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The Newsletter | Edition 067
Progress Report is dedicated to providing inspiration for action. In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

But in this special newsletter series, The State Of, we dive a little deeper into the long-term work that comes after, in the places where we’re seeing new types of progress in action. From brand strategy to design, internet trends to sustainability, music to science, beauty to travel, and more.

And this time, our illustrations from Marques Oden.


There have been a series of articles written about the growing sentiment of malaise and discontent in the workforce. Often couched in ideas like “anti-work” or “anti-ambition,” these articles paint a picture of a generation unready, unwilling or incapable of participating in work.


It’s important to remain skeptical in determining whether these are real feelings in the world, or simply sticky stories that become mimetically self-perpetuating in the media. You know, one person writes a great piece, and then every outlet has to have their own version.

Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, these ideas of “anti-work” or “anti-ambition” are real. Why would they exist? A growing and self-perpetuating income inequality. A global climate crisis that seems to be ignored by the most powerful. Systemic racism, gender discrimination and generally uncaring, unempathetic systems. And, of course, a global pandemic isolating so many from family, friends and extended community. Couple this with companies that are either trying but struggling to modernize their approach to work, or choosing to remain intentionally ignorant to life outside the walls of work, and it’s easy to imagine how a group of people would be ready to pack it up, or at a minimum, phone it in.

But here’s why it matters. Whether real or media created, it speaks to a rising threat of nihilism. The idea that each of our power, our ability to generate change, is non-existent. That we are helpless to affect the world. That everything is meaningless. That we’re giving up.

“Après nous, le déluge”—after us, the flood. Attributed to Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of Louis XV, the phrase is a sort of nihilist exemplar. Used to mean everything after our death is meaningless. Beyond the simple hopelessness of nihilism, there is a deeper problem—nihilism is narcissism. It is a narrowing of the world into a focus on ourselves and our own experiences, and then determining that they have no meaning.

I’m afraid of nihilism. All of those problems above matter. All of those problems need action. Work, the future of work, what that looks and feels like, how people are treated—that needs action. And if we’re finding ourselves in a time of hopelessness we need to figure out what needs to be done to fix it. All of us, but especially those of us with the power to change things, need to feel like our actions can have an impact.

Progress doesn’t exist without action. If we’re stilled by a feeling of meaninglessness, there is no progress.


Relinquish your control, power or a single decision to empower someone else.


It’s time to let go of individual control in favor of collective action. Collective action requires a feeling of collective power. The relinquishing of power can feel like a loss—“when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”—but this again begs the question, what are your aims? If your goal is simply individual power, you’ll never let go, and we’ve all met leaders like this. However, if your aims are to make progress against some shared goal—a stronger company, a better workplace, a more just system, to build something together—you need others to accomplish this.

I’ve been perseverating on an idea recently. I learned it as a Muslim proverb, but I believe is shared across Abrahamic religions—“​​But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” The idea, as I understand it, is that generosity is both hard and cheapened by attention. It feels particularly true in this discussion. Relinquishing control, but making a show of it or looking for recognition in the process serves to only make that shared power temporary. The goal is not to abdicate your participation in the process, but to elevate the participation and ideas of others. So give with your right hand, without letting your left know.

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