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The Newsletter | Edition 074
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.


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?
  1. Practice kindness over niceness, from Jillian Rosen
  2. Avoid generalization traps, from Megan Jamieson
  3. Use optimism to advance, from Shannon Gerety
And this week, our illustrations from Jinny Park.


From Jillian Rosen


While being “liked” by others makes us feel good, it can also lead us straight into a trap at work. One in which hard conversations, decisions, and feedback are avoided, at the expense of overall business health and growth. And even worse, it can create a company culture in which niceness is a veneer, with a disingenuous, hollow center.


Being harsh, rude, abrupt, or uncaring obviously isn’t the answer. And there isn’t anything wrong with a company full of kind people. Quite the opposite.

But there’s a difference between being nice and being kind. While being ‘nice’ can be conflict-avoidant, being ‘kind’ includes a thirst for helping others improve. The first step towards understanding which side of that fine line you stand is self-awareness.

As with most things, this is much easier said than done. Especially for women and people of color, wanting to be liked is more than just a want. Studies show, and have always shown, that female leaders who deliver critical feedback at work are judged more harshly than their male counterparts, and deemed ‘unlikeable,’ making it harder for them to work their way up to the (often male-dominated) top.

Remember that niceness at the sake of truthfulness helps no one. Kind delivery of the hard stuff is an investment in the person you’re delivering it to, and/or for your company as a whole. And while sometimes uncomfortable, the alternative is tension-avoidance that can eventually become toxic. It leads to unsolved problems, little exploration of improvement, and ultimately, even a limit to your own potential.

To be clear, I certainly fall into the likability trap. This entire entry is just as much for me as it is for you (if you can also relate).


Take note of the recent moments in which you withheld critical feedback.


Think about the moments where you wished you’d said more. Where you gave a colleague feedback, but held back from giving them the bigger picture, or covered up parts of how you were really feeling about a project or interaction because you were wary of ruffling feathers.

Going forward, continue to take those mental notes. It’s a process, but make an effort to hold one-on-one feedback sessions with your team members with a simple goal in mind: when warranted, give them the opportunity to identify where they may have gone wrong, and the opportunity to fix it. This is kindness.


From Megan Jamieson


To make our way into the lives of others, we must first find a way out of our own—by taking the initiative to pop our own bubble and exist outside of the monoculture that agencies are so often subject to. Rather than desperately placing the very humans we are trying to decode into limited categories, such as generational buckets, we should turn to moments of passion, habit and temperament that ultimately unite us. In doing so, we can catalyze more truthful, empathetic work.


In a perfect world, people fit exactly into precise buckets — but our world isn’t perfect, so why do we hopelessly try to squeeze complex individuals into such rigid classifications? With only 39% of Gen Zs in the US identifying with the Gen Z label, these generalized buckets end up fueling stereotypes that are disconnected from reality. By failing to acknowledge that insights around generations exist at the group level and not the individual one, we fuel stereotype-based explanations for structural problems and alienate ourselves from one another further.

Being more critical in how we come to understand the lives of those around us means taking a leap of faith out of our own. By recognizing the unique lives of individuals and working more authentically with shared struggles, values and behavior, is where real change can happen.

Take the OXO Good Grip, for example: OXO took a deep dive into the lives of those with arthritis to design curated culinary tools that worked with them, not against them. In the process of doing so, they uncovered that such a design benefited individuals far beyond their initial audience, ultimately changing the way we interact with culinary tools forever.

Exercising critique in how we approach our understanding of those we are trying to unravel and recognizing their wonderful ambiguities is what ultimately makes people that much more interesting—and the work that much more rewarding.


Bite your tongue before making a generalized remark. Embrace the unexpected and dedicate time to understanding before assuming.


Don’t just pop your bubble with a delicate needle, burst through it at lightning speed. Welcome those with questions with open arms and take time to understand the unfamiliar. Place egos aside and infuse more truth into the world by practicing self-awareness and curiosity of those around us. Never be afraid to ask questions and challenge the constructs we have become so bound to. Prioritize empathy and the reward will follow.


From Shanon Gerety


Optimistic people do not ignore negative realities, in fact, they are more effective at solving problems. We must examine issues with a critical lens, but balance that with the belief that we can arrive at a solution that will help our personal and professional lives. Believing that change is possible is the perspective needed to tackle the most daunting issues we face today.


Optimistic mindsets can improve your health, romantic relationships, and job performance. People working in the fields of tech, health, and business have the general task of solving problems everyday. Research shows that professionals with an optimistic mindset are 103% more likely to give their best effort at work. They’re also more likely to receive promotions and avoid burnout.

There is no greater issue to tackle than the global climate crisis, and yet there’s no sign of rose-colored glasses on the face of Greta Thunberg and the mass of other activists who strike every Friday. (Yes, still.) Without some level of optimism present, there would be no point in their efforts. If we were all ‘Climate Doomers,’ we would go nowhere, fast. It’s easy to feel doomed—I definitely fall trap to this when looking at rising temperatures—but there are strategies to employ to help avoid complacency, or worse, nihilism.

Optimism is not for the weak or naive; it requires active participation and grit. Without optimism, we would have no direction to move in. Employees with optimistic leaders are more engaged and experience a lower turnover rate. Hire optimistic thinkers, and watch the contagious mindset spread.


Eliminate negative terminology when referring to your work.


  • Question the utility of your negative thoughts
  • Reframe statements to be positive in group discussions
  • Focus on a small scale and celebrate each accomplishment
  • Take note (literally, write it down!) when good things happen

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