Understanding Progress

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

Progress is the beating heart of the progress economy – everyone is striving to make it and innovation is all about increasing it and decreasing hurdles to making it.

But what is progress? Well, it’s a verb, a state, a noun, and a state transition.

Progress seekers – individuals, organisations, etc – look to move over time from their progress origin to a more desirable state called progress sought (both of which can evolve over time).

While seekers may attempt to progress alone, they often face challenges due to a lack of resource, which can include skills, knowledge, time, physical capabilities, etc.

Fortunately, progress helpers step forward offering supplementary resources that facilitate progress. These resources, comprising a progress resource mix and a proposed series of progress-making activities, are bundled as a progress proposition. When engaging a proposition, progress transforms into a joint endeavour towards a state of progress offered, which may differ from, but needs to be acceptably close to, progress sought.

Fundamentally, value emerges from making progress: value-through-progress (often referred to as value-in-use when engaging a proposition). With maximum value created by reaching a seeker’s progress sought. Value’s ultimate realisation, however, importantly depends on a seeker’s value recognition process, which may not align with when value emerges.

Trust me, this is less complicated than it sounds!

Progress as a Verb

First and foremost, progress is a verb:

In the progress economy we believe that everybody is striving to make progress with all aspects of their lives. These are our progress seekers. Though for practicality we often look at specific aspects of progress in isolation.

progress: moving over time to a more desirable progress state.

Think of this as learning a language, fixing a car, visiting a doctor, doing a puzzle, getting fitter, etc. But these are only the functional element of progress sought (the desired progress state a seeker wishes to reach). Equally important are the non-functional – for example: safely, quickly, sense of achievement, not held up -and contextual elements – “no driving license’, ‘on the way to work’ etc.

Progress from a seeker’s progress origin to progress sought is made in progress attempts.

These are the execution of a series of progress-making activities, each integrating some combination of operant and operand resources. Where operant resources – those that act on other resources resulting in progress being made – are seen as the primary resource.

Operant Resource

acts on other resources resulting in progress being made

Operand Resource

need to be acted upon for progress to be made

Guiding progress attempts is a decision process, where seekers decide to start and continue a progress attempt. Or to abandon an attempt for replacement, disenchantment or phenomenological reasons.

Seekers may make lone progress attempts. However, they often encounter a progress hurdle relating to a lack of resource – skills, knowledge, time, or resource such as strength.

Fortunately, progress propositions are constructed and offered by progress helpers to address these resource gaps. These boost the seeker’s judgement of progress potential and actual progress reached.

Nonetheless, engaging a progress proposition introduces five additional progress hurdles (adoptability, resistance, misalignment on continuum, lack of confidence, and equitable exchange). Not to mention a proposition may not reduce the lack of resource hurdle enough (perhaps it assumes an incorrect progress origin). Or it may even introduce new lack of resources that need to be addressed.

Progress as a Noun

Now, let’s glance at progress as a noun, the various named states that act as waypoints in a progress attempt.

Progress as a noun
The various named progress states used in the progress economy

These named states enable us to confidently describe a seekers’ journey as from their progress origin to progress sought.

They also enable us to refer to the various phenomenological judgements seekers (and sometimes helpers) make before, during, and after progress attempts. Namely, progress potential and progress reached. Where if, for instance, a seeker perceives their progress potential as insufficient compared to progress sought, they may choose not to embark on or abandon their journey.

As previously mentioned, progress propositions aim to facilitate seeker’s progress. With named states, we can say they aim to enhance a seeker’s judgement of progress potential (and ultimately progress reached). They do so by proposing to help a seeker reach a state of progress offered.

However, aligning progress offered with individual progress sought requires customisation, which translates into additional helper effort and therefore a higher equitable exchange progress hurdle.

To mitigate this, helpers may segment progress sought (and sometimes progress origin) to offer compromise propositions that they believe adequately meet a group of seekers’ needs. These segmented propositions require less helper effort. Thus reducing the equitable exchange hurdle. Think tailored vs off the peg clothing.

And then it’s worth noting that we can explain disruptive innovation and blue ocean strategy as two approaches that deliberately, in their own ways, look to offer progress positioned away from a mainstream progress sought segment.

Lastly, progress sought continuously evolves, shaped by external influences and seekers’ experiences from attempting progress in various aspects of life, including in other industries, markets, and global perspectives. Similarly progress origin can drift over time. These evolutions underscore the importance of innovation:

Innovate or die

P. Drucker, via “Innovation on the fly”, HBR
Progress as a State

Viewing progress as a state reveals its multifaceted nature, comprising three essential elements:

  • functional – the action (people-, possession-, mind-, intangible-processing)
  • non-functional – performance and feelings
  • contextual – when/where/constraints.

Understanding and harnessing these elements collectively leads to more effective strategies for discovering successful innovation. As Christensen says about jobs to be done (which closely relates to progress sought):

A job can only be defined – and a successful solution created – relative to the specific context in which it arises

Christensen, C (2016) “Competing against luck”

It is also through understanding that progress has these three elements we get better market segment – beyond the constraining product feature or demographic approaches used today. This also leads us discover more successful innovations (new progress propositions).

Progress as a State Transition

Lastly, progress can be seen as a state transition—a journey from progress origin state to progress sought (or offered) state, passing through various intermediate states that we track as progress reached. As shown in the following diagram.

We should note that contextual progress does not normally change in an attempt. If it needs to, then it is better to consider a new aspect of progress sought where the functional progress is the change of context. For example, a context of “not knowing how to drive” can become a new progress attempt with “learn to drive” as the functional progress sought.

Relating to value

Once you free your mind about a concept of harmony and of music being correct you can do whatever you want

Giorgio Moroder

Let’s take 1970’s disco composer extraordinaire Giorgio Moroder’s advice. When we free our minds from the deeply embedded concept that manufacturers embed value and we exchange that for cash, we discover value is a trailing indicator for progress.

Progress should be our focus, value emerges from that, since:

  • Reaching progress sought creates maximum possible value.
  • At progress origin there is no value, only a judgement by the seeker of progress potential (potential value)

Value, then, incrementally emerges as the seeker moves over time between their progress origin and progress sought. There is value-through-progress.

value-through-progress: a view of value creation that sees value as being increasingly created as progress is made. Though any value created may not be recognised (accounting term) until progress completes.

If a seeker engages a proposition, then progress is a joint endeavour. And so value is now co-created through progress (which is often referred to as value-in-use).

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 not be recognised (accounting term) until progress completes.

Though the maximum value co-created with a proposition will be less if progress offered is less than progress sought. However, if the progress offered is higher than sought it does not necessarily mean surplus value is co-created.

Finally, all of this incrementally emerged value means nothing until a seeker decides to recognise it. A process that is similar to revenue recognition, for any accountants or project managers out there.

And a seeker’s schedule for recognition may differ from the continuous emergence of value through progress. For example, it could occur:

  • periodically
  • at the end of each progress making activity
  • when reaching milestones
  • only when reaching progress sought (or offered)
Relating to innovation

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

Innovation involves:

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

It’s that simple.

Relationship to “Job to be done” theory

If you’re familiar with Ulwick’s or Christensen’s “jobs to be done” theory, you’ll find a common foundation with the progress economy.

Both theories recognise that customers aren’t just purchasing goods and services; they’re seeking to fulfill specific tasks or jobs. In the progress economy, this is the progress sought.

Ulwick mentions:

People want products and services that will help them get a job done better and/or more cheaply

What is jobs to be done,

Christensen says:

Successful innovations help consumers to solve problems—to make the progress they need to…

Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done”, HBR


We define a ”job” as the progress that a person is trying to make in a particular circumstance

Christensen, C. M., Dillon, K., Hall, T., Duncan, D. S. (2016) ”Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer ChoiceHarper Business; 1 edition

While “jobs to be done” theories help us understand what seekers are looking for, the progress economy goes further, introducing concepts like progress hurdles, supplementary resources (propositions), progress resource mixes, and decision processes. These tools enable a more systematic approach to innovation, growth, and leveraging the circular economy.

In the progress economy, we go a step further. We introduce concepts like progress hurdles, supplementary resources (called propositions), progress resource mixes, and decision processes.

By incorporating these concepts, we can better understand the progress barriers seekers face, the resources they need, and how they make decisions. And we get the concept of value-through-progress. We get the tools to be more systematic in our approach to innovation, growth, and leveraging the circular economy.

Key considerations

Editing below here

We can summarise our definition of progress as follows:

The progress economy’s definition of progress

As we’ve said, progress is the beating heart of the progress economy.

Related articles


Co-create value through discussion…