Deciding to make progress


In this article we’ll explore the progress seeker’s progress decision process. And this sets the foundations for the more powerful engagement decision process that we uncover when looking at progress propositions.

We’ve defined progress as:

progress: moving, over time, to a more desirable state

And that a progress seeker attempts to make progress by engaging in a series of activities.

This naturally leads to there being a series of decisions. Specifically, a progress seeker first decides to start an attempt to make progress. Then they revisit that decision on a regular basis. Deciding whether to continue, or abandon, the attempt. This understanding gives us insights into progress, from which value emerges, as well as hurdles to progress.

We’ll call this the progress decision process. And it’s strikingly similar to Rogers’ classic innovation adoption decision (from his book “Diffusion of Innovations”).

There is one caveat to this article: we are looking at the process in a world without progress propositions. This makes it nice and clean to explore. And serves as the foundation for our engagement decision process, which expands on this discussion by including progress propositions (where we will find the same process but with 5 additional progress hurdles).

Let’s look at when these decisions are made, what those decisions are, and, how it all fits together in the progress decision process.

When are decisions made?

Fundamentally, we see the progress seeker as making an initial decision to start a progress attempt. And then, subsequent decision(s) to continue, or abandon.

We don’t place any theoretical limitations on when a progress seeker makes these decisions. Though the natural points are:

  1. before starting an attempt to make progress and
  2. at the end of each activity in the process of making progress.
The natural decision points are at the end of each activity making up the act of making progress

Which hints to us that activities benefit from being shorter in duration. To enable a quicker decision making (or correction) process.

What are these decisions? Let’s take a look.

The decision

Progress seekers are all about making progress – to move, over time, to a more desirable state (which we call progress sought). As such, the seeker judges the potential for progress as well as the progress achieved. And they weigh that against any hurdles there are to making progress.

We can see this balance in the following diagram.

In deciding to make progress the seeker determines amounts of progress and the height of the lack of their own resources (skills and competence) hurdle

Decisions are unique to each progress seeker and they make them phenomenologically. That is to say, seekers base their decisions on their lived experience and the current living experience. In short, progress seekers are picky, awkward, complex, wonderful people.

We’ll look at both sides of this balance, starting with determining progress.

determination of progress

You may recall from the understanding progress article, that progress comes in 3 flavours:

progress soughtThe progress a progress seeker is looking to make. 
progress potentialThe progress a seeker believes they can make going forwards from a particular point in time.
progress achievedThe progress a seeker believes they have made by a particular point in time.

Our decision process is the driver for judging progress potential and progress achieved. At each decision point, the seeker judges the:

  • remaining progress potential they see against their progress sought
  • progress achieved against the progress sought

Intuitively, a seeker must see that there is enough potential to get to their progress sought and that any progress they have so far achieved is also sufficient. If either, or both, of those conditions are not the case, the seeker may abandon their attempt.

We have to be slightly vague here, as these determinations are, by nature, unique to each seeker and phenomenological in nature. The implication being that when we look at progress propositions, the helper needs to understand and influence these feelings.

Counterbalancing judgements of progress are the judgements of hurdles to progress.

hurdle to progress

When we look at pure progress, i.e., with no progress propositions in the picture, then there is only one progress hurdle: a lack of seeker resource.

And by resource I mean typical operant resources a seeker has. Such as skills and knowledge, as well as time. And, additionally, operand resources, i.e., goods/commodities, that the seeker needs.

It also means the list of activities required to complete the progress – another operant resource. Though this is a very seeker dependent need. Some will not progress without details. Others will relish the challenge of working things out themselves.

For example, if the progress sought is safely moving fuel from one location to another, the seeker needs a fuel container (operand resource) and the knowledge how to fill the container with fuel (operant resource); and a means of transport if the distance is beyond walking. If the progress seeker is missing either then progress may be hampered.

Of course, a seeker may decide not to attempt progress, or not continue, for no other reason than they have decided they can’t be bothered. But we’ll assume that is never the case. It could be that a seeker claims they can’t be bothered, but it is lack of resource that leads to that feeling. In cases of true can’t be bothered; well, what can anyone do?

a world without progress propositions

From a theoretical view, our world should have a large lack of operand resources as we see goods as freezing propositions – and we’ve just said there are no propositions. Similarly, there is no training or education available (they too are propositions). Although there is a possibility to observe and copy others; or to experiment yourself.

To continue our fuel example, the seeker would only be able to use natural containers they find, since no specialised containers exist.

What we get from this insight is that the world without progress propositions is a fairly limited world.

And it is this fact that drives a seeker to look for progress propositions. As well as for certain seekers to specialise their knowledge and skills and swap propositions for propositions. Which is exactly what service-dominant logic informs us:

Service is the fundamental basis of exchange

service-dominant logic foundation premise #1

But that’s a story for later. Now let’s look at the two decision moments.

Progress decision process

Here then is the progress attempt decision process.

The progress attempt decision process

Where we can define the two decision moments – start and continue – as follows.

start decision

The progress seeker’s first decision is whether to start attempting to make progress or not. That boils down to whether they feel they:

  • can make enough progress
  • have the necessary resources to make progress.

So a seeker first judges their progress potential. Which we know is defined as

progress potential: the progress a seeker believes they can make going forwards from a particular point in time.

Ideally, from a progress seeker’s perspective, potential progress would match progress sought. However, we may find the progress seeker is willing to accept less potential progress and still start an attempt. In parallel the seeker judges if they lack any resource needed to make progress.

The progress seeker’s decision to start attempting to make progress

We see a seeker going through the top, green, channel in the process diagram if they decide to start making a progress attempt. Which means they see enough potential progress and feel they have sufficient resource. And so they attempt the first activity needed to progress.

However, if they see the progress potential is too low, or they feel they do not have enough resources, they may decide to reject making progress, i.e., do nothing. They go through the bottom, red, channel.

Though this “reject” decision may not be final. The seeker may see different potential in the future and then decide to start an attempt. Perhaps their context has shifted. Or they’ve revised their view of functional/non-functional progress they’re seeking. Or they could have lowered their view of how much potential progress is needed to start. It might even be the case that a lack of resource issue is resolved.

But let’s say the seeker has decided to start. Next, there will come a point where they to continue, or not.

continue decisions

As the progress seeker attempts to make progress, they will regularly make choices to continue or abandon their attempt.

At each decision point, they phenomenologically decide if there:

  • has been sufficient achieved progress – how far have they got
  • is sufficient potential progress remaining – can they still get to their desired state
  • are they lacking resource to continue

And, as we saw when understanding progress, the seeker may change their view progress sought as they try and progress (as a result of new information becoming available).

Here’s the continue part of the decision process.

The progress seeker’s decision to continue attempting to make progress

A negative determination would see them abandon the attempt. This is likely due to one of two paths:

  • disenchantment discontinuance. Where the seeker has decided not enough progress is being made and/or is likely to be made in the future. 
  • replacement discontinuance. This is where the seeker has decided to attempt making progress in a different way.

Wherea a positive determination sees the progress seeker continue their attempt of making progress until the next decision point, or progress sought is achieved.

As mentioned previously, these continuous decision points are most likely at the end of each activity in the process of making progress.

Relation to other work

For the avoidance of doubt, we’re talking about single attempt to make process. So not to be confused with Christensen’s thoughts about big (first use) and little hires (subsequent uses) from his jobs to be done theory. Though we’ll comeback to this point when we look at the engagement decision process (for engaging progress propositions)

Wrapping Up

Understanding progress is key to the progress economy (and therefore unlocking innovation, growth, and the circular economy). And a large part of that understanding is the decision process. What feeds into that and when it occurs.

Now we know it occurs before a progress attempt is made. As well as repetitively during the attempt. And those repetitions are likely to occur at the end of each activity in the process of making progress. Assuming those activities are not too long in duration. In which case the seeker may make their own decision points.

Into consideration the progress seeker takes a unique and phenomenological determination of progress achieved, potential progress remaining, and the resources they have access to.

The progress attempt decision process

Our service engagement decision process will build on this thinking.


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