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 progress; innovation is about making better progress as well as reducing hurdles to progressing; and value emerges as progress is made (value-through-progress).

But what is progress? Well, it’s a verb, a state, a noun, and a state transition…and all four perspectives are fundamental to understanding and exploring the progress economy.

Furthermore, progress sought, and origin, continuously evolve due to seekers’ experiences and observations. For a progress helper, this leads to Drucker’s rallying call of “innovate or die” but also Christensen’s “innovation dilemma“.

But, trust me, progress is less complicated than it first sounds!

Understanding progress

In the progress economy, progress is the fundamental basis of the economy. Unlike traditional view where we hunt to increase value, we’ll hunt to increase progress (with value falling out of progress made).

We’ll fundamentally see progress seekers – individuals, organisations, etc – as always attempting to move towards a more desirable state, which is usually individual to them.

We call that state progress sought, and, where a seeker starts from is their individual progress origin. We find it beneficial to name various points of progress such as these two, and more; this is progress as a noun.

Progress is also a verb – a move over time – between a seeker’s origin and progress sought. Where a seeker makes progress by executing a series of resource integrations (a progress attempt).

We can see these named points of progress as progress states. In which case, progress is, equivalent to a verb, a series of state transitions.

Whilst seekers may attempt to progress on their own, they are often lacking resources – carriers of capability – to do so successfully. This lack can include skills, knowledge, time, physical capabilities (eg strength), etc.

In response to lack of resource, we find progress helpers offering to help seekers make progress by providing supplementary resources in the form of progress propositions. These propositions comprise a progress resource mix and an associated proposed series of progress-making activities.

When a seeker engages a proposition, progress becomes a joint endeavour. Where a seeker attempts progress towards the proposition’s progress offered state. That likely requires them to compromise from their progress sought. Seekers need to judge that progress offered is sufficiently close to their progress sought.

Seeing the context

Here’s how progress sits in the context of the progress economy. As you can see, it sits right at the heart.

It is from this basis of progress, that we understand value. And from this we build out our world of progress attempts, progress propositions and the mechanics of equitable service exchange that underpins our world. These give deep insights into innovation.

Let’s get an overview of progress in all of its guises.

Progress as a Verb

First, and foremost, progress is a verb:

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

In the progress economy we believe that everybody is trying to make progress with all aspects of their lives (they are progress seekers). Though for practical reasons we usually consider specific aspects of progress in isolation.

Think of this as learning a language, fixing a car, addressing health issues (visiting a doctor), doing a puzzle, drilling a hole, hanging a picture on a wall, getting nourishment, getting fitter, etc. Though it’s vital not to forget the non-functional and contextual elements of progress – the “safely”, “during rush hour” aspects (see progress as a state).

Seekers make progress in progress attempts. Though when they have a lack of resource, seekers often engage progress propositions – bundles of supplementary resources – to help make progress.

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’ progress attempts. Such as how they attempt to move from their progress origin to progress sought; or to progress offered when engaging a proposition

Named states also enable us to refer to various phenomenological judgements seekers (and sometimes helpers) make before, during, and after progress attempts. Namely, progress potential – how far they feel they can reach – and progress reached – how far they feel they have reached.

It is interesting to note that progress sought and progress origin evolve over time.

Progress as a State

Viewing progress as a state reveals its multifaceted nature.

We spoke earlier of progress being the “getting fit”, “drilling a hole”, “getting nourishment”. These are the functional aspects of progress. Equally important are the non-functional progress – for example: safely, quickly, sense of achievement, not held up. As well as the contextual progress elements – “no driving license’, ‘in rush hour’ etc.

Progress comprises the following 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 guides us to discovering more successful innovation. Missing one or more can lead our innovation astray, missing what a seeker is truly seeking. Supermarket self-checkouts, for example. As Christensen says about his jobs-to-be-done theory (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”

These three elements also allow discovery of better market segment – beyond the constraining product feature or demographic approaches used today.

Progress as a State Transition

Lastly, we can see progress as a state transition – equal to it being a verb. Progress is a journey from the progress origin state to progress sought (or offered) state, passing through various intermediate states that we track as progress reached. Here’s what that looks like visually:

We should note that contextual progress does not normally change in a progress 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

Let’s take 1970’s disco composer extraordinaire Giorgio Moroder’s advice.

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

Giorgio Moroder

When we free our minds from the deeply embedded concept that manufacturers embed value and we exchange that for cash, we find that:

  • Reaching their progress sought creates maximum possible value for a seeker
  • There is no value at their progress origin

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.

We say that value is a trailing indicator for progress. It’s not value we try and create, it is progress.

If a seeker engages a proposition, then progress is a joint endeavour. Seeker and helper co-create value. We often referred to this as value-in-use. Though the maximum value co-created with a proposition is likely to be different than progress sought.

Interestingly, emerged value is not meaningful to a seeker. They need to recognise it for it to become meaningful. Value recognition is a process similar to revenue recognition, that anyone with a finance background will be familiar with.

Although a seeker’s schedule for recognition may differ from the continuous emergence of value. 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 should enable a seeker to reach as close to their progress sought as possible. Since that is where maximum value has emerged. Failing that, innovation should enable the seeker to make the progress currently possible in a better way. Practically both these require reducing the lack of resource progress hurdle.

Seekers may attempt to improve their progress themselves. They may design and try different progress-making steps. Or utilise existing resources they have access to in novel ways. Perhaps they find new resources in their environment, or acquire them in seemingly unrelated progress attempts. They may even engage progress propositions in a novel manner.

Helpers, likewise, look to innovate their propositions. Aiming to help seekers reach further or make progress currently possible better. Or to close the gap between seekers’ and proposition’s assumed progress origin. They may additionally reduce the five additional progress hurdles that progress propositions introduce.

Finally, we observe that innovation is continuously required. It is driven by the fact that progress sought continuously evolves. It is shaped by seekers’ experiences in attempting progress in various aspects of life, including in other industries, markets, and global perspectives. As well as their observations of others attempting progress. Similarly seekers’ progress origins can shift over time.

For a helper faced with these ever changing progress sought and origins, we naturally come to Drucker’s observation:

Innovate or die

P. Drucker, via “Innovation on the fly”, HBR

Although innovating to chase the evolving progress sought of your most demanding seekers may expose you to be disrupted. That’s part of Christensens “Innovator’s dilemma“.

Relating 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 reaching 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

Both “jobs to be done” theories help us understand what seekers are looking for. And we can use their approaches to identify progress sought.

The progress economy takes us further.

What the progress economy brings

Beyond jobs to be done, we’re concerned with understanding the following:

  • a broader view of progress waypoints (origin, sought, offered), judgements (potential and reached) and how value emerges through progress but needs to be recognised by a seeker for it to be meaningful.
  • how seekers try to make progress through progress attempts; which are executions of a series of progress-making activities that integrate resources – carriers of capability; however a seeker may lack the resource to progress (a progress hurdle)
  • that progress helpers offer supplementary resources – a proposed series of progress-making activities and a progress resource mix – in the form of progress propositions to help seekers make progress. These aim to reduce the lack of resource hurdle but introduce five new hurdles to be minimised
  • our world is based on service exchange, often indirect and enabled by service credits. This gives us insights into price and business model innovation.

Related articles


Let’s progress together through discussion…