Exploring Progress Proposition

Dr. Adam Tacy PhD, MBA avatar
The idea

Progress propositions intend to lower the lack of resource progress hurdle that negatively impacts progress attempts.

They are offerings of supplementary resources by a progress helper* to help seekers make progress. Specifically:

  1. a proposed series of progress-making activities
  2. a proposition specific combination of six, generally interchangeable, skills and knowledge carrying resources (the progress resource mix)

They sit on a continuum between enabling and relieving propositions, differentiated by who drives the majority of the progress-making activities.

Now that progress attempts are joint endeavours, value is seen as being co-created (emerging from progress made).

However, progress proposition may not fully address the original lack of resource hurdle; and can even introduce new lack of resource. They also introduce five new progress hurdles.

* in return for an equitable service exchange

editing below here

The need for progress propositions

Progress seekers are looking to make progress in all aspects of their lives.

progress – moving over time to a more desirable state

To achieve progress, seekers engage in progress attempts, which involve executing a series of activities. These activities are mostly acts of integrating the resources they have, including both operand resources (resources that need to be acted upon) and operant resources (resources that act on other resources).

However, many seekers face a lack of the resources needed to make the progress they seek. This could be a lack of skills and knowledge of, or for, the progress-making activities, or time. This is the lack of resource progress hurdle.

When a seeker perceives the lack of resource hurdle as too high, they start to judge the progress potential of their attempt as low. If the potential becomes too low, the attempt may fail or not even begin.

This is where progress propositions come into the picture. They intention is they offer a solution to address the lack of resources and help seekers overcome the hurdle in their progress attempt.

If a supplier wants to improve its competitiveness, it has to develop its capacity to either add to the customer’s total pool of resources in terms of competence and capabilities (relevant to the customer’s mission and values), or to influence the customer’s process in such a way that the customer is able to utilize available resources more efficiently and effectively

Payne, A. F., Storbacka, K., and Frow, P. (2006) “Managing the co-creation of value

If everyone has a lack of resource, where do progress propositions come from? Basically from two places:

  1. Discovered by a seeker when attempting to progress (who then decide to offer their new gained skills and knowledge to help others)
  2. Actors that specifically set out to create/develop the necessary resource and then offer to help others

Why would someone offer a progress proposition? They do so in order to participate in service exchange. Because most helpers are also seekers in other aspects of progress. That is to say they provide a service to get a different service in return).

Which is telling us that I apply my knowledge/skills for you but I accept service credits from you rather than service; I then use those service credits with another helper to get their service without providing service to them myself.

Progress propositions

Progress propositions, then, have an intention to address the lack of resource hurdle and push up the seeker’s unique and phenomenological judgement of progress potential.

progress proposition: an offering by a progress helper to help a progress seeker make some specified progress (progress offered) comprising of a set of pre-packaged resources.

We’ll build our definition of progress proposition on the shoulders of Grönroos’ definition of service from “Service management & marketing: A customer relationship management approach” – slide between them below to see what I mean.

Definition of a progress proposition as a set of activities integrating with a service mix

To achieve their aim, progress propositions are simply a pre-packaged collection of skills and knowledge encapsulating resources. We visualise these in two groups:

  • a proposed series of progress making activities
  • a specific supplementary resource mix
Progress Diamond

Though progress propositions come with a caveat. While the seeker is looking to progress to a state of progress sought, a proposition offers to help reach a state of progress offered.

While there is a necessary relationship between progress sought and progress offered they may differ.

A helper may be aiming towards a more mainstream progress sought than a specific seeker is looking for. Though hopefully one that enough seekers are willing to compromise for.

Or the helper may be pursuing a disruptive innovation approach and looking to target seekers that are left behind by ever evolving offers from incumbent helpers. The helper may even be making a blue ocean strategy and identifying new markets by increasing, deleting, decreasing or adding aspects of mainstream progress sought.

Lets now jump into the first of the supplementary resource groups the helper provides – the proposed series of activities.

Proposed series of progress-making activities

One lack of knowledge seekers may suffer from is what are the steps needed to make progress. What do they need to do to learn a language, hang a picture on the wall, fly to space, or cook that romantic meal? We call these the progress-making activities. And there’s a series of them, just as we say in our definition of progress and progress proposition.

When we talk about a “series of activities,” it may initially seem like an abstract concept. However, in our daily lives, we encounter these under much more familiar names, such as:

  • instructions
  • operating manuals
  • recipes
  • processes,
  • contract terms etc

These are things the helper proposes. I call them “proposed” as the seeker is not compelled to follow them. Who reads the operating manual that accompanies a new TV, right? However, these proposed activities do encapsulate the skills and knowledge of the helper in how to make progress. Disregarding them can lead to the misuse of resource aspect of value co-destruction. Or a creative step in finding a new proposition. In some propositions they are the starting point for discussion in a means of agreeing best way to progress. Life is messy

Sometimes the activities may be more rigidly enforced by the helper. They might be embedded within a system or process. Or explicitly outlined in a contract as the prescribed way of working.

In other cases, the helper may execute all the activities, leaving little room for creativity on the seeker’s part. This we would term a relieving proposition. And it turns out, who drives the execution of activities leads to some interesting and useful insights.

scope of progress-making activities

Building on from the scope in progress attempts,

who drives the activities?

In a solo progress attempt, that is to say without engaging any propositions, the seeker is responsible for knowing, or working out, and executing the progress making activities.

When it comes to engaging a proposition, there is a notable degree of flexibility regarding the execution of activities. In fact, we observe a continuum of propositions where the variable is who performs these activities. On one end of the continuum, we have enabling propositions, where the seeker carries out all the proposed activities or even devises their own. On the other end, we find relieving propositions, where the helper takes charge of executing all the activities.

Service-Service Continuum tool
Service-Service Continuum tool

Explore progress proposition continuum >>

This continuum of propositions reveals three significant implications. Firstly, the resource mix differs between enabling and relieving propositions. Relieving propositions rely more heavily on employees and systems, while enabling propositions lean towards goods, physical resources, and specific locations.

Explore progress resource mix >>

Furthermore, the continuum underscores the importance of understanding non-functional progress in the progress sought/offered.

For instance, a relieving proposition often addresses a lack of time as a resource and reduces risks for the seeker. However, there may be instances where the seeker does not wish to be held up waiting for resources in a relieving proposition. Or they may relish the challenge and the sense of accomplishment that comes with making progress themselves. In such cases, enabling propositions become more appealing.

Lastly, and building upon the previous point, just as a proposition occupies a position on the continuum, so does the seeker. The distance between these two positions presents a hurdle in the progress journey, which we refer to as misalignment on the continuum.

“Misalignment on progress proposition continuum” progress hurdle
The “misalignment on progress proposition continuum” progress hurdle

Picture it this way: if a seeker is seeking a relieving proposition, but your proposition falls at the opposite end of the continuum, the misalignment between their needs and your offering will be significant.

Explore misalignment on continuum progress hurdles >>

By understanding this continuum and the implications it brings, we find another area rich for innovation.

Progress resource mix

Resource integration

And by resource integration we mean, for example: 

  • the seeker and a helper’s operant resource – a patient providing background information to a doctor
  • a helper’s operant resource with the seeker – a teacher educating a student)
  • the seeker using a helper’s operand resource – a customer driving a hire car: or a diy-er hammering a hook into a wall (the hammer, wall plug, and hook are all forms of helper operand resources)
  • a helper using a seeker’s operand good – a technician repairing an object

The service-dominant logic foundation of the progress economy informs us that:

All social and economic actors are resource integratorsservice-dominant logic foundation premise #9

This concept is embodied in the progress economy’progress zip tool.

Progress Zip Tool
The progress zip tool

An activity occurs as the zipper is pulled upwards, and progress is made.

Introducing new hurdles

Enter the heroes – the progress helpers
  1. overcoming the initial lack of resource hurdle by providing supplementary resources
  2. enhancing a seeker’s perception of progress potential by instilling confidence and/or performing some progress making activities
  3. assisting the seeker in actually reaching closer to their progress sought through co-progress making

And it is reducing this compromise – closing the gap between progress offered and progress sought – that is one of the reasons for innovation.

Progress is now a joint endeavour of activities that mostly involve integrating seeker and helper resources. And with that joint endeavour nature in mind, we see the concepts of value-in-use, co-creation of value and value co-destruction emerge.

Whilst the intention of propositions is to address the lack of resource progress hurdle, propositions introduce five additional hurdles. Giving us six progress hurdles (that are ripe for innovation):

  • lack of resource (which may not be fully addressed, or could become different)
  • adoptability
  • resistance
  • misalignment on progress continuum
  • confidence
  • effort elsewhere required

Additionally we update the progress decision process to take those hurdles into account. It becomes the engagement decision process.

Relationship to progress
Where do propositions come from?
  • apply their newly acquired skills/knowledge for the benefit of someone else, or
  • teach the skills/knowledge they have gained to others
Defining progress propositions

Let’s unpack our definition.

A progress proposition is an offer to help make specific progress…

First, and foremost, we build directly upon our definition of progress by saying progress propositions are also about making progress – moving over time to a more desirable state.

But, we are informed by our foundation layer of service-dominant logic that:

actors cannot deliver value but can participate in the creation and offering of value propositions

Foundational premise #7 of service-dominant logic

So up front we declare a progress proposition as an offer to help progress seekers make progress. And we’ll refer to the entities/ecosystems making offers as progress helpers.

We also scope the offer of help to a specific aspect of progress sought. This is a matter of practicality. It makes more sense for us to talk about offering to help with specific areas rather than the totality of progress a seeker is seeking. And we’ll call this the progress offered. Which has parallels to progress sought by the seeker.

Progress-Value Diamond
The progress diamond showing where progress sought and progress offered meet

Progress offered is made up of the same three elements as progress sought. That is to say functional and non-functional; informed by context. Though it is less likely that a seeker is seeking a change in context state, or that a helper offers to do so. And we saw earlier that progress offered doesn’t need to exactly match progress sought. This is, in fact, an area where innovation can be found.

In practice, the progress seeker will most likely have a number of progress propositions to choose from. Each having a progress resource mix, proposed series of activities and progress hurdles. The seeker will use the engagement decision process to choose a proposition, if any, with which to engage. Balancing the progress potential they see in the proposition against the six progress hurdles.

…through a process consisting of a series of activities…

We inherit from our understanding of progress that a progress proposition is a process, i.e. a series of activities. This is due to the fact that we are still fundamentally talking about making progress. Only now making progress is a joint endeavour.

And there are three key features of these activities.

Activities…normally take place as attempts to integrate resources…

The first feature of activities is that they are normally attempts to integrate resources. This comes from the now joint endeavour nature of attempting to progress. Where a resource is:

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

And by resource integration we mean, for example:

  • the seeker and a helper’s operant resource – a patient providing background information to a doctor
  • a helper’s operant resource with the seeker – a teacher educating a student)
  • the seeker using a helper’s operand resource – a customer driving a hire car: or a diy-er hammering a hook into a wall (the hammer, wall plug, and hook are all forms of helper operand resources)
  • a helper using a seeker’s operand good – a technician repairing an object

The service-dominant logic foundation of the progress economy informs us that:

All social and economic actors are resource integrators

service-dominant logic foundation premise #9

This concept is embodied in the progress economy’s progress zip tool.

Progress Zip Tool
The progress zip tool

An activity occurs as the zipper is pulled upwards, and progress is made.

Quite who – seeker, helper, or both – pulls the zipper tends to reflect where the progress proposition sits on the progress proposition continuum (of enabling to relieving propositions)

Service-Service Continuum tool
The service-service continuum tool

And we’ll find that a proposition misaligned on the service-service continuum to seeker’s desires is one of new hurdles to progress introduced by progress propositions.

What about activities with no resource integration?

Not all activities are resource integration – at least not between seeker and helper. And we can see those activities as internal activities, on either side, required to maintain progress.

For example, dispatching an item is an activity unlikely to require integration with a progress seeker (assuming an earlier activity has captured the item to dispatch and the dispatch address).

Of course there is likely internal to the helper – an entity or ecosystem – resource integration going on here. And indeed, service-dominant logic informs us that:

All social and economic actors are resource integrators

service-dominant logic foundation premise #9

If we wanted to observe and investigate such internal resource integration then we would need to change who we view as the progress seeker and helper.

Integrating propositions

It’s interesting to note that progressing is often the act of integrating several propositions together.

This could be done by the seeker. Hanging a picture on a wall requires them to combine several goods-heavy propositions – a drill, a wall plug, and a hook. Or it could be the helper. A shopping cart must be integrated with payment and logistics in an online store. And those might be inhouse offerings or from within an ecosytem.

…are often proposed by the helper…

The second feature of activities is who identifies and schedules them. And we find that it is the helper who frequently proposes activities. After all, they are assuming the role of expert on how to make this particular progress offered. As such, they should be in the best position to articulate what activities are required and when they are required in order to make progress.

This addresses the concern we raised when talking about lone progress seekers. That the seeker may lack the skill/knowledge (resource) about what activities are required and when.

However, the seeker is free to disregard the proposed activities. How many of us, for example, read the instructions that come with a new oven? The result of seekers disregarding proposed activities is potential value co-destruction. And the impact of that co-destruction depends on where the proposition sits on the progress proposition continuum.

In a relieving proposition – where the helper drives the majority of the activities – the impact is high and occurs during the progress attempt. These propositions fail if the seeker will not participate in the helper driven activities as and when needed. And if that happens, a helper could determine to terminate the progress attempt. In this observation we perhaps diverge from service-dominant logic, which tells us. But more on that when we discuss what value means in the progress economy.

Whereas in an enabling proposition the impact on the helper, during a progress attempt, is likely lower. Here seekers are more likely to define the activities themselves. So ignoring proposed activities leads in worst case to seeker frustration (or them eventually turning to the proposed activities).

Both cases can lead to value co-destruction afterwards. For example seeker writing reviews that a particular goods was useless – even if they used it wrong/in the wrong context.

… may be tangible or intangible

The third feature of activities is somewhat of a tautology. They can be tangible or intangible (a tautology as they can’t be anything else). But it’s worth exploring as traditional economics/marketing strongly reinforces an unnecessary and unhelpful distinction between goods and services.

Services are usually defined by comparing against goods. With an assumption that goods are good. Whereas services are intangible and inseparable, cannot be inventoried, require customer involvement, and are inconsistent. You might have heard of these 5Is of service (though there might be more…). See Zeithmal, Parasuraman and Berr’s “Problems and Strategies in Service Marketing” for more details on this.

However, as we saw, Lovelock & Gummesson show in ”Wither Service Marketing?” that asserting all services are intangible is misleading. And least for two of Lovelock & Wirtz’s four processing categories (introduced in their “Services Marketing” and which equally apply for progress propositions): people and possession.

What is a service? Not always intangible according to Lovelock & Gummesson
Intangibility of service types (Lovelock & Gummesson)

Vargo & Lush further argue that intangibility is a positive attribute to be embraced in their article ”The Four Service Marketing Myths”. (along with showing the other four Is are also beneficial)

Intangibility should be seen as a positive attribute
The myth of intangibility (Vargo & Lush)

Marc Andreessen is famous for saying that software is eating the world. And software is intangible, often with intangible actions.

Would you rather own Spotify, with its readily available and scalable digital goods (intangibles). Or a bricks and mortar record store, with its more lengthy and costly supply chain for records and CDs (tangibles), physical stores (more intangibles). And therefore more costly scalability.

We can see software as progress propositions that are heavy in the systems element of the progress resource mix and less so in goods. In fact the general talk of a shift to the service economy is really a shift in the progress resource mix from goods heavy to goods-light mixes (in fact, service dominant logic tells us that all economies are service economies).

Most of the reasons for such a shift in mix make up is in the following diagram.

Eight reasons why increasing number of progress propositions are moving away from predominantly goods based service mixes

This table is also a good source for ideas to search for innovation.

Let’s now switch gear a little and look at the resources a seeker and helper might bring to a progress attempt.

Progress Seeker’s resources

Now let’s look at the progress helper’s resources.

Progress Helper’s resources

In the higher levels of the hierarchy we find market orientation, entrepreneurial proclivity and organisational learning. Three operant resources that Hult, Hurely & Knight (2004) identify are associated with a firms innovativeness and business performance (in “Innovativeness: Its Antecedents and Impact on Business Performance”).

the progress resources mix
Insights on value: value co-creation, value-in-use, and value co-destruction

Value is a tricky thing. And it deserves an article all to itself. For now, let’s agree that value is closely related to progress (potential and achieved) and the height of progress hurdles. Grönroos wrote:

It is of course only logical to assume that the value really emerges for customers when goods and services do something for them. Before this happens, only potential value exists

Grönroos (2004) “Adopting a service logic for marketing

Which is what we see above. It is from the joint endeavour nature of progress propositions that the concept of value co-creation emerges. Seeker and helper integrate resources to co-execute activities to move towards the seeker’s more desired state.

Progress potential shines a light on the seeker’s view of proposition’s ability to help them make progress sought. As well as partaking in chosing between competing propositions. Along with the perceived height of the six progress hurdles.

And the perception of progress achieved increases with successful completion of each progress making activity. Value comes through using the proposition. This is value-in-use. Which we’ll contrast with the traditional (constraining) view of value-in-exchange.

However, where there is value co-creation, there is the potential for value co-destruction. Which is where progress is being hampered by the action of the seeker and/or helper.

Seeker and helper not being aligned; seeker misusing resources or not following proposed activities; helper not adjusting for evolving progress sought. These are just a few examples. And there’s a framework by Lintula, Tuunanen, and Salo that shows us more (“Conceptualizing the Value Co-Destruction Process for Service Systems: Literature Review and Synthesis”).


All too easily we can believe that progress attempts occur between at most two actors. A seeker can attempt on their own, or can attempt with a single helper.

This can indeed be the case. But in our complex world, an aspect of progress may need several helpers to contribute to reaching progress sought. Take the simple case of purchasing a book online. There’s the website, the payment, the warehousing, the shipment involved.

All may be provided by one helper. Or one helper may co-ordinate the others, so it is opaque to the seeker. Or the seeker might need to co-ordinate some or all of the network of helpers. For example the helper could let the seeker chose between several delivery companies. Or the seeker themselves might choose to send the delivery to a re-shipper/virtual delivery point service if that is more convenient to them.

Wrapping up
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Co-create value through discussion…