Reader question: What does it mean when they say "he's a work in progress"?
It means that he's not a finished product – in other words, he's got room for improvement.
The phrase "work in progress" originally refers to a piece of unfinished artwork. When a painter shows an unfinished painting to people, he may call it "a work in process". Or when, for example, you go to see rehearsals1 of a theatre play, the director may call the play "a work in progress".
When James Joyce published the first installments2 of Finnegan's Wake, he put them under the title Work in Progress.
When businesspeople speak of "a work in progress", they are talking about a project in process – they've got the money from investors3 to kick start the project, the project is progressing but there's still a ways to go before investors get their money back – and hopefully with a profit.
When referring to a person, "work in progress" points to similar qualities that person has. Yi Jianlian the basketball player, for example, was variously referred to as a "prospect4" (before he joined the NBA), a "project" (someone worth spending time and money on), and nowadays "a work in progress" with the New Jersey5 Nets.
As "a work in progress", Yi has been making good progress, or as good a progress as can be expected from such a young person. But in many ways he has to still improve before he can hold his own and become a force to be reckoned with in America – he's got to muscle-up, for starters. In other words, he has an enormous upside (potential) but he's far from being a finished product.
In fact, the Nets as a team are "a work in progress" – they've been struggling in recent years and it's asking a lot to expect them to do much better with Yi in the lineup. Not in the short run at any rate.
Anyways, here are two examples of "work in progress" from the media.
1. A fallacy of the news business is the idea that on any given day newspapers deliver the full truth on any given subject.
We don't, and we can't. News is a work in progress and the daily newspaper is not a tablet of stone. As the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist6 David Broder once wrote: "The newspaper that drops on your doorstep is a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably7 somewhat flawed and inaccurate8 rendering9 of some of the things we heard about in the past 24 hours ... it's the best we could do under the circumstances and we will be back tomorrow with a corrected, updated version."
- News remains10 a work in progress, Thestar.com, January 19, 2008.
2. The vision, spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, has taken centuries to fulfill11, and it remains a work in progress. But the four people running for America's top offices today present cause for real celebration, and for eventual12 hope for full realization13 of the American dream.
- Editorial: East Tennessee is McCain country, m.knoxnews.com, October 26, 2008.