Let it bubble over

Plus: PTO-passers and DEI defeats the courts this week in The Memo.
Let it bubble over

Hello, Quartz at Work readers!

In the early 1950s, Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck was at work on his newest novel. Each day he’d rise and head to his typewriter to begin tapping out the day’s words, aiming for a thousand of them.

But before beginning his prose, Steinbeck started with an irregular rite: rather than ripping through chapters or scribbling down plot paths, he would pen a slow, meandering letter to his editor. Steinbeck would detail where his work was headed, or the walls it was hitting. He would wander, too: he talked about his sons; he complained about running low on pencils.

They were “silly, seemingly mundane words,” Quartz contributor Kara Cutruzzula writes. “And yet, after the letter was done, Steinbeck would turn to his novel and knock out his word count.”

Steinbeck’s creative practice isn’t one of nose-to-the-grindstone productivity. Instead, it’s a kind of gentler generation. Cutruzzula has a name for this: percolation, or letting your ideas bubble. “Percolating means providing yourself time and space to think without tracking your performance,” she adds. “It’s reflection, exploration.”

Percolation is a release from the trappings of a to-do list—and it’s an alternate way to do some of our best creative thinking, whether at work or otherwise.

The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron preaches the good word of the morning pages. Beatles frontman Paul McCartney talks of finding lyric inspiration in the leisure of a car conversation. Choreographer Twyla Tharp calls her practice “scratching,” or digging through everything to find something. “When you’re scratching for an idea, you don’t need to think ahead. You have to trust the unconscious rush and let it hurtle forward unedited and unencumbered,” Tharp writes.

Allowing your own rush—or your own percolation—can help you remember you’re constantly generating and creating, even when you feel unproductive. And a few practices, Cutruzzula adds, can help you begin brewing.

It worked for Steinbeck well enough, anyway. The novel eventually became East of Eden.


The paper ceiling (n): The career limits faced by US workers without a four-year degree—and why they lose out on opportunities when higher education becomes a job requirement.

Over the last few decades, corporate America has ratcheted up the credentials needed to get a job, even if the fundamentals of the role haven’t changed at all. As companies struggle to fill jobs in a labor crunch, though, they’re finally starting to rethink those requirements. Now businesses like Kellogg’s, General Motors, and Bank of America have started inviting applicants without four-year diplomas to inquire within.

But even as they ditch degree requirements, contributor Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza writes, companies still don’t know how to hire without them. For Quartz, she examines why corporations are still struggling—and if it’s possible to change a culture that favors the four-year degree.


Pop quiz, speed round-style: In each of these match-ups, who’s more likely to use their vacation days?

1. Managers or reports?
2. Hourly or salaried workers?
3. Higher earners or lower earners?

Here’s a hint for that last one: The more money you make, the less time off you take, according to a new study of US employees from the Pew Research Center.

🏖 As it turns out, plenty of people are leaving PTO on the table. But some of us are more willing to skip our personal days than others. So who’s having the hardest time taking off—and is there anything we can do about it? Find the answers in the story.


“If the plaintiff doesn’t want to be invested in ‘woke’ corporate America, perhaps it should seek other investment opportunities rather than wasting this court’s time.”

That’s a US district judge in Spokane, Washington, dismissing a legal bid against Starbucks’ diversity policy this week. The lawsuit, though, is just one of several seeking to dismantle corporate DEI (or diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs.

With the US Supreme Court’s strikedown of affirmative action in college admissions, conservatives have hinted that workplace diversity would be their next stop in the courts. Now those groups have wasted no time getting there: at one foundation, lawyers have already targeted the likes of Amazon, McDonalds, BlackRock, Kellogg’s, Nordstrom, Unilever, AB InBev, Hershey, and more for their diversity practices.

But Starbucks’ dismissal marks one victory for defenders of DEI in the workplace. Quartz’s Ananya Bhattacharya considers how the decision could impact the trajectory of similar cases—along with what else is ahead for workplace diversity initiatives.


50%: The spike in online searches for UPS jobs after its unionized workers secured a new five-year contract last month, according to career site Indeed.

Everyone wants to be a UPS driver—and that’s no surprise, given the deal landed more than $30 billion in new money, including a supposed $170,000 in pay and benefits for full-time delivery drivers.

📦 UPS’s counterparts at FedEx and Amazon aren’t represented by unions (yet), but they may stand to gain from the deal, too. They’re starting in the warehouse.


🏢 It’s no surprise Zoom wants workers back in the office 

🌱 Americans in dirty-energy jobs haven’t transitioned to green gigs 

👵 Amid Japan’s labor crunch, companies are hiring 70-year-olds 

🚚 Everyone wants to be a UPS driver now 

📫 There’s new advice on the best time to send an email, and good managers should completely ignore it 


Send questions, comments, and how many days you’re behind on your PTO to talk@qz.com. This edition of The Memo was written by Gabriela Riccardi.