Understanding Progress

So what is progress? It’s a verb, a noun and a state transition. At a high level, we say that it is:

progress: moving, over time, through a series of activities, to a more desirable state

And we’ll call this more desirable state: progress sought. It comprises functional and non-functional elements, informed by context.

Conceptually, a seeker attempts to progress from a start state to the progress sought state. They do so through a series of activities which mostly are resource integrations/applications. And it’s worth noting that progress sought may evolve due to new information becoming available after each activity.

Progress is judged, uniquely and phenomenologically, at the end of each activity by the seeker as progress achieved. A seeker similarly judges future progress towards progress sought as progress potential. It is these judgements that lead to a better understanding of value.

Our longer definition of progress, showing progress as a verb and a noun is as follows:

We find understanding progress as a series of activities leads us to find that seekers perform a progress decision-making process. Where they decide to start and repeatedly continue a progress attempt. We will look at this in this separate article.

However, we find the world where a progress seeker attempts progress purely on their own is rather limited. We rapidly discover a lack of resource progress hurdle. Both in what they can apply and planning activities. Solving these is where progress propositions come into play.

As you can see, it’s important for us to understand progress. Which is why this definition is part of the foundation layer of our tooling.

Right then. Let’s get into some detail about progress. First as a verb, then a noun and finally as a state transition.

Progress as a verb

Collins define the verb progress as:

to move over a period of time to a stronger, more advanced, or more desirable state


And in the progress economy we see all actors – individuals, groups, organisations, departments etc – constantly attempting to move to more desirable states. We’ll call these actors progress seekers.

This is also the starting point of our definition.

Progress is moving to a more desirable state…

Progress is moving over time to a more desirable state

The dictionary definition shines through here. Although I have removed the words “stronger” and “more advanced”. “More desirable,” I believe, encompasses both of these.

We’ll refer to this more desirable state as progress sought. And, for practical reasons, we will usually consider specific aspects of the progress sought rather than the totality. Though we will continue to refer to that as progress sought.

Let’s keep exploring the definition of progress from the verb perspective.

…through a process consisting of a series of activities…

Progress is a process, made up of a series of activities.

A move over time implies that progress is a process. And processes are made up of a series of activities. Which is exactly how we continue our definition. And, because we see progress as a proactive exercise, then the words “activities” and “series of activities” feel appropriate.

Additionally, this phrasing helps us discover that a progress seeker performs a continuous decision process when attempting to make progress. First deciding to start an attempt. Then repeatedly selecting to keep moving forward at different decision points. These decision points, I believe, occur after activities complete.

At each decision point the seeker judges progress potential and progress achieved. These lead to our understanding of value. The seeker also judges how high the lack of resource progress hurdle is (see “the challenge of a lone progress seeker” in this article)). If either of the first two are two low or the later too high then progress may stop..

But, what do these activities involve?

…where activities normally involve the application of resources

A seeker progresses through integrating and applying resources. Where resources are:

resources – the tangible and intangible entities available to an actor [see operant resource and operand resource]

Hunt, S. (1997) “Competing Through Relationships: Grounding Relationship Marketing in Resource-Advantage Theory”, Joumal of Marketing Managemet, 13. 431—445

And there are two types of resource: operant and operand. Let’s look at each.

Typically we observe progress seekers applying their skills, knowledge and time to attempt to progress. These are all examples of what we call operant resources. And we can more generically define them as:

operant resource: a resource that needs to act on other resources for progress to be made

Alves, Ferriera and Fernandes (2016) give us a wider list to consider. “Operant resources held by each individual may be:

  • physical – include sensory-motor endowment, energy, emotions and strength.
  • social – made up of both personal and cultural relationships
  • cultural – include specialised knowledge and skills, life expectancy and historic imagination”

Additionally, we may need to bring operand resources to an activity. We define these as:

operand resource – a resource that needs to be acted upon for progress to be made

And, in the progress economy, these are items that freeze skills and knowledge so that they can be transported elsewhere and used (unfrozen) later. A car, for example freezes skills and knowledge of how to transport a small number of people. Which is unfrozen every time we turn the ignition key.

To tie off this sub section, we should note that a progress seeker’s lack of resource is a progress hurdle and an opportunity. We’ll explore this more in the section on “the challenge of a lone progress seeker”.

…where activities are determined and scheduled

Before attempting to progress, it is beneficial to understand the required activities and the order in which they must be completed.

Failure to do so will probably lead to frustration for the progress seeker. However, due to the phenomenological nature of progress, there may be seekers who seek the challenge of figuring things out as they go.

But let’s note that this doesn’t mean that outcomes are pre-determined. Just the steps to reach outcomes. Additionally, an ability to replan is required to address the evolving nature of progress sought.

And it turns out that planning, and ability to replan, are operant resources. Which has implications relating to the lack of resource progress hurdle mentioned above, and discussed in the section on “the challenge of a lone progress seeker

…and they may be tangible or intangible

[it is still to be determined if this is relevant/adds somethig useful]

To finalise our definition, as a verb, we say that:

activities are tangible or intangible

There is something of a tautology in this, in that they can not be anything else. But the division allows us to think more deeply about progress.

We can borrow Lovelock & Wirtz categorisation of service from their book “Services Marketing”. They categorise all service – which we will say equates to progress/progress propositions – into four categories of processing: people, possession, mental stimulus and information.

Lovelock & Wirtz’s four categories of service (which we will repurpose as categories of progress)
Lovelock & Wirtz’s categories of service (which we will repurpose as categories of progress)

They then go on to say that half of their categories, namely mental stimulation and information processing, are made up of intangible actions (activities in our terminology). Some of the activities in the other two categories, people and possession processing, are also likely to be intangible.

OK, that’s our view of progress as a verb completed. It’s a process made of determined and scheduled intangible/tangible activities of applying resources in order to move, over time, to a more desired state.

Let’s now dig into what we mean by state – progress as a noun.

Progress as a noun

When we consider progress as a noun, then we find that it represents a state. A state that comprises functional and non-functional elements, informed by a contextual element. As you can see in the diagram below.

Progress comprises functional and non-functional elements, informed context
And is viewed in terms of progress sought, potential progress, and progress achieved

The “growth” of progress in the diagram attempts to imply that we increasingly reach the progress sought state over time. We’ll look at that more in the next section – progress as state transition.

In this section, we’ll look at these three elements of progress: functional, non-functional and contextual. Which we can summarise as:

functional progress: what needs doing

non functional progress: describes performance, behaviour, emotions

contextual progress: constraints related to progress

Having the best view of the progress sought aids in the pursuit of innovation. And our understanding of progress sought is best when we identify all three elements of progress. It is weaker if we miss the contextual elements. And weaker still when we additionally miss the non-functional elements.

Basic, better, best description of progress sought

What does this mean? Well, here’s three simple examples:

qualityprogress elementsprogress sought
basic* functional* move myself 100km
better* functional
* non-functional
* move myself 100km
* as directly as I can
best* functional
* non-functional
* contextual
* move myself 100km
* as directly as I can
* during a morning rush hour

As you can see, the version with functional, non-functional and contextual progress is richer.

Over in this article [link to come] we’ll explore how to identify and create the progress sought statement.

Now, let’s jump into the definitions of these three progress elements, starting with functional progress.

Functional progress

Think about some progress you’re trying to achieve. Most likely, you’ll begin by considering the functional progress you are seeking. Functional progress is the element of progress that describes what needs doing.

functional progress: describes what needs doing

However, there’s a risk we describe this functional progress sought at too low an abstraction. Or that we include solutions in the description (don’t worry, we’re in good company if we do; but we need to get away from it).

Consider the following two statements of progress sought:

  1. I need to drive my car 100km to another city to give a presentation
  2. I need to give a presentation in a city that is 100 kilometres away.

This first example is not abstract enough to be functional progress. It contains part of a solution – driving a car. Whereas the second example is better. And there are many potential ways to meet the progress sought. Driving is one, so is flying, taking a bus, Uber, attending virtually, teletransportation, etc…

The trap the first example falls into is myopic thinking (short-sightedness). Something Levitt describes in his 1975 paper ”Marketing Myopia”. And that Christensen references in “Marketing Malpractice”:

The great Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt used to tell his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” Every marketer we know agrees with Levitt’s insight. Yet these same people segment their markets by type of drill and by price point…

…the prevailing methods of segmentation that budding managers learn in business schools and then practice in the marketing departments of good companies are actually a key reason that new product innovation has become a gamble in which the odds of winning are horrifyingly low.

“Marketing malpractice” Christensen, C. M., Cook, S., Hall, T. Harvard Business Review (2005),

We open up the the solution space through being abstract about the functional progress sought.

But seekers are not only seeking functional progress. They are also seeking to make non-functional progress

Non functional progress

Lets consider again our functional progress sought example of giving a presentation in a city that is 100km away.

Non-functionally we might seek to accomplish it as inexpensively as possible, as comfortably as possible, as directly as possible, or while enjoying the view, etc. Inexpensively, pleasantly, directly, enjoying views – these are all non-functional aspects.

non functional progress: describes performance, behaviour, emotions, etc

In fact there are numerous aspects of non functional progress – too many to list.

Fortunately, Almquist, Senior & Bloch’s (2016) ”The Elements of Value” identifies a hierarchy of 30 what they call ‘elements of value’. And nearly all of these we can repurpose to get an insight into typical aspects of non-functional progress.

Examples of non-functional progress (from Almquist, Senior & Bloch)
Examples of non-functional progress aspects – reprposed from Almquist, Senior & Bloch’s (2016) ”The Elements of Value

We change their original “functional” category to “practical”. And additionally remove four elements – organises, integrates, connects, and informs – because they are aspects of functional progress.

Do our examples from above find a home here? Yes. Inexpensively sits under reduces cost ; directly with saves time; and enjoying views is sensory appeal. Pleasantly could fit with reduces anxiety, fun, attractiveness, or wellness. This last example shows us how such a map helps disambiguate vague terms. Ways of making progress are different for reduces anxiety and, for example, which is hidden if we use pleasantly.

Understanding seeker’s non-functional progress sought helps better understand their phenomenological start and continue decisions. And it helps us in the innovation space and progress propositions.

Finally, we’re left with a question. Can we have non-functional progress with no functional progress? For example, if you visit an art exhibition, what is the progress you are seeking? That’s something I’ve still to come to a conclusion about.

Last, but not least, we need to take account of the context that progress is being sought.

Contextual progress

Context informs us of constraints or provides extra information in which the progress attempt is being made.

contextual progress: constraints related to progress

In our running travel example, knowing that the progress needs to happen during rush hour traffic helps narrow the ways of making progress.

Or in a pharmacy context, some medicines might need additional element of trust in order to be handed over. Such as physical ownership of a prescription signed by a doctor, or showing an ID card. This might constrain propositions such as online fulfilment.

Contextual progress is not always a constraint. Take the use of customer agents powered by artificial intelligence. They can free up a constraint that using employees generally introduces. Interacting with employees generally needs to happen without gaps. Whereas with AI a seeker can start an interaction on the way to work, continue it at lunchtime and conclude on the way home.

We don’t usually expect context to change over time. Or for there to be an attempt to change it. But there’s no rule saying it can’t.

Context helps us focus solution options for making progress. It also helps us in segmenting markets.

So there we have it. Progress as a noun relates to state and informs us that there are three elements: functional, non-functional and contextual. And if we can identify all three we have the strongest view of progress sought. How can we do that? Well, that’s the subject of another article [link to come].

We can combine our verb and noun views and consider progress to be a state transition.

progress as state transition

A complimentary way to visualise progress is as a change in state.

In such a view we see a progression from some start state that we call progress origin to the more desired state of progress sought. Along the there is a series of intermediary states, each reflecting the cumulative changes at the end of one or more activities.

Progress as a change in state
Where a state holds the functional, non-functional and contextual elements of progress
Progress achieved and progress potential are judgements between starting and more desirable state (progress sought)

As the seeker attempts to progress, they regularly judge progress achieved – have they got to where they want at that point – and (remaining) progress potential– can they achieve the progress sought from this point. And they do this uniquely and phenomenologically. That is to say each seeker’s judgement is their own; influenced by their lived and living experience. These judgements leads us to a better understanding of value.

Now we have several forms of progress. So let’s recap them in the following table. And then explore them each in a little more detail.

type of progressdescription
originsome start from where a progress seeker starts their progress attempt
soughtindividual progress seeker’s phenomenologically determined more desirable state
potentialphenomenological judgement by an individual seeker of the progress they believe can be made going forwards from a particular point in time
achievedphenomenological judgement by an individual seeker of the progress they have made by a particular point in time

also a cumulative state reached after the end of one or more activities.
Table 1: The three types of progress seen and evaluated by the progress seeker

progress origin (state)

This is the state the seeker starts to make progress from.

Progress origin appears less important in our thinking. Where it may be important is when some progress has been achieved using some resources and the seeker now wishes to apply different resources.

But for now, we’ll assume no progress has been made. Or if it has, then it is abandoned and the seeker restarts from a position of no progress made.

Progress sought (state)

Progress sought is the “more desirable state” from our definition of progress. That is to say the progress a seeker is looking to make. Comprising functional, non functional and context elements.

And we usually limit our scope to specific areas of progress. Rather than deal with the totality of progress a seeker is trying to make. Nonetheless, we shall continue to refer to this sub-set as progress sought.

How is this state identified? That’s the subject of this article [link to come].

There are a couple of considerations around progress sought. Firstly, we observe there might be active and passive components. A sort of must have and would be nice to have division.

For example, I think most of us would agree that eco-friendly/sustainability is a would like to have non-functional requirement. How many would list it as a must have?

This actually leads us to the second consideration. Sometimes external actors, such as governments, will enforce elements of progress sought that the seeker may not be actively or passively seeking. 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. Or rules requiring you to be qualified before making certain progress (gas certified engineer, doctors/nurses etc).

Interestingly, we can also see the concept of markets emerges from progress sought. Markets are groups of seekers that are seeking sufficiently similar progress. Segmentation is on progress sought, not products or demographics.

Progress sought may evolve during attempt to make progress

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, 1871

Every activity performed in the course of making progress generates fresh information. Furthermore, because each activity takes time to complete, fresh external information may also become available.

And new information may cause the progress seeker to evolve their perception of progress. It can alter the progress they are seeking. Or how much achieved progress / potential progress they see.

This in turn changes can alter their decision to continue.

Progress achieved (state)
Progress achieved and progress potential (judgement)

Periodically a seeker will make a judgement of how much progress they have made. As well as how much potential progress is remaining. These feed into the decision process a seeker undertakes to determine if to start and if to continue attempting to make progress.

Theoretically, each time the seeker makes these determinations then the amount of achieved progress plus potential progress (remaining) should meet the progress sought.

Simplistic view of the relationship between progress sought, achieved and potential
Simplistic view of the relationship between progress sought, achieved and potential

There are usually several intermediary states between the progress origin and progress sought. We can visualise these as emerging at the end of subsequent activities.

The challenge of a lone progress seeker

Our definition of progress is designed to be generic. That is we try not to care about who is attempting to progress. But, given a little thought, we can see that a progress seeker attempting to progress on their own, is living in a limited world.

First, they probably lack the resources to progress. And secondly, they may not know the activities required to progress.

Lack of resource

Progress attempted by a progress seeker on their own is a limited world. Since the seeker is likely to lack resources save for simple progress sought.

We’re not necessarily talking back to the stone age, but not far off, if we are strict in our definitions. Seekers’ skills and knowledge are those they have been shown or observed (education/training etc being propositions). Whist goods are those that are simply found in nature or they find discarded (goods capture skill and knowledge, so are frozen propositions).

And so we observe a progress hurdle – which we’ll call the lack of resource progress hurdle. And this is where we find progress propositions arise. These are essentially offers to help make progress by augmenting missing (or weak) seeker resources.

Consider a relatively simple (functional) progress sought of hanging a picture on a wall. Strictly you’d have no drill to make the hole in which to insert the right wall plug and hook (which you also wouldn’t have). Nor access to a tool to help avoid hitting a pipe or finding a stud. And so on.

Inefficient knowledge of needed activities

We will see that a lack of resources is a progress hurdle in a seeker’s progress decision-making process. And the ability to plan activities is a necessary skill – a type of resource – the seeker needs. Missing this skill can manifest as low judgements of progress potential and progress achieved. As a result, a seeker may abandon, or even refuse to begin, a progress attempt.

And, just to note here, progress propositions – offers to help progress seekers make progress – often propose a series of activities. This is an example of the main purpose of progress propositions: attempting to lower the lack of resource progress hurdle.

To complete our discussion, let’s address a question that may have occurred to you while reading. And even if it didn’t, it’s still good to ask. What is the relation to jobs to be done theory?

Relationship to jobs to be done theory(ies)

You may have come across Ulwick’s and/or Christensen’s job to be done theories. Common to both is the idea that customers do not buy goods or service. Rather, they seek a means of getting a job done.

And it’s relatively easy to draw a line between getting a job done and the progress economy’s making progress. Christensen says:

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

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

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,

So we can say that Jobs to be done theories and progress sought share a common base. The idea of an actor seeking progress/to get some job done. And using jobs to be done theories can help us tease out progress sought. Where this maps to part of the top layer of the progress economy.

The progress economy thinking then provides more. We get a full 4 layer lens of how the world operates. And the levers for systematic hunting of innovation, growth and circular economy.

the decision process, the mapping between progress and progress propidea of a progress mix, the foundation from which both job to be done theories can emerge.

Wrapping up

The progress economy introduces a comprehensive view of progress. As a verb, a noun, and a state transition.

The progress economy’s definition of progress

As a verb we’ve seen it is a process consisting of a series of activities applying resources to move over time to a more desired state. And as a noun we explored states – such as progress sought – consisting of functional, non functional and contextual elements. Which we also noted can evolve as a result of new information available to the seeker over time.

These came together as a state transition view where we saw judgements are made by the seeker of progress achieved and remaining progress potential.

This exploration of progress identified that a seeker attempts to make progress through a process. And aligned with that is a progress decision process.

Lastly we looked at a world where a seeker attempts to make progress on their own. And we saw it was quite a limited world. This was because of a lack of resource the seeker most likely has. Including potentially a lack of knowledge/planning the activities required to progress. We termed this the lack of resource progress hurdle. And that hurdle is part of the decision process.

There are a number of places to explore next that flow from this definition of progress.

  • Identifying progress sought
  • Progress propositions are offers to help progress seekers make progress.
  • Value is judgements at points in time, by progress seekers, of progress achieved and remaining progress potential compared to progress sought.
  • Markets are groups of seekers seeking sufficiently similar progress (not products or )
  • Innovation is the creation and implementation of new progress proposition to help seekers make progress and/or increase the rate of positive decisions to engage a proposition.

Add to the discussion…

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