Progress Sought

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

Progress sought is the more desirable progress state – functional, non-functional, and contextual – a progress seeker wishes to reach.

It’s the primary named state in the progress economy. And when reaching it, the seeker can recognise maximum value.

A seeker can recognise maximum value when reaching their progress sought Click To Tweet

Understanding the progress that seekers seek is crucial in creating and evolving progress propositions, segmenting markets better, and innovating (to make better progress). We also have to be aware that externalities – such as governments, industry bodies etc – may insert aspects of progress sought.

Finally, progress sought is ever evolving, driving a need for helpers to continuously innovate.

A seeker’s Progress sought

In the progress economy, everything revolves around progress:

progress: moving over time to a more desirable state

where that more desirable (named) state is progress sought:

progress soughtthe more desirable progress state a progress seeker wishes to reach

Now, theoretically we’re talking about all aspects of a seeker’s life. However, for practical reasons, we usually focus on specific aspects of progress sought at a time (we still call those specific aspects “progress sought”).

These are the learning a new language, getting nourishment, impressing someone, changing location, fixing something (a car, themselves…), building something, enjoying yourself, and much more.

Though as a progress state, progress sought is more than just functional progress. It encompasses all three elements of progress:

  • functional progress – the action element, encompassing activities like “learning,” “transporting,” or “fixing.”
  • non-functional progress – covering performance and emotions, manifesting as attributes such as “speed,” “self-empowerment,” and “safety.”
  • contextual progress – factors like how, when, prerequisites, and constraints that influence progress, “during rush hour”, “with my children” etc

Which we visualise, in relation to a seeker’s progress origin, as:

Progress sought is the desired state of the seeker – it comprises functional, non-functional and contextual elements

Notably, progress sought has parallels, and shared strengths, with jobs to be done theories of Chistensen and Ulwick. Ultimately giving us a better, more rounded, view of the progress a seeker is looking to make. Increasing our chances of understanding how to help them (progress propositions) and how to segment markets. It also helps us understand disruptive innovation and blue ocean strategy.

Identifying progress sought

Sadly, or perhaps welcomingly, there are no shortcuts to discovering seekers’ progress sought. It is methodical process of discovery through, for example:

  • Careful Observation
  • Interviews
  • Engagement with Seekers

Frameworks like design thinking and “jobs to be done” theories by Chistensen and Ulwick offer useful processes for this purpose.

Even when it feels like inspiration for progress sought strikes, we should develop that inspiration methodically to fully understand all elements of progress sought (functional, non-functional, and contextual).

In more formal scenarios, seekers may issue requests for information, quotes, or proposals (RFI, RFQ, RFP). Those capture the output of an organisation’s internal process to identify their progress sought. Nevertheless, these documents typically benefit from follow-up discussions to refine and enhance.

And sometimes, progress sought can be the act of refining and clarifying end user progress sought. The Agile or Lean approaches are examples. Here a seeker has a woolly idea of end user progress sought and sets out to refine and clarify that as part of their progress-making activities.

We also find that every time a seeker engages with a progress proposition is an opportunity to deepen understanding of seekers’ progress sought.

While no shortcuts exist, we can consider some general guidelines:

  • focussing on progress not product
  • uncovering the broader view
  • getting abstract
  • observing latent progress sought
  • harnessing frameworks
  • handling externalities

Let’s look into those.

Focussing on progress not product

A key mindshift is to prioritise progress over products, as famously exemplified by Levitt’s insight:

People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!

Levitt, as quoted in Christensen’s 2006 article “What Customers Want from Your Products

Focussing solely on the product – the drill, for example – we fall into Levitt’s marketing myopia trap. We get blinkered and fixate on making better drills. Whilst there is space for such innovation, that space is constrained. And we’re running out of it, limiting growth. How many more razor blades, for example, can Gillette add to their shaving products.

Levitt’s work carries a profound lesson. He explored how the US Railroads declined due to them being myopic. They saw their customers’ progress sought in terms of what they had: “transportation by rail”. By ignoring the true progress sought of “transportation over a distance” they missed out on air transportation. As a result, they nearly disappeared as viable businesses.

History abounds with examples of companies that became obsolete by fixating on their products rather than embracing progress: Kodak, Nokia, and Blockbuster, to name a few.

Shifting to progress-centric thinking – the hole – encourages exploration of a wider solution space. This goes hand-in-hand with our next point: uncovering the broader view.

Uncovering the broader view

Whilst functional progress is often the easiest to identify, we need to identify all elements of progress sought.

Progress as a state

Understanding the non-functional and contextual aspects of progress sought provides valuable insights into a seeker’s objectives. This knowledge allows us to better identify potential resource gaps and to build offerings they really feel able to engage.

Let’s go back to drills. They clearly meet a functional progress sought of creating a hole. And we assume the seeker is comfortable with the drilling process, knows what the drill can drill into. What does considering non-functional and contextual progress sought add?

Well, non-functionally, we’re assuming the seeker has no anxiety about encountering hidden electric cables or pipes nor accidentally causing damage. We believe they appreciate the flexibility to use the drill when they want (not being held-up), are not overly focused on having the latest technology, are undeterred by the price, and acknowledge that the drill might be unused most of the time.

Additionally, we assume the seeker has the necessary time to make the hole, and there see no other constraints (such as how to handle drilling into a hazardous substance).

For sure, we’ll find seekers that match, or who attempting progress if there are no other options.

However taking a broader view of progress sought suggests other propositions might be better. Can we address anxiety issues, lack of time and/or skills and knowledge, access to latest technology, feelings of wasted resources, etc?. Offerings such as rental services, sharing platforms, inventing new tools to make holes, providing “hole as a service” where a handyman takes care of it, or even establishing locations at DIY stores for hole-making, all become more obvious.

OK, we might be running away with ourselves regarding making a hole, but I hope you see the point.

Getting abstract

Closely tied to Levitt’s observation on marketing myopia is needing to get the right level of abstraction for progress sought. This allows room for innovative progress offerings. Failing to do so might lead to shortsighted solutions.

For instance, if we identify some particular progress sought as ‘traveling 30km to the office by car’, we risk focusing innovation efforts to cars and related infrastructure.

A better abstraction is “travelling 30km to the office”. Opening up more offerings as solutions. Even better is to understand if “travel” can be abstracted. Perhaps the need to travel is related to meeting colleagues. Reframing progress sought as “Meet with colleagues who are 30km away” opens up virtual meetings, attending via virtual reality etc.

Of course, contextual element of progress sought might reflect constraints such as “in person” which potentially narrow the solutions. Which emphasises the need to understand all elements of progress sought. But we should always challenge constraints. Medical surgery, until recently, had a clear constraint of patient and surgeon being in the same location. Even that is being reduced through instances of telesurgery.

Observing latent and incipient progress sought

Marketers traditionally see customers as having existing, latent and incipient needs, usually defined as follows:

  • existing – the need is known and there is an existing solution
  • latent – the need is known but there is no existing solution
  • incipient – the customer doesn’t (yet) know they have a need

Often incipient and latent needs are grouped together as latent needs which is dangerous from an innovation perspective. Meeting latent needs can be seen as helping a seeker reach nearer their progress sought. Sustainability may be seen as a latent, and growing, need.

Whereas meeting incipient needs is helping a seeker reach somewhere they didn’t know they wanted to each. It opens an exciting world. The “if you build it, they will come” view; a true field of dreams.

Hello Apple Vision ProHello Apple Vision Pro
Apple Vision – hoping to meet incipient needs

People will point to Apple as experts in this – iPodand iPhonebeing two successes. Perhaps Apple Vision will be the next. Google glass can be seen as a failure. And it’s this “perhaps” that is the danger for incipient needs. We’re imagining a desirable state that a seeker may want…but they may also not want. In chasing them we will expend effort that might be a fun journey but ultimately a waste of resources. But that’s a conversation best taken about progress offered.

Discovering the progress a seeker is looking to make is a substantial topic; there are some frameworks that can help.

Harnessing frameworks

When we looked at functional progress as part of progress as a state, we touched on Lovelock & Wirtz framework for categorising service (see here). This is useful for framing functional progress in our minds.

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.
Lovelock & Wirtz’s four categories of processing

Similarly, a repurposed framework from Almquist’s article, “The Elements of Value,” assists in considering non-functional progress (see here).

Examples of non-functional progress sought
Elements of non-functional progress (developed from Almquist et al)

Let’s also remember it’s not just progress seekers that define progress sought. We often have to understand externalities.

Addressing externalities

Externalities, like governments, regulators, associations, and society as a whole, can define aspects of progress sought.

They aim to prevent/minimise negative impacts on seekers and society. And the progress they insert is often backed by legislation or similar regulations. They might, for example, require:

  • qualifications for those performing progress-making activities – working on gas appliances demands a certified engineer; or medical-related progress requires qualified doctor or nurses
  • safety designs/controls for resources offered in resource mixes – motor vehicles must have three point seatbelts
  • mandated learning – like defining curriculum in schools

Sometimes, inserted progress by externalities is their to encourage seekers to take specific actions. Here in Sweden, and other countries, the government actively promotes sustainability by implementing a deposit scheme on plastic bottles. Seekers pay a small deposit on a plastic bottle, which they can get back by returning the bottle for recycling. The ability to recycle is inserted into seekers’ progress sought.

You might wonder why we include these as part of progress sought rather than progress offered. It comes down to our perspective on progress, where seekers are primary striving to make progress and may engage a helper if needed. It makes sense then that externalities insert into progress sought.

One thing we observe about progress sought is that it is rarely static.

Evolving over time due to…

As the saying goes:

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, 1871

The progress a seeker seeks evolves over time due to several factors:

  • experience
  • influences
  • changing circumstances

Each progress attempt serves as a learning opportunity for both seekers and helpers. Through trial and error, they discover effective approaches and fine-tune their progress-making activities. Sometimes, they realize that their initial idea of progress wasn’t aligned with their true desires.


Seekers are exposed to various sources of information, including from different markets, industries, and the experiences of others. Friends, family, influencers, and online content all shape their views of progress sought, influencing what they expect to achieve. A process known as of innovation diffusion.

Changing circumstances

As circumstances evolve, so does the progress sought of seekers. Not least in the way they look to make progress. What the goods-dominant world calls the “shift to the service economy” that we see better as a shift from enabling to relieving propositions is caused by several factors from shifts in asset utilisation and external demand shocks to de-industrialization and more. Or the current emphasis on sustainability is prompting seekers to prioritise environmentally friendly and ethical progress methods.

Reasons why we increasingly seek relieving propositions for our progress sought
Reasons behind a “shift” to service (seen in the progress economy as a slide along the proposition continuum and associated changes in the progress resource mix)

Its tempting to believe that this shift is one way. But it can go both ways, for good reasons. For instance, an increasing number of my friends are cultivating their own vegetables; shifting from relieving propositions of farms and supermarkets to more enabling propositions (seed shops, gardening tools etc).

And this change can happen quite rapidly. This is an interesting article on the fall of non-fungible tokens.

Relating to value

The relationship to value is straightforward: when reaching their progress sought means maximum value has emerged which can then be recognised by the seeker.

A seeker can recognise maximum value by reaching their progress sought Click To Tweet

Seeing progress as a verb helps us understand that value incrementally emerges as progress is made. It also informs us about how to think if the seeker falls short. Which leads us to understanding that value emerges, but to become real for the seeker it needs to be recognised by them. That’s a process similar to revenue recognition by accountants in firms.

Relating to innovation

Innovation should focus on getting a seeker closer to their progress sought.

It might be something a seeker does themselves through experimentation with the resources they have available.

Or it could be a progress helper updating existing propositions or creating new propositions to help a seeker reach closer to their individual progress sought whilst minimising progress hurdles.

In practice the equitable exchange hurdle drives helpers to segment seekers by progress sought. Doing so they offer a more generic progress sought to groups of seekers at a lower equitable exchange. Where advances over time might allow the size of segments to reduce allowing a move nearer individual seekers without other hurdles increasing.

And finally, the constant evolution of progress sought is the driving force of innovation both for a seeker progressing on their own and for helpers’ progress offered.

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Let’s progress together through discussion…