Progress Sought

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

Progress sought is the paramount named state in the progress economy. It captures the more desirable progress state – functional, non-functional, and contextual – a progress seeker is trying to reach.

Understanding the ever evolving progress that seekers seek is crucial in creating offers to help, segmenting markets better, and as a driving force of innovation.

We observe that the seeker gets maximum value by reaching their progress sought. Therefore, innovation should focus on getting seekers closer and closer to that.

Let’s get exploring!

Progress sought

In the progress economy, everything revolves around the named state we call progress sought. This is the more desirable progress state a progress seeker wishes to reach.

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

And if that sounds familiar, it is because it comes from our definition of the foundational concept of progress – moving over time to a more desirable state.

Now, theoretically we’re talking about all aspects of a seeker’s life. However, for simplicity, 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.

As a progress state, progress sought is more than just functional progress. It encompasses:

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

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 job to be done).

It allows us to better segment markets, craft targeted offers to help, identify disruptive innovation, and leverage blue ocean strategy.

Identifying progress sought

There are no shortcuts to discovering progress sought by seekers. Several methods can help in its identification:

  • Careful Observation
  • Interviews
  • Interactive Engagement with Seekers

Frameworks like design thinking and “jobs to be done” theories by Christensen and Ulwick offer valuable approaches that can be adapted and customized for this purpose.

Moreover, each execution of a progress proposition during helper-assisted progress attempts becomes a learning experience, deepening our comprehension of progress sought. These insights should be incorporated into the proposition design process.

In more formal scenarios, seekers may issue requests for information, quotes, or proposals (RFI, RFQ, RFP), which often capture their perspective on progress sought. Nevertheless, these documents typically benefit from follow-up discussions to refine and enhance them. Employing consultative sales approaches can be advantageous in such situations to uncover the true progress sought.

And sometimes progress sought can be that of refining and clarifying an end user’s 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 as part of their progress-making activities.

While no shortcuts exist, some general guidelines can be established.

using progress not product

A key starting guideline is to prioritise progress over products, as famously exemplified by Levitt’s insight that people “don’t want to buy a 1/4 inch drill, they want a 1/4 inch hole”.

If we focus solely on the product – the drill in this case – we fall into a trap Levitt called marketing myopia. We risk getting blinkered and fixated on making and selling better drills. Now that has been a successful approach in the past. But, we’re running out of growth opportunities with it.

This shift from product-centric (drill) thinking to progress-centric (hole) thinking encourages exploration of various avenues to achieve the desired progress, fostering innovation. For instance, instead of merely selling drills, one could offer drill rental services, create platforms for sharing tools, invent new tools, provide “hole as a service” where a handyman takes care of it, or even establish locations at DIY stores for hole-making.

This example, simple as it is, carries a profound lesson. Levitt 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, such as Kodak, Nokia, and Blockbuster.

uncovering the broad view

Functional progress is often the most tangible to identify. However, Incorporating non-functional and contextual elements of progress gives us a broader view and helps unveils deeper insights.

For instance, consider the functional progress of transporting oneself 100 kilometres. Many methods can accomplish this, and helpers can offer various ways to assist. Price, availability of time and other resources can narrow down the options.

Broadening the view to take into account non-functional progress means we start considering “as fast as possible” or “enjoying the scenery”. Which leads to new offerings we may not have thought of.

Examining contextual progress, such as “during rush hour” or “lacking a driver’s license,” reveals that certain offerings may be less effective, or conversely, more appealing. For instance, taking a train might not be the fastest option, but it becomes attractive if the context involves not having a driver’s license.

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.

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

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

getting abstract enough

When defining progress sought, it’s beneficial to maintain some level of abstraction to allow room for innovative progress offerings. Failing to do so might lead to shortsighted solutions.

This issue was highlighted by Levitt in his 1975 paper, “Marketing Myopia”. For instance, if we define progress sought as ‘traveling 30km to the office by car’, we risk focusing solely on improving roads and parking.

A better abstraction is “travelling 30km to the office”. Opening up more offerings as solutions.

But even that might not be abstract enough. “Meet colleagues who are 30km away” is better. Now we’ve opened up virtual meetings, attending via virtual reality etc. In the contextual aspect we can reflect constraints such as “in person” which might narrow the solutions.

Handling externalities

Externalities, like governments, regulators, associations, and society as a whole, play a role in shaping what progress sought.

These entities strive to prevent negative impacts on seekers, helpers, and society in general. Often, the progress they introduce can’t be ignored. For example, they might require:

  • certain qualifications for those performing progress-making activities. For instance, working on gas appliances or pipework often demands a certified engineer. Similarly, medical-related progress requires qualified doctor or nurses
  • safety designs/controls requirements for provided resources aiding progress. For instance, motor vehicles must have three point seatbelts
  • mandated hours in educational programs, like foreign language training in schools

Sometimes, inserted progress aims 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.

You might wonder why we include these external factors as part of progress sought, especially when the helper often fulfills them. It comes down to our perspective on progress. Seekers are always the ones striving for progress and attempting to achieve it. Thus, external requirements must be considered as part of progress sought. If seekers lack the necessary resources for a certain progress – like certification or safety attributes – they seek them from a helper.

latent progress sought

Sometimes progress sought can be more latent than active.

Sadly, sustainability may be a category. We all know we need to be more sustainable. But how often does that truly become an active part of our progress sought? Why do externalities have to insert bottle recycling schemes? Or taxes on plastic shopping bags?

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

Progress sought evolves over time due to…

Progress sought evolves over time due to several factors. As the saying goes:

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, 1871

The three main factors are:

  • Experience: 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.
  • Influences: 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/moods: 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

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.

Finally, let’s delve into the relationship between progress sought and value.

Relating to value

The relationship between progress sought and value is straightforward:

Reaching Progress Sought = Maximum Value Creation

By definition, reaching progress sought signifies that the maximum value has been created. This perspective aligns with our understanding of progress as a verb and its role in value creation through progress.

Relating to innovation

Editing below here

Innovation should focus on reaching closer to progress sought.

Key considerations
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