Exploring Progress Proposition

Progress proposition offer progress seekers the potential to progress better and/or make better progress than they could on their own. With ”better” ultimately being a unique and phenomenological judgement of the seeker. They flow from the progress economy’s view of progress, which we have defined as:

progress: moving over time to a more desirable state.

with our high level definition of a progress proposition flowing simply as:

progress proposition: an offering to help make some specific progress

They have no embedded value themselves, they can only be offers. They are offered by entities or ecosystems we call progress helpers. And they comprise a service mix – varying levels of, including none, a helper’s employees, systems, goods and/or physical resources – often with a proposed series of activities.

progress proposition = service mix + series of proposed activities

The service mix is further discussed here. It allows us to remove the unhelpful, and it turns out incorrect, baggage of service vs goods we find in our traditional interpretations of marketing and economics. For us, goods are the same level as other elements of the mix. And they are distribution mechanisms – in time and space – for skills and competence.

Altering the service mix is the root of many innovations. We see its fingerprint in servitisation (product as a service), digitisation, digital twins, artificial intelligence etc.

Progress occurs through undertaking the activities. Which mostly involve integrating progress seeker’s resources with elements of the service mix. And it is from the joint endeavour nature of progress that we observe concepts of value co-creation (and value co-destruction) as well as value-in-use.

Like our view on underlying progress, a progress proposition is a noun in addition to being a verb. It offers a state that can be potentially arrived at – the progress offered. And the relation between progress sought by a seeker and progress offered by a helper is a rich zone for hunting innovation.

Finally, in our whirlwind introduction, we can observe that a key intention of a progress proposition is to reduce the ”lack of resource” hurdle to progress from the seeker’s decision to attempt progress. However, by offering a proposition, we introduce 5 additional hurdles:

  • adoptability
  • resistance
  • misalignment on service-service continuum
  • confidence in proposition/helper
  • effort required elsewhere

Which leads us to an expanded engagement decision process. And a much wider innovation zone in addressing them.

In this article let’s explore the progression from progress to proposition. As well as defining progress proposition in detail. An exploration of the service mix can be found here. And over in this article we look at the expanded engagement decision process along with all six hurdles to progress.

Progress and progress propositions

Before we look at the progress economy’s definition of progress propositions and the service mix, we’ll take a quick recap of progress. Along the way we’ll see how progress propositions relate to progress. And dispel any goods vs service discussion.

Recap of progress

As our first step in exploring progress propositions, we’ll quickly recap our understanding of progress.

Progress seekers are continually looking to make progress in everything they do. Which we call progress sought. Where progress, itself, comprises functional and non-functional elements; informed by context. And is uniquely and phenomenologically judged by seekers as progress achieved and potential progress.

This all remains true for progress propositions.

Though now we observe entities/ecosystems – progress helpers – forming. They offer to help progress seekers make specific progress. That is to say to move over time to a specific state. We call this state the progress offered. And the offer is a progress proposition.

Relationship between progress sought and progress offered

There’s an interesting relation between progress sought and progress offered, which is captured in the progress diamond tool. Interestingly, progress offered does not need to totally match progress sought. In fact, differences can be where we find innovation.

Progress Diamond
The progress diamond tool showing potential relations between progress sought and progress offered (under offered, matched, over offered)

Although, progress offered does have to cover sufficient progress sought for it to be interesting to a progress seeker. If the seeker can’t see enough potential progress in a proposition, they are unlikely to engage.

And it’s from this that the concept of markets emerges in the progress economy. As a group of seekers trying to make sufficiently similar progress.

markets: groups of progress seekers who seek sufficiently similar progress

From progress to progress proposition

It’s interesting, and useful, to see how progress propositions flow from our concept of progress:

Visualising the relationship between progress and progress proposition

The root of the evolution is that progress with a progress proposition is now a joint endeavour. Generally using resources of the helper to minimise lack of seeker resources inhibiting progress. And as we’ve just seen, the proposition needs to offer enough potential progress to be interesting.

Defining and scheduling activities no longer are the sole responsibility of the seeker. Now some combination of seeker and helper determine them. A seeker may benefit from the helper’s knowledge in this. And a helper may be better placed to do so.

We can look to the service-service continuum to guide us on who takes most responsibility for activities. Towards the relieving end of the service-service continuum, we find helpers drive this. Whereas a seeker looking to define and schedule their own activities is more likely to be looking for propositions at the enabling end of the service-service continuum.

And it is the joint nature of making progress – integrating resources in activities – that gives rise to two concepts regarding value: value co-creation and value-in-use. Replacing the old, constraining, value-in-use thinking. However these are really just different names for making progress together.

Lastly, the move from progress to offering a proposition might be an attempt to lower the lack of resource hurdle to making progress. But in doing so, it introduces 5 new hurdles to progress that the seeker needs to feel are low enough. In total we now have the following 6 hurdles:

  • Lack of resources (inherited from progress decision process)
  • Adoptability
  • Resistance
  • Mis-alignment on service-service continuum
  • Confidence in progress proposition and progress helper
  • Effort required elsewhere [need a better name for this]

This means we must expand the progress decision process to be an engagement decision process. One which helps us understand how/why a seeker chooses a proposition to help them progress.

Progress proposition vs goods vs service

It’s important to note that we are no longer looking at the world from a goods-first perspective. Where we try and describe service in the context of goods. There are many definitions, and ways, of defining service in such a world. See, for example, my article: “Service is eating the world – what are services?”.

But that way treats/promotes service as inferior. We can point to the old way of thinking about value – value-in-exchange – for that. And to Adam Smith and his “Wealth of Nations” from 1776 for steering us that services do not create any economic value. It has been a successful approach for many years. But nowadays, economic growth is stalling, innovation is failing.

Unfortunately it’s an approach that leads us to an unnecessary, and it turns out incorrect, discussion about service vs goods.

Instead, let’s think of the world as service-first. And figure out where goods fit in. And it turns out goods allow us to transport service in time and location. Which is what our underlying service-dominant logic informs us.

Goods are distribution mechanisms for service provision

Foundation principle #3 , service-dominant logic

This is why goods are at an equal level in the service mix with employees, physical resources and systems.

Here’s an example. Imagine your progress sought is to listen to some music. Then you could listen to a band (“employees”) playing live. Alternatively, you could play a CR/record (goods). Here the musicians service – playing their instruments – has been frozen at source. Then it has been distributed in space to your location. And you unfreeze when you hit the play button. More commonly you’d stream the song (now as a digital goods) on your favourite streaming service (system). We’ll look at this more when we discuss the service mix.

More modern definitions of service reflect this idea. But we will use the phrase progress propositions, where we can, to avoid having to explain the above each time.

OK, if you wish to refresh your mind more on ”understanding progress” and ”deciding to make progress” then we can take a little break. Next, we’ll jump into our definition of progress proposition.

Defining progress propositions

The International Society of Service Innovation Professionals’ current definition of service (which can be seen in the wider context mentioned just above) is:

Service is the application of knowledge to co-create value

International Society of Service Innovation Professionals

And even though we’ll go beyond that definition in terms of depth, our progress economy definition of progress proposition, below, is fully consistent with that. Here is our definition in full:

The progress economy’s definition of service.
Though we will usually refer to service as progress proposition to avoid an unnecessary argument about goods vs service.

It’s inspired by Grönroos’s definition in “Service Management and Marketing : A Customer Relationship Management Approach”. And is founded on Vargo & Lush’s service-dominant logic. With updates to reflect the progress economy thinking and terminology.

Let’s unpack our definition.

A progress proposition is an offer to help make specific progress…

First, and foremost, we build directly upon our definition of progress by saying progress propositions are also about making progress – moving over time to a more desirable state.

But, we are informed by our foundations in service-dominant logic that:

actors cannot deliver value but can participate in the creation and offering of value propositions

Foundational premise #7 of service-dominant logic

So up front we declare a progress proposition as an offer to help progress seekers make progress in their life. And we’ll usually refer to the entities/ecosystems making the offer as progress helpers.

We also scope the offer of help to a specific aspect of progress sought. This is a matter of practicality. It makes more sense for us to talk about offering to help with specific areas rather than the totality of progress a seeker is seeking. And we’ll call this the progress offered. Which has parallels to progress sought by the seeker.

Progress-Value Diamond
The progress diamond showing where progress sought and progress offered meet

Progress offered comprises the same three elements as progress sought. That is to say functional and non-functional; informed by context. Though it is less likely that a seeker is seeking to change context, or that a helper offers to do so.

We can see in the progress diamond that progress offered doesn’t need to match progress sought. In fact this is an innovation zone. Offering less progress than standard market may be a disruptive innovation play. When a helper offers more progress it can be innovating to grow market. Alternatively offering both more and less progress may be a Blue Ocean strategy play of creating new markets.

In practise, the progress seeker is likely to have a number of progress helpers from which to choose. Each having differentiating service mixes and proposed series of activities. And the seeker will use the engagement decision process to choose a proposition, if any, with which to attempt progressing. Balancing progress potential against 6 hurdles to progress.

…through a process consisting of a series of activities…

We inherit from our understanding of progress that a progress proposition is a process, i.e. a series of activities.

We know this since the progress seeker is still attempting to make progress. Only now, making progress is a joint endeavour. And this concept is embodied in the progress economy’s progress zip tool.

Progress Zip Tool
The progress zip tool

An activity occurs as the zipper is pulled upwards, and progress is made. Who effectively pulls the zipper tends to reflect where the progress proposition sits on the service-service continuum (of enabling to relieving propositions)

For example, the seeker is likely driving most of the activities in an enabling proposition. Here the service mix and proposed activities, if any, are geared for the seeker to use/undertake themselves. Sometimes we refer to these as self-service.

Service-Service Continuum tool
The service-service continuum tool

The progress helper, on the other hand, will likely drive most activities in a relieving proposition. Since the intention is to relieve the seeker, it makes sense the progress helper drives most activities.

Bitner et al (1997) proposed that sometimes the customer can be seen as an employee of the service helper. Their view, very much from the provider perspective, is that the customer can have a variety of roles:

three of these are:

  1. the customer as productive resource;
  2. the customer as contributor to quality, satisfaction and value; and
  3. the customer as competitor to the service organization
Bitner et al (1997) “Customer Contributions and Roles in Service Delivery

This is mostly consistent with our view. Where the amount of productivity and contribution of the progress seeker reflects positioning on the service-service continuum. And is a choice for the seeker. We’ll find that a proposition misaligned on the service-service continuum to seeker’s desires is one of new hurdles to progress introduced by progress propositions.

We place three conditions on these activities.

Activities are more or less intangible…

We also inherit from our understanding of progress that activities are more or less intangible. That is, they are mostly incapable of being physically touched.

Whilst we explained this then, using Lovelock and Wirtz’s categorisation of services, let’s expand a little here. And see why some see this as an issue. And others do not.

It all begins with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations some 250 years ago. In which he argued that wealth is generated by goods. And that services are not economically valuable.

That’s still our classical economics viewpoint. And we usually introduce services as poor cousins to goods. They are intangible and inseparable, cannot be inventoried, require customer involvement, and are inconsistent. You might have heard of these 5Is of service (though there might be more…). See Zeithmal, Parasuraman and Berr’s “Problems and Strategies in Service Marketing” for more details on this. And right up in there is intangibility.

However, as we saw, Lovelock & Gummesson show in ”Wither Service Marketing?” that asserting all services are intangible is misleading. At least for two of Lovelock & Wirtz’s four processing categories (introduced in “Services Marketing”): people and possession.

What is a service? Not always intangible according to Lovelock & Gummesson
Intangibility of service types (Lovelock & Gummesson)

Vargo & Lush further argue that intangibility is a positive attribute to be embraced in their article ”The Four Service Marketing Myths”. (along with showing the other four Is are also beneficial)

Intangibility should be seen as a positive attribute
The myth of intangibility (Vargo & Lush)

Would you rather own Spotify, with its readily available and scalable digital goods (intangibles). Or a bricks and mortar record store, with its more lengthy and costly supply chain for records and CDs (tangibles). Together with staffing costs and more?

Service (progress proposition) is eating the world – it just happens to be increasingly enabled by software. Click To Tweet

Marc Andreessen once said that software is eating the world. In truth, it is service (in the modern sense of progress propositions) that is eating the world. It just happens that progress propositions are increasingly enabled by software. In other words, propositions are shifting from predominantly goods based service mixes to ones with higher proportions of the other 3 components. Notably, systems, which are increasingly software based.

And we can reason why service mixes are shifting from predominantly cmprised f the goods component.

Eight reasons why increasing number of progress propositions are moving away from predominantly goods based service mixes

When you consider service in the modern world, it truly is not worthless. And, it feels true that most activities in service are intangible. Nevertheless, some activities may be tangible. Hence we say that activities are more or less intangible.

Determining and scheduling activities…

Someone needs to define and determine the order of activities that lie behind progress. A helper is in an ideal position to do that. They should know the ideal way to integrate with their proposed service mix to achieve the progress offered. This can be seen as ne f their skills.

But, as ever, we live on a continuum. And some seekers will actively seek the challenge of determining it all for themselves.

We turn to the service-service continuum to guide us here. The progress helper will most likely structure activities in relieving services. Applying their knowledge on the needed activities and most effective order of performing the . in contrast, in enabling services, the seeker will be primarily responsible for determining and organising the activities themselves.

We’ll see that this choice becomes one of the hurdles to progress. If a seeker is looking for a relieving proposition, ie they don’t wish to deal with determining and scheduling the activities, and we offer an proposition towards the enabling end, that is a hurdle.

Activities normally take place as attempts to integrate resources…

Our second condition on activities is new compared to when we tried to understand progress. And it’s a consequence of the joint endeavour nature of attempting to make progress with a proposition. Namely that activities normally take place as attempts to integrate seeker and helpers resources. Where resources are:

resources: an actor’s skills and competence

Which loops us back to the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals’ current definition of service that we saw at the start of this article. That is to say that service is the application of knowledge to co-create value.

By resource integration we mean that something from the seeker and something from the helper are applied together. For example, the seeker applying their knowledge of how to drive a car integrated with a hire car (a physical resource) provided by the helper.

We’ll shortly dig deeper into what we mean by seeker and helper resources.

What about activities with no resource integration?

There may be some activities that require no resource integration. These we can see as internal activities, on either side, required to maintain progress. For example, dispatching an item is an activity unlikely to require integration with a progress seeker (assuming an earlier activity has captured the item to dispatch and the dispatch address). Of course there is likely internal resource integration going on here. And indeed, service-dominant logic informs us that:

All social and economic actors are resource integrators

service-dominant logic foundation premise #9

Though to investigate such internal resource integration requires us to change who we view as the progress seeker (typically to one department or one ecosystem member of the progress helper).

But, back to the important question of what are these resources? Well, the seeker and helper have different resources. Let’s take a look at them both.

Progress Seeker’s resources

The resources – the skills and competence – that progress seekers typically bring to the activities are their time and knowledge. These are examples of operant resources.

operant resources – resources that act on other resources in order for progress to be made

Alves, Ferriera and Fernandes (2016) give us a wider list to consider “operant resources held by each individual may be:

  • physical – include sensory-motor endowment, energy, emotions and strength.
  • social – made up of both personal and cultural relationships
  • cultural – include specialised knowledge and skills, life expectancy and historic imagination”

Additionally seekers may need to bring operand resources to an activity.

operand resource – resources that need to be acted upon in order for progress to be made

A fuelling service, for example, requires the seeker to bring some form of container (car, aircraft, petrol can…) to store the fuel. That container is an operand resource – it needs to be filled to be of use.

One of the main aims of progress propositions is to reduce the first hurdle to progress (in the engagement decision process). That is to say a lack of seeker resource. Through making additional resource available. This drives two thoughts.

Firstly, when we design a progress proposition we need to consider what resources the seeker has. Or that they can readily gain themselves. Can we, for example, take advantage of something they have learnt in another market/industry. Secondly, what can the progress helper do to help the seeker gain the needed resource?

helping seekers gain resources

Alves, Ferriera and Fernandes (2016) showed that higher levels of progress seeker expertise and self efficacy improve value co-creation (making progress in the progress economy thinking).

Interactions of operant resources
Improving seeker’s resource (Alves, Ferriera & Fernandes)

They also showed that customer expertise grows when the helper educates the seeker. As does value co-creation.

This means that helpers should consider how to help seekers gain expertise and self efficiency. And what education is helpful. Since lack, loss, and misuse of resources are key contributors to value co-destruction.

taking advantage of resource gained in other markets/industries

Sometimes we can take advantage of skills and competence seekers have gained in other markets/industries.

Consider the now widespread use of QR codes. These began in the automobile industry. Though it could be argued that the availability of smart phones with QR reading capability was where seekers truly gained proficiency. They are now widely used in ticketing, light access control, information sharing (you can, for example, quickly access my LinkedIn profile by scanning the QR code on the right with your camera phone), and numerous other applications.

Scan for my LinkedIn profile

Carrying approaches from one market/industry (even firm to firm) is an approach to innovation.

Now let’s look at the progress helper’s resources.

Progress Helper’s resources – general

The progress helper is the entity or ecosystem that is offering to help a seeker make specific progress. It has operand and operant resources. Some of which are exposed to seekers – the service mix which we shall look at shortly. And others that are applied internally.

Hunt’s “On the service centered dominant logic of marketing” tells us there are several operant resources a progress helper has:

  • human (e.g. the skills and knowledge of individual employees)
  • organizational (e.g. controls, routines, cultures, and competences)
  • informational (e.g. knowledge about market segments, competitors, and technology)
  • relational (e.g. relationships with competitors, suppliers, and customers)
Hunt, S. (2004) “On the service centered dominant logic of marketing

And, later, Madhavaram and Hunt (2008) identified there is a hierarchy of operant resources – basic, composite and interconnected. In the higher levels we find market orientation, entrepreneurial proclivity and organisational learning. Moving up the hierarchy we find resources are harder to obtain. But lead to more sustained competitive benefit.

Helper’s use these resources to create and execute their progress proposition. Identifying a progress offered that meets/generates a market sufficient enough to sustain the helper. Determining the proposed activities. Delivering on those activities. And crafting and supplying the service mix.

Progress helper’s resources – the service mix

We will call the resources a progress helper exposes to seekers to integrate with the service mix.

service mix: the resources a progress helper offers up for integration within progress attempts.

It comprises varying amounts (including none) of employees, systems, physical resources, goods.

And, while we expect the service mix offered by different helpers to vary, it always consists of various levels, including none, of the following four resource types:

employeescall centre operative, mechanic, chef, doctor, nurse, driver…
systemssmart phone app, chatbot, telephone, phone menus, atm, artificial intelligence/machine learning …
goodsItems used in making progress where the progress seeker is the intended owner.
Both physical items such as food, cars, vinyl records etc. And digital goods
Goods are seen as distribution mechanisms of knowledge and competence.
physical resourcesItems used in making of progress that the helper retains ownership of.
Both items that the seeker may temporarily be seen as exclusively using (eg similar to goods and digital goods). As well as locations of performing progress or parts of (buildings, factories etc)

I dig deeper into the service mix here.

We can visualise the service mix for a particular progress proposition using the service mix tool.

Service Mix tool
Service Mix tool

Helpers build their mix to reflect what they feel is an attractive offer to help sufficient number of seekers make specific progress (an existing or to be generated market). Whilst ensuring the survivability of the helper’s entity/ecosystem.

Challenges associated with a service mix

The main intention of a service mix is to supplement resources a seeker lacks in order they can better progress or make better progress. We’re intending to minimise the lack of resource hurdle in the progress decision.

Though a helper’s service mix may still leave a gap. Either they do not provide sufficient resource. Or the seeker feels they are unable to integrate with some/all of the offered resource. The former case means our original lack of resource hurdle remains as part of the engagement decision process. And the later can be expressed as three new hurdles to progress. Namely:

  • adoptability, ie seeker can see themselves using it
  • resistance to use, ie seeker resists, postpones, actively objects
  • mis align on service-service continuum with seekers’ expectations, eg they are looking for a relieving proposition but are only offered an enabling one

Additionally, the seeker needs confidence that the proposition and progress helper can deliver the progress offered. This is a 4th new hurdle to progress.

Insights into Value

It is from the above discussion that we can now introduce and understand the terms value co-creation and value-in-use.

Traditionally, we see value as embedded in products by manufacturers and exchanged. And it traditionally equates, or is indicated/measured by price.

In contrast, we saw back in our discussion on progress that value actually emerges from a seeker’s unique and phenomenological judgement of progress achieved and progress potential. Reaching the progress sought is, by definition, full value. But without progress propositions, progress is a solo achievement.

A world with progress propositions, however, is a world of offers to help and of joint endeavour. Progress, by definition, is clearly made together.

It is of course only logical to assume that the value really emerges for customers when goods and services do something for them. Before this happens, only potential value exists

Grönroos (2004) “Adopting a service logic for marketing

In other words, progress only happens when using the proposition – value-in-use rather than value-in-exchange. And, it is also co-created.

value co-destruction

However, where there is value co-creation, there is the potential for value co-destruction. Which is where progress is being hampered by helper or seeker.

value co-destruction is where either progress seeker or progress helper hampers making progress.

Lintula, Tuunanen, and Salo shows us the framework below on causes of value co-destruction (“Conceptualizing the Value Co-Destruction Process for Service Systems: Literature Review and Synthesis”).

Lintula, Tuunanen & Salo’s framework on value co-destruction.
Value co-destruction can be seen, in the progress economy, when one or other party is hampering progress being made

We reflect this in the engagement decision process.. Where we allow for the helper terminating service if they feel progress is being hampered by the seeker. For example through misuse of helper resources by the seeker.

How much?! Exchange what?!

Finally we need to address the exchange. Whilst we’ve just seen that we don’t exchange for value, we do, according to our underlying service dominant logic, exchange service (application of skills and knowledge). That is to say, you do something for me, and I do something for you.


And that is how we arrive at our definition of service/progress proposition.

It is simply our understanding of progress that is updated to reflect that progress is now made as a joint endeavour. Where one or more progress helpers offer progress propositions offering to help meet progress sought.

What is a service
The progress economy’s definition of service.
Though we will usually refer to service as progress proposition to avoid an unnecessary argument about goods vs service.

As a result, activities in the process of making progress are now mostly acts of resource integration. Where the seeker brings their resources, typically time and knowledge. And the helper offers their resources in the form of a service mix. Which is varying amounts, including none, of employees, systems, physical resources, and goods.

We find that goods are simply another component of the service mix. You could buy a car, rent one, take an Uber, teletransport…these are all equivalent offerings. And goods can be seen as freezing service. Allowing them to be transported in time and space. To be unfrozen by a progress seeker through use. Although the freezing of service may be more complicated than a simple freeze.

This joint endeavour nature leads us to understand that value (a measure of progress) is co-created and made “in-use”. Rather than there being the classic view of manufacturers embedding value, signalling that through price, and there being a value-in-exchange moment.

Additionally we will need to update the progress decision process to take account of there being progress propositions. Which essentially means it expands to take account of 5 additional hurdles. It now becomes our engagement decision process and we look at that in this article.

Engagement Decision tool
Engagement Decision tool

Finally, we can say that our definition shines a light on several zones for innovation, including:

  • the relationship between progress sought and progress offered
  • altering the service mix
  • positioning on the service-service continuum, and
  • minimising the hurdles in the engagement decisions.

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