Progress as a State

Dr. Adam Tacy PhD, MBA avatar
What we’re thinking

A progress state is a snapshot of progress comprising three elements, namely:

  • functional progress: representing the action or task a person is aiming to accomplish.
  • non-functional progress: encompassing aspects related to performance, emotions, and feelings while pursuing functional progress.
  • contextual progress: informing about when, how, and where the progress occurs, and often including constraints.

Discovering and understanding all three elements is crucial for comprehending seekers perspective of value and systematically pursuing successful innovation.

Progress as a state

Progress as a state is an important concept in the progress economy. We name a number of them in the progress economy such as progress offered, and progress reached. And we define progress as a move to a more desirable state (a state we call progress sought).

So, what exactly is a progress state?

In essence, a progress state is a snapshot of progress that includes functional, non-functional, and contextual elements.

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

All three elements are important to truly understand progress. As well as to innovating/crafting meaningful propositions.

Functional progress may be the most obvious and simplest to describe. But adding non-functional progress, such as safely, or not being held up, gets deeper into seekers minds. Adding context gets even deeper helping us understand constraints within which the seeker is attempting to progress. As Chtistensen says about jobs (which we can link to progress):

A job can only be defined – and a successful solution created – relative to the specific context in which it arises

Christensen, C (2016) “Competing against luck”

To delve deeper into this concept, let’s explore it using an example of a progress sought state.

Basic, better, best views on progress

Consider three examples of progress sought in the table below:

progress elementsprogress sought
basic1. functional1. get to my office 30km away
better1. functional
2. non-functional
1. get to my office 30km away
2. as directly as I can
best1. functional
2. non-functional
3. contextual
1. get to my office 30km away
2. as directly as I can
3. during a morning rush hour
Some toy examples of progress sought state showing the improving quality (usability) for innovation

These examples may appear simplistic, but they serve as a foundation for our exploration. All three share the common functional progress sought of reaching the office 30km away. The “better” example introduces a non-functional element, while the “best” example adds a contextual element.

Now, let’s consider the implications of these perspectives for a fictional city authority planning a new business center 30 km from the city for workers who have that basic progress sought.

basic progress

Although a basic functional progress sought like “get to my office 30km away” seems straightforward, it presents an unfocussed solution space. Numerous transportation options come to mind, from walking to driving, to using a ride-share service, or using public transportation, etc.

Whilst this openness supports creativity – teleportation or a light aircraft subscription service are solutions. It doesn’t provide valuable insights allowing us to narrow down to successful innovation that attracts equitable service exchange.

To address this, we must introduce non-functional progress to identify what seekers truly desire, moving beyond the functional need.

better progress

Incorporating non-functional progress involves considering aspects like speed, safety, efficiency, and satisfaction in accomplishing the functional progress sought.

For instance, some progress seekers in our small example prefer the most direct route, while others seek a more relaxed and scenic journey. Some will enjoy exercise on the way, others to arrive fresh and smart. Yet others may want to be in control whilst others take the opportunity to read the paper. Not forgetting some may seek for minimising their environmental impact (which may open our minds to work from home solutions, or nearer satellite offices with just meeting rooms etc).

Including non-functional progress helps focus on different ways of making progress and fosters innovation.

Lets see what happens when we address the third element of progress: contextual.

best progress

Progress is inherently contextual, as we saw in Christensen’s quote earlier. With context often providing guidance on when, where, and with whom progress happens. In our “best” example, we might find the context is “during rush hour.”

Understanding this context influences the choice of transportation options, potentially pushing driving down the list of desirable options for our simple example.

Context also provides constraints. For instance, driving requires a driver’s license and access to a vehicle. If our seeker has neither, then driving and building road infrastructure for them is not useful for progress.

Now we’re hopefully agreed 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 represents the specific action or task a person seeks to achieve. It is the learn a language, entertain myself, travel somewhere, fix something element..

functional progress: the action element of progress

Observation can help us identify functional progress, and grouping functional progress can be useful when seeking solutions.

Alternatively we can look at a framework introduced by Lovelock & Wirtz.

Their framework categorises service into four distinct areas. These categories cover various aspects of a seeker’s life: people, possessions, mental stimuli, and information processing. We can adopt these categories since progress sought can be reached with the help of propositions, which are offers to apply skills and knowledge for benefit – our definition of service.

With slight adjustments to the terminology, we arrive at the following:

processing category description
peopleprogress related to individuals’ bodies, such as achieving physical fitness, enhancing appearance, improving health (medical services), and more.
possessionprogress concerning individuals’ possessions, encompassing activities like transporting, recycling, storing, selling, renting, maintaining, fixing, and DIY tasks.
mental stimulusprogress involving individuals’ minds, which includes teaching, training, attending theatrical performances, and engaging with content like streaming services, podcasts, and Netflix.
informationprogress tied to intangible resources, such as word processing, using virtual assistants, leveraging generative AI, and banking services.

These categories provide a straightforward framework for systematically exploring progress sought.

Non-functional progress

Non-functional progress comprises performance and emotional aspects related to the functional progress. It involves feelings of accomplishment, speed, safety, and enjoyment while pursuing functional progress.

non-functional progress: performance, emotions, feelings, etc, element of progress.

Identifying non-functional progress can be challenging and usually requires a more interrogative approach, as it is not as easily observable. There are numerous types of non-functional progress, perhaps too many to list comprehensively. However, a repurposed framework from Almquist’s article, “The Elements of Value” assists in considering non-functional progress.

Examples of non-functional progress sought

It covers practical aspect such as saving time (a resource that is often in short supply) and reducing risks and effort required from seeker (which hints at a need for relieving propositions). As we climb the hierarchy we find layers of emotions, life changing and social impact.

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.

misidentifying non-functional progress

Mistaken identification, or the failure to recognise, non-functional progress can result in failed innovation.

An illustrative example is the introduction of self-checkout systems in supermarkets. Supermarkets assumed that shoppers primarily desired a quick checkout experience and implemented self-checkout kiosks, often replacing manned checkouts, to provide this efficiency (and we suspect to save a fair amount of staffing cost, that is not passed on). However:

Despite what grocery stores and kiosk manufacturers claim, research shows self-checkouts aren’t actually any faster than a regular checkout line, Andrews says. “It only feels like it because your time is occupied doing tasks, rather than paying attention to each second ticking away.”

The Guardian (2022) “Unexpected item’: how self-checkouts failed to live up to their promise
quoting Andrews C.K. (2020) “The Overworked Consumer: Self-Checkouts, Supermarkets, and the Do-It-Yourself Economy”, Lexington Books.

Turning to the hierarchy. Do self checkouts simplify, reduce risk, reduce effort, avoid hassles?. They overlook the non-functional progress related to “connecting with another human” and “minimising the risk of accidental shoplifting.” These oversights result in anecdotal failures for, or resistance by, many shoppers. We all know “unexpected item in bagging area” is code for “here is a shoplifter”.

Finally, lets consider the impact of including context.

Contextual progress

Contextual progress is related to the when, how, and where progress occurs and often informs us of constraints. Understanding the environment and limitations in which progress attempts are made is essential.

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

Here again we can turn to the self checkout in supermarkets. In some contexts they can be great. A wet Wednesday lunchtime when you are in a rush and only have a couple of items for example. But maybe less so when doing the weekly shop.

Context also highlights constraints. Back to our transport example. Knowing a seeker has no driving licence is a constraint on offerings that will be attractive (or indeed useable) for that seeker.

Finally, unlike functional and non-functional progress, we don’t usually expect contextual progress to change over time during a progress attempt. Instead, if context has to change, then we preferably recast it as the functional progress of another aspect of progress sought. For example the contextual constraint of not knowing how to drive is changed by the functional progress of learning to drive.

Relating to value and innovation

Fully understanding progress state lets us fully understand seeker’s progress origin and progress sought. From that we understand their progress journey and can build propositions that help them maximise their journey.

When we miss an element of progress from our analysis we compromise our ability to successfully innovate.

The fuller view of progress state, particularly for progress origin and progress sought, offers a valuable tool for market segmentation. Traditional methods like product features or demographics have limitations.

Key recommendations

Editing below here.

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