Progress Proposition Continuum

The progress proposition continuum of enabling to relieving propositions. Showing the implications on/of the service mix, non-functional progress sought, and which actor drives the activities involved in the process of making progress.
Dr. Adam Tacy PhD, MBA avatar
What we’re thinking

We don’t see a goods versus services debate in the progress economy. Instead, we see a landscape where there’s progress to be made, and various propositions exist to aid in that journey.

These propositions can either enable a seeker to make progress on their own or relieve them of needing to act themselves. Most propositions fall somewhere on a continuum between these two points, depending on how involved the seeker is in performing the progress-making activities.

An interesting observation is that a proposition’s position on this continuum provides insights into its resource mix composition and the non-functional progress it facilitates. Enabling propositions, for instance, are goods-heavy (goods that freeze the application of skills and knowledge for transportation), and support self efficacy.

This reveals a “misalignment on the continuumprogress hurdle. Where there is a gap between a proposition and the seeker’s aspirations on the continuum. The greater the gap, the higher the hurdle.

Finally, we can harness the continuum to hunt for, and understand implication of, innovation, such as: exploring new positions, adapting the service mix, addressing shifting seeker positions, and reducing the hurdle with supplementary propositions

Progress proposition Continuum

Progress propositions are designed to assist seekers in reaching their progress sought (or at least the proposition’s progress offered). These propositions encompass two essential elements: i) a set of suggested progress-making activities, and ii) a mix of resources to integrate, such as employees, systems, data, goods, and locations.

Since there are numerous ways to assist progress seekers, each proposition is expected to offer a unique blend of resources and activities.

Consider a straightforward example: the functional progress of obtaining nourishment. This involves activities like deciding what to eat, purchasing ingredients, preparation, cooking, serving, and finally, eating. There are multiple avenues to achieve this progress, including:

  1. Cooking yourself, using various resources like shops, cookware, stoves, plates, etc.
  2. Dining at a gourmet restaurant, where you simply enjoy the prepared dishes chosen by the chef, relieving you from all but the eating activity.
  3. Opting for something in between, like a buffet or a menu-based restaurant, where your involvement in progress activities is less than cooking yourself but more than the gourmet restaurant.
  4. In a scenario like receiving an IV drip in a hospital, where everything is done for you, albeit not a mainstream choice.

These alternatives are visualised in the following diagram where we can see the split of who performs activities.

As you move down the table, the seeker becomes less involved in activities, and the helper assumes more responsibility. This shift signifies the transition from enabling (where the seeker actively participates) to relieving (where the helper takes on most activities). This is the cornerstone of our definitions for the progress continuum:

enabling propositions: propositions that enable the progress seeker to perform the majority of the progress making activities

relieving propositions: propositions where the progress helper performs the majority of the progress making activities

Most propositions occupy positions between these two points on the continuum, depending on the seeker’s level of involvement.

The progress proposition continuum of enabling to relieving propositions. Showing the implications on/of the service mix, non-functional progress sought, and which actor drives the activities involved in the process of making progress.
The progress proposition continuum of enabling to relieving propositions. Showing the implications on/of the service mix, non-functional progress sought, and which actor drives the activities involved in the process of making progress.
Implications for progress propositions

The progress proposition continuum provides two interesting insights, as depicted in the lower half of the above diagram. A proposition’s position influences:

  • The mix of resources offered to help facilitate progress.
    • Enabling propositions tend to be more goods-intensive, demanding more seeker time, skills, knowledge, and other resources. They may require the seeker to combine multiple propositions to achieve complete progress.
    • Relieving propositions often rely more on employees and systems, reducing the need for seeker’s participation during an attempt.
  • Non-functional and contextual progress offered.
    • Relieving propositions offer reduced risk to the seeker and access to the latest technology.
    • Enabling propositions often result in greater self-efficacy and fewer hindrances.
revealing a progress hurdle
“Misalignment on progress proposition continuum” progress hurdle

Seekers choose a position on the continuum based on their specific progress goals. This leads to the “misalignment on continuum” progress hurdle, the size of which depends on how far the seeker’s position is from the proposition’s position. If this misalignment is too significant, it may impact the progress attempt.

relating to The classics goods-service continuum

We can’t discuss our progress proposition continuum without noting the goods-service continuum. It’s a classic cornerstone of contemporary marketing. Introduced by Palmer & Cole in “Services Marketing: Principles and practice” it define the goods-service continuum as ranging from tangible to intangible dominant offerings.

The proposition continuum is clearly inspired by the traditional goods-service continuum. This concept, introduced by Palmer & Cole in “Services Marketing: Principles and practice” classifies offerings based on their tangibility, ranging from tangible-dominant (goods) to intangible-dominant (services).

The goods-service continuum. We will evolve this to a service-service continuum, and then further to the progress proposition continuum
The classic marketing goods-service continuum.
Offerings range from tangible dominant to intangible dominant.

It comes from a goods-dominant world. One where goods are dominant and services are defined relative to them. It recognises that some goods have service attached and some services have supporting goods.

In the progress economy we have no need for this tangible/intangible division. We see only progress that needs making; and propositions that can help. Vargo & Lush at one point – in “Why service?” – did consider that service provision can be direct or indirect (ie frozen in a goods) or somewhere in-between. We continue that line of thinking, landing at the enabling-relieving ends of the progress proposition continuum.

Role of the seeker (customer/beneficiary)

The foundation of the continuum lies in the roles of the seeker and helper concerning progress-making activities. This perspective challenges the conventional view derived from goods-dominant logic, which typically centers on manufacturers or producers making goods fulfilling customers’ functional needs.

Considering the role of the seeker, also known as the customer or beneficiary in other models, isn’t a new concept. This idea emerged from early research aimed at understanding service in a goods-dominant context. Bitner et al (1996) sought to comprehend customer contributions and roles in service delivery. They found that:

in many services customers themselves have vital roles to play in creating service outcomes and ultimately enhancing or detracting from their own satisfaction and the value received

Bitner et al (1996) “Customer Contributions and Roles in Service Delivery

They categorised customer participation in service into three categories:

  1. productive resource;
  2. contributor to quality, satisfaction and value; and
  3. competitor to the service organization
Bitner et al (1996) “Customer Contributions and Roles in Service Delivery

This breakdown suggests that customers can be viewed as “partial employees of the service provider,” with the provider driving service delivery, and customers sometimes needing to be involved for successful provision. Our view is slightly different because we take account of the continuum. But the general point holds. When designing a proposal, it’s crucial to understand which progress-making activities the seeker wishes to and can perform.

While the second point underscores that involving seekers increases the likelihood of them achieving their desired outcomes. This concept eventually transforms in the literature into the idea of value co-creation.

the customer is a job (co-)executor who acts in conjunction with the firm to provide service to get a job done

Bettencourt, Vargo & Lush (2014) “A Service lense on Value Creation

It also highlights customisation as a positive aspect. (In goods-dominant logic, services are often accused of being inconsistent – see Vargo & Lush “The Four Service Marketing Myths” for an interesting discussion dispelling this and other myths of services).

Finally, point three tells us that a customer may just do things themselves. Therefore becoming a competitor to the service provider.

To bridge between these customer roles and the continuum we can turn to Normann. He wrote in “Reframing Business: When the Map Changes the Landscape” about enabling and relieving processes. Two words that Vargo & Lush subsequently link to who controls the operant resources – resources that need acting upon in order for progress to be made – used in a service (see again their paper “Why service?“). With Bettencourt, they further develop this to be:

While the customer always participates in value creation, the customer can have a more or less active role in the service provision itself….

…thus, in matching its resources and capabilities, a company must decide where on a continuum of “enabling” to “relieving” service it will be because this impacts the service role of the customer.”

Bettencourt, Lusch, and Vargo. (2014) “A Service Lens on Value Creation

Let’s then look at these two types of proposition – enabling and relieving.

Enabling propositions

In enabling propositions, seekers play a significant role in carrying out progress-making activities, primarily by applying their operant resources – often skills and knowledge – on operand resources offered by the helper.

enabling propositions: propositions that enable the progress seeker to perform the progress-making activities

We’re talking buying a hammer, a cooker, some word processing software, etc, or using a website or a diy garage (locations). Whereas hiring tools or a car would move us along the continuum; and using a handyman or a taxi is at the relieving end.

Progress seeker implications

Enabling propositions involve seekers actively driving progress. This dynamic places higher demands on their skills and knowledge. They need to identify propositions that align with their needs and possess the necessary skills to effectively utilise them.

These type of propositions often have a narrower scope of progress offered. And are limited in their ability to adapt to changes in the progress-seeking process. As a result, seekers often need to combine multiple propositions to achieve their desired progress. This requirement puts the onus on the seeker to recognise the need for multiple propositions and have a clear understanding of what is required.

While enabling propositions propose progress-making activities, it’s ultimately up to the seeker to follow these activities. Compliance depends on the seeker’s skills and knowledge. There is often limited ability to enforce the use of provided instructions, and seekers may sometimes deviate from the recommended activities (be honest, do you read the instructions that come in the box?). This can lead to both value co-destruction and innovative uses.

progress resource mix implications

The resource mix of an enabling proposition usually comprises one or more operand resources – goods, locations, some types of systems. Offering physical resources – goods where access is only temporary – moves us slightly along the continuum, but can still be thought of as enabling so long the seeker drives the activities. Hiring a tool you use is enabling; using a train is generally not (unless for some reason you become the driver).

Non-functional and contextual progress implications

One of the primary benefits of enabling propositions for seekers is access and the reduction of hold-ups in the progress-seeking process. With ownership of the resource mix, seekers can initiate a progress attempt whenever they want. However, this may not always be the most efficient use of resources, depending on usage rates.

Enabling propositions are particularly appealing to seekers looking for self-efficacy, those who enjoy the challenge of “I did it myself” or “I solved it” scenarios. These type of propositions align well with seekers who seek a sense of accomplishment in performing progress-making activities independently.

Overall, enabling propositions empower seekers to actively engage in progress-making activities when they want, but they also place higher demands on the seeker’s skills, knowledge, and ability to coordinate multiple propositions to achieve their desired progress.

Relieving propositions

In relieving propositions, helpers perform the majority of progress making activities. Typically helpers apply their resources on seekers operant or operand resources.

relieving propositions: propositions where the progress helper performs the majority of the progress making activities

Here we can think of more extreme aspects in three of the four processing categories of Lovelock & Wirtz: people, possession and information. Less extreme aspects and the fourth category – mental stimulus – see us travelling a little from the relieving end.

Progress seeker implications

Relieving propositions are particularly well-suited for seekers who face constraints such as a lack of time or a shortage of other resources they have no desire to own or develop skills in using. These propositions are also practical when it’s infeasible or inconvenient for seekers to acquire specific resources themselves.

However, it’s important to note that relieving propositions often come with a higher equitable exchange hurdle. For example, engaging a handyman to hang up a picture likely involves a higher exchange compared to the several enabling propositions that a seeker could engage instead. Additionally, with relieving propositions, the seeker typically gains no ownership of resources that can be reused in the future.

progress resource mix implications

The resource mix of a relieving proposition comprises one or more operant resources – employees or operant systems (ones that act on other resources to make progress, e.g. translation, personal assistants, artificial intelligence, etc).

The resource mix of a relieving proposition primarily comprises one or more operant resources, which can be employees or operant systems. Operant systems are those that act on other resources to facilitate progress, such as translation systems, digital personal assistants (“Hey, Siri!”), artificial intelligence, and more.

Non-functional and contextual progress implications

Seekers engaging with relieving propositions face lower usage risk. They do not need to possess in-depth skills and knowledge about the internal workings of the resources involved. Instead, their focus is on understanding how to effectively engage with the proposition. Additionally, The proposition itself often ensures that the proposed progress-making activities are carried out as intended.

Moreover, by using relieving propositions, seekers typically gain access to the latest approaches and technologies.

In summary, relieving propositions are tailored to meet the needs of seekers who prefer to delegate the majority of progress-making activities to helpers. While they are expected to come with a higher equitable exchange, they provide convenience and access to specialised resources and technologies, making them an attractive option for certain progress seekers.

Innovation implications

The progress proposition continuum serves as a dynamic framework for innovation and improvement. By exploring new positions, addressing unmet needs, and adapting the service mix, progress helpers can continually refine and enhance their propositions to better serve their progress seekers.

  • Exploring New Positions: By navigating along the continuum, progress helpers can discover new positions that cater to the evolving needs and preferences of progress seekers. These fresh positions often lead to innovative propositions that better align with the changing landscape of progress.
  • Adapting the Service Mix: The ability to update the resource mix is a key feature of the continuum. Progress helpers can assess and modify the mix of resources and activities offered to align more closely with the specific requirements of progress seekers. This adaptability ensures that propositions remain relevant and effective in achieving progress.
  • Understanding Shifting Seeker Positions: Progress seekers may shift their positions on the continuum over time. We currently see a general gravitation towards relieving propositions (called “shift to the service economy” in goods-dominant logic). Helpers can better reason about this on the continuum. As well as understand why there may be a useful opportunity of seekers going the other way.
  • Supplementary Propositions: Helpers can introduce supplementary propositions that help narrow the misalignment hurdle. Whether acting as the incumbent helper or a challenger/complementer, they can refine their offerings to reduce the gap between their propositions and progress seekers’ needs.

As an illustrative example of the last point, consider the “cooking yourself” proposition. If a seeker lacks cooking skills and knowledge, the progress helper can enhance the service mix by including resources such as cookbooks, online instructional videos, physical or online cook-along sessions, and on-demand assistance. This comprehensive approach not only addresses the seeker’s skill gap but also offers a more holistic solution for achieving progress.

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