen-Filz
- Use your influence wisely, from Osei Kwakye
- Stop your moral grandstanding and act, from Chandler Saunders