The Real Actors of The Progress Economy

Dr. Adam Tacy PhD, MBA avatar

Meet the exciting actors staring as the cast in this season’s new take on innovation and growth in the progress economy!

Here they are, and the stage they act upon.

Progress SeekerS
The progress seeker actors
Photo by Atul Choudhary on

The star of the progress economy: the progress seeker. They are always looking to make progress; moving over time to more desirable states; in all aspects of their life.

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

Usually they are individuals or organisations. But we can open organisations up and reframe our view to see seekers inside as departments or even the organisation itself.

We may find these eager actors attempting to make progress all by themselves. More often, though, it is with the help of a progress proposition (from a progress helper).

And whilst attempting to make progress, seekers are very judgemental. Regularly judging:

Emerging from these judgements is the seeker’s view of value.

Individualistic like their judgements, seekers are also, on the surface, seemingly picky and irrational. But, spend a little time with them and they reveal they are really ‘phenomenological’. Basing their judgements on their lived, and current living, experiences (phenomena).

This is why they might use the self checkout on a busy Wednesday lunchtime at Daley’s supermarket, but not on their Thursday weekly shop. Or why another seeker won’t use self checkout in the supermarket, but are quite happy to use a similar self checkout in IKEAsson’s, the Swedish furniture shop down the road. Or why yet another will never use a self checkout as their introduction put their cousin out of work.

(Note carefully: self checkouts are a good example of where progress offered is misaligned with progress sought, and not in a good way (unlike blue ocean or disruptive innovation)).

Whilst seekers’ make unique and phenomenological judgements on progress as a verb; we can segment them by progress as a noun (state). We need to forget the old school approach of segmenting by product features or by demographics. Instead, segmentation is based on progress sought. And that means looking at all elements of progress: functional, non-functional and contextual elements.

Segments are then groups of seekers who seek sufficiently similar, or can sufficiently compromise on, a specific configuration of functional, non-functional and contextual progress.

Finally, our cast of seekers evolve their progress sought over time. This is driven by a variety of reasons, including:

  • gaining new information whilst making a progress attempt
  • carrying expectations from other progress attempts they are making/have made to a progress attempt
  • observing progress others are making (both for similar progress and different progress)

Seekers’ constant desire to make progress, and their ever evolving view on progress, is the driver of innovation – to make better progress, and to make progressing easier.

They can take sliding roles in interactions. Storbacka and Lehtinen (2001) identify them as being: a customer (payer), a consumer, a competence provider, a controller of quality, a co-producer, and/or a co-marketer.

However, a substantial reason for a seeker not starting, or abandoning, a progress attempt is if they feel, uniquely and phenomenologically, they lack resource (skills and knowledge).

Enter, stage left: progress helpers.

Progress HelperS

Progress helpers are the hero actors who have found a way over the fundamental lack of resource progress hurdle to make some specific progress.

They then choose to package their gained skills and knowledge (resource). And offer them as help to progress seekers.

The progress helper actors
Photo by Anna Tarazevich on

Progress helpers gain these skills and knowledge in various ways. With three common paths being:

  • as a seeker who has persevered via trail and error through the lack of resource progress hurdle to learn/discover how to make some specific progress
  • as an entity specifically setting out to address a lack of resource through research and development, or similar
  • as a helper that has been trained (knowledge and skills transfer) by another helper

Progress helpers can be a single entity, such as an individual, company or charity; or a department if we’re looking inside a company.

Or they can also be an ecosystem. Where each member is involved in aspect of progress sought. And the progress is usually co-ordinated by one of the members.

But it is not uncommon that a progress seeker needs to co-ordinate a number of separate progress helpers to make the progress sought. More so when they want enabling propositions (on a continuum between relieving and enabling propositions).

And don’t think that helpers are altruistic in offering their help. Of course they want something in return. And that is an equitable offer of application of skills and competence for their benefit (aka a service) in exchange. They are, of course, progress seekers themselves, looking for progress helpers.

(This is because we see service as the fundamental basis of exchange, as service-dominant logic informs us. Not the old school way of thinking exchange is cash for a product with embedded value).

Although, rather than directly accepting service in exchange, the helper likely accepts service credits from the progress seeker. Subsequently using those credits to get further indirect service exchanges they desire from other helpers.

Helpers, it’s important to note, cannot offer value. Rather, they offer a progress proposition – supplementary resources (skills and competence) – that they believe will help a seeker make progress. Including proposed progress making activities and a progress resource mix (of employees, systems, goods, physical resources, locations).

Progressing becomes a joint endeavour, with value emerging in-use and being co-created.

Progress helpers, like seekers, make phenomenological judgements of progress potential and progress achieved during a progress attempt. Though often these judgements are less important in affecting the attempt than the seeker’s judgements. They may feed into altering how progress is attempted if the helper is looking to do that. Or feed into a helper’s view of value co-destruction. Which may ultimately lead to termination of service. Though hopefully to attempts to recover first.

The purpose of a progress helper

Drucker once said:

the purpose of a business is to create a customer – as such it has two, and only two, functions: innovation and marketing.

Drucker, P. F. (1954) “The Practice of Management

We can reinterpret that for the progress economy. Where the purpose of a progress helper is to get an equitable service exchange (for progress they are seeking). As such they need to:

  1. constantly understand progress seekers (marketing) and
  2. evolve their progress offered to reflect that and help make better progress and/or progress easier (innovation).

That is to say:

the purpose of a progress helper is to attract maximum equitable service exchanges (number or size) with progress seekers – as such a progress helper has three, and only three, functions:

  • marketing – continuous discovery of ever evolving progress sought
  • executing – delivery of progress offered
  • innovating – continuous innovation of progress offered towards progress sought

In a simplistic world we have just a seeker looking to progress and many helpers offering to help. But, that potentially leads to progress that society may not desire. And as the stage lighting dims, our final actor rises up…externalities.

Progress Owner

[to add – within a progress helper we identify a need for a progress owner. Someone accountable for helping progress seekers make some specific progress. They handle the current proposition plus proposition development (innovation)

Externality actors
Photo by Monstera on

Our final actor could be viewed as the killjoys of the progress economy. Externalities, as we’ll call them, insert elements into the seeker’s progress sought that the seeker may not want or may not have considered.

These inserted progress elements are typically part of non-functional or contextual progress. And they are aimed at minimising negative impacts to the seeker, the helper and/or wider society groupings.

And externalities demand, usually non-negotiably, that progress helpers deliver those inserted elements of progress either in their progress offered or as part of the progress hurdles.

A world with no externalities is one with unconstrained progress sought/offered.

Where John, down the street from you, happily installs anti-aircraft missiles in his garden to keep the pesky birds from eating the berries he is busily growing. Or Claire speeds past the school gate at 100km/h as the school is closing. Where greed overruns the banking system, tipping it into a global crises. And small fusion reactors are offered to home owners to get through an energy crisis.

“Safely”, for example, is a common inserted aspect of progress. Often with a more detailed set of requirements. Such as mandating three point seatbelts in motor vehicles. Here, in Sweden, the government moves sustainability from passive to active progress sought by requiring a deposit scheme to be in place on plastic bottles. Another example of externalities action is requiring an actor to be qualified before making or helping make certain progress (gas certified engineer, doctors/nurses etc). Or regulating the banking sector to minimise financial system meltdowns…

Who are these shadowy actors? They are the:

  • governments – enacting legislation.
  • regulators – deriving regulations
  • associations – enforcing rules/qualifications
  • society – expecting norms of behaviour

However, the world needs to be careful. Whilst an amount of constraining is good; and can be a driver of innovation. We can easily push progress hurdles too high by inserted excessive progress sought. Leading to collapsed desire to progress. Which means innovation and growth are limited.

The Stage

How do all our actors interact? It’s on the stage of the progress economy. And we can see how through the simplified view of the progress economy’s 4-layer model in this diagram.

A Progress seeker together with externalities – on the left – determine specific progress they are seeking. And various progress helpers – over on the right – give offers help to make progress.

We would expect there is a relationship between progress sought and progress offered. And that is shown at the top. Progress offered needs to mostly match that sought. Otherwise it would be uninteresting to the progress seeker.

However, we anticipate that each progress helper will provide slightly different progress. Perhaps in terms of the elements and/or amounts of progress that they can assist with. And, in most cases, the supplementary package of resources provided by different helpers will differ. Perhaps one offers a relieving service with systems and employees. While another offers a more enabling proposition in the form of goods. Others are elsewhere on the progression proposal continuum.

Other helpers might be more adventurous with progress offered. Some will apply principles of disruptive innovation. Offering just enough progress to satisfy the lower end of seekers who have been left behind by incumbent helpers. And then improving till they dominated the market.

Others still may take a Blue Ocean Strategy approach. Where they may introduce, eliminate, increase and/or reduce various elements of progress sought. Looking for uncontested markets.

A seeker choses a helper through the engagement decision process. Looking for maximum progress potential and minimal progress hurdles. Once chosen, they continue their progress attempt. Intending to follow the proposed progress making activities and performing various resource integrations. That is to say, making progress.

Through which value emerges as a phenomenological judgement of the amount of progress made (value co-creation and value-in-use).

Wrapping Up

There we have it. There are three main actors on our progress economy stage.

The progress seeker, looking to make progress in everything.

Various Progress Helpers that have overcome the fundamental lack of resource progress hurdle. And who then decide to take advantage of their new skills and competence. Offering to help other progress seekers for opportunity to engage in equitable service exchange. Though that exchange is usually indirect. And is enabled and mediated by service credits.

Finally, the externalities, whose main purpose is to prevent run-away progress sought/offered from having a negative impact on seekers, helpers, or a wider group of interest.

And they all act out progress attempts on the 4-layer stage that is the progress economy.

Related articles

Let’s progress together through discussion…