Progress as a State

In the progress economy we name a number of progress states (progress sought, progress reached, for example). And we talk about progress being a move to a more desired state.

Let’s look at what we mean by a progress state.

progress state: A state of progress comprising functionalnon-functional and contextual elements.

A progress state is a snapshot of progress comprising of three elements. Namely:

  • functional progress – the action
  • non functional progress – the performance, behaviour, emotions, etc
  • contextual progress – information related to when/how/where the progress happens (can often be constraints)

And the simplest way to explore this is to pick an example of a progress sought state – the more desirable state a seeker is looking to achieve – and walk through it.

This gives us a great opportunity to explore why we have three elements to a progress state rather than just functional progress. We get the best view on progress – enabling the best innovations.

Basic, better, best views on progress

Take a look at the three examples of progress sought in the table below.

progress elementsprogress sought
basic* functional* get to my office 100km away
better* functional
* non-functional
* get to my office 100km away
* as directly as I can
best* functional
* non-functional
* contextual
* get to my office 100km away
* as directly as I can
* during a morning rush hour
Some toy examples of progress sought showing the improving quality (usability) for innovation

All three examples are quite simple compared to real life, but they help us explore. And each of them have the common functional progress sought of “get to my office 100km away”. The “better” example adds a non-functional element and “best” adds a contextual element,

Now let’s walk through the implications.

basic progress

Whilst a basic functional progress sought of “get to my office 100km away” sounds simple, the solution space is really wide. Existing offerings are bountiful: walking, driving, using a ride-share service, going by train, using an underground metro system, to name but a few. We could also get innovative (or at least ideating) and come up with teleporting, an aircraft subscription service, and so on.

Think of it in terms of market segmentation. We want to find a suitable segment to address. Right now it is anyone that needs to get to an office 100km away. The better we can understand the segmentation, the better target we have for innovation.

It mostly meets our requirement for progress sought to be as abstract as possible. But its not a sufficient insight into progress sought to help our innovation success.

better progress

By including non-functional progress we address performance/feelings of progress. I’m sure you already have views on each of the options above. And I’m also sure your views are different to other readers. Some of you might want to get to the office as directly as possible. Others maybe want to get pleasure from enjoying a more relaxing scenic way. And others (including externalities) may want environment/sustainability to be taken into consideration.

Non-functional progress helps narrow options for ways of making progress. In other words, we get a better view of progress by looking at functional and non-functional progress. And that encourages us towards better innovation.

In our “better” example we see our progress sought is a) getting to the office 100km away and b) as directly as possible. Now options such as walking fall away. Likely taking the train/metro does too. Since we’ll probably have to change to another form of transport to get from train station to the office. And so, for now, it’s looking like driving a car is near the top of the options.

If the non-functional progress was different then our preferred way of making progress would change.

best progress

However, progress also has context. And adding context to our progress state can re-alter the preference.

In our “best” example we have the context of “during rush hour”.

Now taking the train, which our non-functional progress moved down the preference list, moves back up again. And driving ourself to the office, depending on just how bad rush hour is, might drop.

Other context maybe driven by externalities. To drive a car requires a driving licence. And in some cities there are charges for driving.

Of course, this is a toy example, but you see how a fuller understanding of progress helps us understand what the seeker is trying to achieve. And how the various ways of making progress are sensitive to all that.

Now we’re hopefully agree that we should look at progress as comprising three elements, let’s take a look at each in turn. Starting with functional progress.

Functional progress

Functional progress is the element of progress that describes what needs doing.

This is the learn a language, fill some time, travel somewhere, fix something element of progress. The functionality of progress.

functional progress: describes what needs doing

A way of looking at it is using the categorisation scheme from Lovelock & Wirtz. They categorise all service into four categories of processing: people, possession, mental stimulus and information.

processing category description
peopleprogress relating to peoples’ bodies, such as improving physical fitness, beautifying oneself, improving health (visiting doctors, dentists), getting tattooed, etc
possessionprogress relating to peoples’ possessions, eg transporting, recycling, storing, selling, renting, maintenance, fixing, diy, and so on
mental stimulusprogress relating to peoples’ minds, where we can include teaching, training, theatrical performances, listening to streaming services…
informationprogress relating to intangible resources, like using using virtual assistants, generative AI, banking (effectively) etc
Lovelock & Wirtz’s categorisation of service described in the progress economy terminology

However, for progress sought, we need to be as abstract as we can. This is to open up the progress offered innovation space.

Not getting the right level of abstraction makes us short-sighted to solutions. Something Levitt warned us about in his 1975 paper ”Marketing Myopia”. And maybe we, like the US railroad companies he discusses, will miss our equivalent growth opportunities like air-freight.

Take our toy example above. Is “moving myself to my office 100km away” abstract enough? Well, that depends. If we physically have to be present, then yes. Our solution space is constrained around ways of physically transporting ourselves. We would have been too low level if we had “move myself by car to my office 100km away”.

But we are not abstract enough if we don’t physically have to be in the office. Maybe we are giving a presentation. Then “present over Teams/Zoom”, “meet in a metaverse” are options that we might miss. We became short-sighted through the definition of progress sought.

What this tells us is that defining progress sought is quite an art.

But as we know, seekers are not only seeking functional progress. They are also seeking to make non-functional progress

Non functional progress

Back to our transport toy example. We introduced the non-functional progress of “as direct as possible”. That’s an example of how non-functional progress captures performance aspects of progress – quickly, directly, fast, etc. And it captures more. Generally we say:

non functional progress: describes performance, behaviour, emotions, etc

Non-functionally we might seek to accomplish our functional progress sought as inexpensively as possible, as comfortably as possible, as directly as possible, or while enjoying the view, etc.

In fact there are numerous aspects of non functional progress – too many to list.

Fortunately, Almquist, Senior & Bloch’s (2016) ”The Elements of Value” identifies a hierarchy of 30 what they call ‘elements of value’. And nearly all of these we can repurpose to get an insight into typical non-functional progress aspects. Using this to question / observe seekers progress sought.

Examples of non-functional progress (from Almquist, Senior & Bloch)
Examples of non-functional progress aspects – reprposed from Almquist, Senior & Bloch’s (2016) ”The Elements of Value

We change their original “functional” category to “practical”. And additionally remove four elements – organises, integrates, connects, and informs – because they are aspects of functional progress.

Do our examples from above find a home here? Yes. Inexpensively sits under reduces cost ; directly with saves time; and enjoying views is sensory appeal. Pleasantly could fit with reduces anxiety, fun, attractiveness, or wellness. This last example shows us how such a map helps disambiguate vague terms. Ways of making progress are different for reduces anxiety and attractiveness. That is hidden if we just use pleasantly.

Finally, we’re left with a question. Can we have non-functional progress with no functional progress? For example, if you visit an art exhibition, you are mainly addressing non-functional progress (enjoyment in some form or another). Is there functional progress? I’d argue yes, Your functional progress is actually “to fill up some time”. And from Netflix is happy(?) to tell us that Netflix main competitor is all the other things you could do to fill up your time instead of watching Netflix.

Last, but not least, let’s see how contextual progress fits into the picture.

Contextual progress

Context informs us of extra information in which the progress attempt is being made. And we can often see these as constraints.

contextual progress: information related to when/how/where the progress happens (can often be constraints).

In our running transport example, knowing that the progress needs to happen during rush hour traffic helps us focus potential solutions. And as we saw, some solutions that reduced due to understanding non-functional progress, increased when looking at contextual progress.

We don’t usually expect context to change over time during a progress attempt. We don’t exclude that it can, just that we’d find it unusual.

Take, for example, our transport example. Say there was some contextual progress that the seeker does not know how to drive. For sure it narrows the solutions. But changing that context is better thought of as a separate functional progress sought relating to learning how to drive.

We can combine our verb and noun views and consider progress to be a state transition.

Wrapping up


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