Progress as a verb and a state transition

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

Progress is a verb; an active process of resource integrations through which a progress seeker attempts to move over time from their progress origin to their more desired progress sought state.

A seeker may attempt to make progress alone, but often encounters a lack of resource progress hurdle.

This opens the door for progress helpers who offer supplementary resources to integrate with; in the form of progress propositions. Progress now becomes a joint endeavour, though towards progress offered rather than progress sought. A seeker needs to judge if that is sufficient and acceptable. And there are five additional progress hurdles to address.

As a verb, progress informs us that value progressively emerges on the journey with maximum value emerging upon reaching progress sought. Innovation should, therefore, focus on improving progress towards individual seeker’s progress sought as well as reducing the six progress hurdles.

Since progress origin and progress sought are progress states, we can also view progress as a state transition.

Let’s get exploring!

Progress as a verb

Collins define the verb to progress as:

to move over a period of time to a stronger, more advanced, or more desirable state


This definition resonates with the observations in the progress economy, where individuals actively try to progress with all aspects of their lives at various times. Whether it’s acquiring a new language, repairing a car, cooking a romantic dinner, analysing data for insights, tighten a screw, and more, everyone is actively engaged in the pursuit of progress.

I feel the phrase “more desirable state” effectively encompasses the notions of “stronger” and “more advanced.” Therefore, we can simplify our definition as:

progress: moving over time to a more desired state

Fundamentally, then, progress seekers aim to progress from where they are now – their progress origin – to their more desirable state of progress sought. Though for practical reasons we usually consider aspcts of progress in isolation.

Seekers may attempt progress alone. However, a lack of resources – for example skills, knowledge, tools, strength – often prompts them to interact with progress propositions. Propositions offer supplementary resources to help reach a state we call progress offered. This may differ from the progress sought, but there must be a sufficient connection as judged by the seeker. They must feel that progress potential – the state they believe they can reach – is sufficient to warrant a progress attempt.

Progress as a state transition

An alternate, but equivalent, way of looking at progress is to consider it as a state transition. Or, more correctly, a series of state transitions from progress origin to progress sought, with the seeker being in the state of progress reached at any given time.

Ideally progress potential is judged by the seeker to be the same as progress sought. And if engaging a proposition, progress offered is judged by the seeker as the same as progress sought. Eventually, at the end of the attempt, the progress reached is judged by a seeker to also meet progress sought.

In practice, the situation often resembles the state diagram below. A seeker engages with a proposition as they believe they cannot reach their progress sought on their own. The seeker identifies a proposition and accepts the progress offered may be less than their progress sought.

The diagram suggests that the seeker is approximately one-third of the way through the attempt, based on the relative positions of progress origin, reached, and offered. At this juncture, they again judge their progress potential with the proposition finding it to be somewhat lower than their initially one. They must now decide whether this updated progress potential is sufficient to warrant continuing the attempt.

Making progress

Progress is made through progress attempts.

These are a series of integrations activities framed within a decision process. Where activities may be predetermined or be more exploratory in nature.

A note on (not) making contextual progress

Whilst we talk of changing progress state, and know that state comprises three elements, we don’t see the contextual element changing over time. In other words, the contextual element of progress origin is the same as for progress sought.

If there’s a desire to change the context, it’s more effective to treat that as a separate progress attempt, where the change in context is addressed as a functional progress element.

For example, a context of “not knowing how to drive” gives a constraint on offerings where functional progress might be related to travelling. If the seeker wants to change context, they start a new progress attempt with “learn to drive” as the functional progress sought.

Progressing alone

As we’ve previously mentioned, seekers may choose to make progress attempts on their own. When doing so, they rely solely on integrating resources they have access to and control of. Which effectively means those resources they currently possess or can find in their environment (and are free to use).

Understanding resources

Resources are fundamental in the progress economy and come in two forms i) operant resources, which act on other resources resulting in progress, and ii) operand resources, which need to be acted upon to make progress. (We don’t distinguish between tangible/intangible goods/services).

Operant Resource

acts on other resources resulting in progress being made

Operand Resource

need to be acted upon for progress to be made

Typical seeker operant resources are skills, knowledge, time, strength etc. Whereas typical seeker operand resources are goods the seeker may have obtained in earlier progress attempts or those they find lying around, such as objects in natural or left by other actors.

The progress journey

Before starting a progress attempt, a seeker phenomenologically judges two key factors:

  • resource sufficiency – have they enough resources to proceed.
  • progress potential – does the progress they expect to make (progress potential) reach acceptably near progress sought.

These are judgements that the seeker will regularly make under the attempt along with judging whether they have reached as far as they expect at that point in the attempt (progress reached).

This is to say the progress attempt is framed by the progress attempt decision flow.

Progress as a verb - the decisions to start and continue a progress attempt
The progress attempt decisions to start and continue a progress attempt
The Progress Journey

Positive judgments motivate the seeker to continue, while negative judgments can result in a progress attempt being stopped (a disenchantment discontinuation). A seeker may also abandon an attempt if they think they’ve found a better way to progress (a replacement discontinuance). Or just because they feel like it (a phenomenological discontinuance).

During a progress attempt a seeker integrates resources. Each successful integration moves them closer to their progress sought. Although we should note that in exploratory progress attempts, progress might be reversed if not heading in the right way.

The reason for not starting a progress attempt, or abandoning one, is usually a lack of resource.

Lacking resources

When attempting to progress alone, the primary challenge faced by seekers is lacking the necessary resources. We refer to this challenge as the lack of resource progress hurdle.

This typically means having:

  • insufficient knowledge about how to make progress (the required progress-making activities or their sequencing)
  • a shortage of operant resources (e.g., other skills, knowledge, physical or social factors) needed for specific activities.
  • a lack of operand resources (e.g., access to goods, physical resources or locations) required for certain activities.

This perspective aligns with the insights from the authors of “Reinventing your business model,” who identify the “four most common barriers keeping people from getting particular jobs done: insufficient wealth, access, skills, or time.” And, while wealth is a factor when engaging helpers, it’s best understood, in the progress economy, in the context of it as a resource and equitable exchange.

It is this potential lack of resource that opens the door for progress helpers.

Making progress with a helper

Progress helpers help seekers on their progress journey by offering packages of supplementary resources in the form of progress propositions. These propositions aim to minimise the lack of resource progress hurdle and increase seeker’s judgements of progress potential.

Engaging with a progress proposition turns progress into a joint endeavor. However, a proposition may propose a destination (progress offered) different from the seeker’s progress sought. This can be for several reasons as we discuss here. For example, the helper may be trying to lower equitable exchange progress hurdle by appealing to a mainstream progress sought segment.

Evaluating this alignment is a key part of the proposition engagement process.

Updating the progress journey decisions process

When engaging a proposition the seeker follows a slightly updated decision process. Now they also need to judge if the progress offered aligns closely enough with their individual progress sought. We call this updated approach the proposition engagement process. Which you can compare to the earlier progress decision process below (slide between the images).

Proposition Engagement Decision
The progress journey

Principally, the progress journey is still one of resource integration incrementally moving towards progress sought. Only now the individual integrations may be performed by the seeker, or the helper, or by them both.

In addition, the progress-making resource integration steps are proposed by the helper as one of the offered operant resources. You’ll recognise these better as instructions, manuals, recipes, processes etc.

Interestingly, who performs the majority of the progress-making activities positions the proposition on a continuum of progress propositions. Ranging from relieving propositions, where the helper performs all the activities to enabling propositions, whose activities are driven by the seeker.

Progress as a verb - Progress proposition Continuum
Progress Proposition continuum

And here we find the first of our additional progress hurdles. Relating to the size of gap between how much the seeker wants to do vs how much the proposition proposes they can. If the seeker wants a relieving proposition, then an enabling proposition is less attractive.

Offering resources

As we’ve said, Helpers offer supplementary resources, aiming to minimise the lack of resource hurdle for a specific progress offered. They can do so because they have either i) made the progress themselves previously, or ii) believe they have the skills and knowledge to help a seeker explore how to make progress.

A proposition comprises two bundles of resources:

  • a proposed series of progress-making activities (more commonly known as instructions, manual, recipe, process, etc)
  • a specific progress resource mix of knowledge and skills encapsulating resources. This resource mix may include:
    • employees
    • systems
    • goods (freeze skills and competence for transport in time and space)
    • physical resources (goods with no ownership transfer)
    • data
    • locations

Quite what is offered by a helper is driven partially by where they want to position themselves on the proposition continuum. We typically find operand-heavy mixes, such as those including mainly goods, in enabling propositions.

Enabling propositions typically offer a narrow and targeted scope of progress. Seekers often find themselves needing to string together multiple enabling propositions to reach their desired progress state.

Imagine the task of hanging a picture on a wall. Achieving this might require a series of enabling propositions, each offered by different helpers. These could include a drill, a picture hook, a wall plug, and a hammer, all as separate enabling propositions. Importantly, these propositions demand the seeker to possess knowledge and skills of how to appropriately use them.

In contrast, a relieving proposition might involve providing access to a handyman. This individual would handle the entire process, relieving the seeker of the need for multiple enabling propositions.

Increasing the progress hurdles

However, engaging a proposition introduces five additional hurdles related to itself, one we already met above regarding positioning on the continuum. These additional hurdles are:

adoptabilityhow readily does the progress seeker feel they are able to engage the progress proposition (compatibility, complexity, etc – Rogers’ adoption factors)
resistancehow much resistance – none, postpone, reject, or worse, oppose – does the progress seeker feel towards the proposition
misalignment on continuumhow far away, on the progress proposition continuum, does the progress seeker feel the proposition is compared to their own position
lack of confidencehow much confidence does the progress seeker have in the progress proposition and/or progress helper
effort elsewherehow many service credits – amount and frequency – does a progress seeker need to get from elsewhere in order to meet that requested by the progress helper in order to engage the progress proposition (more formally: to participate in service exchange)
The five additional progress hurdles introduced by a progress proposition

A proposition may also not fully reduce the original lack of progress hurdle. Or it may introduce new lack of resource. For example introducing a “fly yourself” microlight aeroplane proposition might offer a solution to some functional progress sought of travelling some distance…but introduces a potential lack of resource for seekers relating to knowledge and skills to fly them.

These hurdles need to be minimised to a level that the seeker feels comfortable to use the proposal in making a progress attempt.

Owning the progress offered

Finally we observe that progress helpers must actively manage their offerings by:

  1. understanding progress sought and craft appropriate propositions
  2. ensuring progress offered is executed properly
  3. addressesing the observation that progress sought by seekers is constantly evolving.

We propose a specific progress owner role. More enlightened helpers likely have a product owner role today. The progress owner role is a natural evolution to that.

Relating to value

Exploring progress as a verb leads us to a similar conclusion as Payne et al in their paper on “Managing the co-creation of value”:

The customer’s value creation process can be defined as a series of activities performed by the customer to achieve a particular goal.

Payne, A. F., Storbacka, K., and Frow, P. (2006) “Managing the co-creation of value

Although we see the activities as not being limited to the seeker (customer). In pure enabling propositions they are. But as we head along the proposition continuum, those activities may be performed by the helper or combination of helper/seeker.

Regardless of who performs the activities, as progress is made value emerges.

Value emerging

Progress as a noun tells us that:

  1. there is zero value when the seeker is at their progress origin state
    • only the potential for value to be created exists, judged uniquely and phenomenologically by the seeker as progress potential.
  2. maximum value is created for the seeker when they reach their more desired state of progress sought

It follows, then, that value progressively emerges as the seeker makes progress. We call this value-through-progress:

value-through-progress: a view of value creation that sees value as being increasingly created as progress is made. Though value may be recognised on a different schedule.

This replaces the traditional goods-dominant approach known as value-in-exchange, which we believe has become outdated and is now hindering growth and innovation.

However, this emerged value is not meaningful until the seeker decides to recognise it.

Value recognition

A fundamental progress economy concept is the separation of i) value incrementally emerging through progress and ii) the seeker realising that value through a recognition process.

This comes to us from exploring the concept of progress reached.

It helps us answer the simple question: “what value has been created by only reaching 80km of a 100km journey?”. Possible answers are 0, 80% or 100% (and there are many others if you feel value, for that journey, doesn’t emerge in a linear way, i.e. not every kilometre has the same value).

The answer is that it depends. What is meaningful to that seeker on that particular progress attempt? Here’s some possibilities:

  • periodically – some seekers may feel every kilometre is meaningful, they’d like to reach 100km, but each extra kilometre they make is great.
  • on reaching milestones – maybe the 80km point is a nice rest place
  • at the end of each progress-making activity – not so relevant in this toy example
  • only when reaching progress sought – perhaps the seeker has a time-sensitive in person appointment and so getting only 80km is not helpful at all.

We’ll look at this concept in detail when exploring value recognition. For now, remember that value recognised may differ from the value emerged (until seeker has reached progress sought).

Impact of engaging a proposition

As we’ve mentioned, progress using a progress proposition is a joint endeavour. Value still emerges through progress, but the literature prefers the phrase value-in-use; and who are we to argue?

value-in-use: a view of value creation that sees value being increasingly co-created during a progress attempt as a progress seeker engages a progress proposition. Though value may be recognised on a different schedule

And we now talk of value being co-created to reflect this joint nature to progressing.

Value co-creation and value recognition in a progress attempt when engaging a proposition

Secondly, we’ve discussed that progress offered may not match progress sought. Which means the maximum value created when engaging a proposition may differ from that created on a solo attempt.

When progress offered is less than progress sought, the total amount of value that can be created will be less than with a solo journey. But the seeker will decide if that is sufficient and acceptable for them.

What if progress offered is greater, does that mean additional value is created? Not necessarily. If the seeker is not looking for that additional progress then there is no value to recognise in that. And it’s quite possible that extra progress increases one or more of the progress hurdles (likely equitable exchange).

Alternatively, that additional progress may be something the seeker didn’t realise they needed. In which case, upon seeing it, it is likely their progress sought evolves to include it(meaning in their eyes it is no longer really additional value).

Value co-destruction

When progress is hampered by a seeker or a helper we may be observing value co-destruction. Lintula delves into this topic and presents a framework highlighting how value can be co-destructed at different stages: before, after, or during the use of a proposition.

Relating to innovation

Innovation, often characterized by its capacity to create or enhance value, takes on new meaning in the progress economy. It can only revolve around improving progress, which in turn gives rise to value. 

Innovation therefore involves identifying and implementing ways to:

  • improving progress reached – increasing individual seekers’ progress potential (towards progress sought)
  • improving reaching progress offered – helping reach current progress offered better
  • reducing one or more of the six progress hurdles

It’s that simple.

Key considerations

Editing below here

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