We need a line between “woke” and “progressive” around work issues

You may have seen this Jason Fried (founder of Basecamp) thing going around; here’s the link. He’s already getting “cancelled” for it. But there’s an important distinction herein.

This attitude below (pull-quote) is actually progressive in a work sense:

6. No forgetting what we do here. We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company. Our impact is contained to what we do and how we do it. We write business books, blog a ton, speak regularly, we open source software, we give back an inordinate amount to our industry given our size. And we’re damn proud of it. Our work, plus that kind of giving, should occupy our full attention. We don’t have to solve deep social problems, chime in publicly whenever the world requests our opinion on the major issues of the day, or get behind one movement or another with time or treasure. These are all important topics, but they’re not our topics at work — they’re not what we collectively do here. Employees are free to take up whatever cause they want, support whatever movements they’d like, and speak out on whatever horrible injustices are being perpetrated on this group or that (and, unfortunately, there are far too many to choose from). But that’s their business, not ours. We’re in the business of making software, and a few tangential things that touch that edge. We’re responsible for ourselves. That’s more than enough for us.

That’s it. That’s all work is. You do a thing, you deliver a thing, you get paid, you go home. Bam, boom, dusted. Work was never supposed to be about social justice.

To quote myself, if I may:

The reality of “woke,” in the organizational sense, is that it almost has to be secondary. We’ve had this whole narrative for 10 years now that “millennials want to buy from purposeful, socially-conscious brands.” That’s true at some level, and it’s why Jessica Alba got rich selling fancy-ass diapers to subdivision new moms. But again, a lot of people go shop at Wal-Mart for produce because it’s cheaper, even though we generally know Wal-Mart is not “woke” and “socially conscious.” We do things because they are logical to us and fit within our means and needs at the time, not because “woke” is the altar we all need to worship at. If you lead a silo at a company, it’s much more important to clearly monthly revenue than to be woke — because by clearing monthly revenue, you provide the necessary avenues for these discussions and actions to happen. If everyone is broke and trying desperately to be the one of 20,000 applicants to get a job at Tesla, no one has the resources to advance any of the societal discussions. And, in fact, having been broke several times in the past 10 years, being broke makes you utterly selfish and focused almost entirely on self.

What Fried said is actually progressive about work. It’s a new and better way at looking at what we do there. What we get lost in is the “woke” side of work, where we constantly talk about belonging, diversity, inclusion, allyship, amplification, and the like. Those things are important, and should be more important, but they almost cannibalize and consume each other — it’s all a bunch of terms that senior leaders (“leaders”) barely understand, and the preponderance of more terms means they will just ignore the last set of terms.

There needs to be a middle ground between super woke and actually progressive, around both work and politics. Without that ground, the woke consumes the discussion, and the truly progressive — “Hey, this is what people expect from a job!” — gets lost.

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