Exploring Progress Proposition

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

The lack of resource progress hurdle we observed in the decision to attempt progress drives the need, and opportunity, for progress propositions.

They provide progress seekers supplementary resources. And therefore the potential to progress better and/or make better progress than the seeker could on their own. With ”better” ultimately being a unique and phenomenological judgement of the seeker.

progress proposition: an offering to help make some specific progress

Propositions have no embedded value themselves, they can only be offers to help make progress. And we call the entities or ecosystems that offer them progress helpers.

They are made up of a progress resource mix – varying levels, including none, of a helper’s employees, systems, goods, and physical resources (discussed further here). Often together with a proposed series of activities used to progress.

progress proposition = progress resource mix + series of proposed activities

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.

Finally, we find a special form of progress proposition, mostly in B2B settings. It is a legally binding contract in which the progress offered, proposed activities, and sometimes the progress resource mix are captured. These activities can be a direct definition of how progress is intended to be made. Alternatively, they can direct the process of progress discovery, also known as Agile.

Let’s start our exploration of progress propositions by looking at their relationship to progress. Then we’ll look at the definition of progress propositions. Along with the typical seeker and helper resources. Finally we’ll touch on the implications for value and innovation.

Relationship to progress

Progress propositions flow naturally from the progress economy’s view of progress, which we have defined as:

progress: moving over time to a more desirable state.

So our high level definition of a progress proposition is:

progress proposition: an offering to help make some specific progress

This mens that progress and progress propositions should share a lot in common. And that is indeed what we find. Take a look at the following diagram.

Visualising the relationship between progress and progress proposition

Progressing becomes a joint endeavour. Moving over time to progress offered. Which has a relationship to progress sought – the seeker’s defined state – that we’ll shortly see. It is still a process comprising a series of activities. However, the helper will now frequently propose those activities. This addresses a concern we raised when talking about lone progress seekers. That they may lack the skill/knowledge (resource) about what activities are required and when.

Of course, the seeker is free to disregard the proposed activities. How many of us read the instructions that come with a new oven, for example? However, ignoring them may lead the helper to believe that progress is being held-up (an example of value being co-destructed). Which may cause the helper to terminate involvement in the progress attempt. Despite the fact that the seeker determines the majority of progress/value. Though we see the seeker as overwhelmingly determining, uniquely and phenomenologically, progress/value.

Who drives the activities will be some combination of the seeker and helper. And there is a progress proposition continuum in play here. Ranging from enabling propositions where the seeker drives the majority of activities. Through to relieving propositions where majority of activities are driven by the helper.

This collaborative nature begs the question of who drives the activities. And there is a progress proposition continuum at work here. It ranges from enabling to relieving propositions. Where the majority of activities in relieving propositions are driven by the helper. In contrast, enabling propositions typically have the seeker driving activities (even if proposed by helper). The latter is analogous to self-service.

Activities now primarily involve the integration of seeker and helper resources. Where the helper resources are provided as a progress resource mix. That is, proposition specific levels, including none, of employees, systems, goods, and physical resources.

The final similarity/difference is in the decision points in the process of making progress. Our new engagement decision process retains the start and follow-on decision points from the progress decision process. As well as still anticipating they happen at the end of each activity. However, the decision at each decision point evolves to cover six hurdles.

It turns out that the act of offering a proposition introduces five new progress hurdles! These are on top of the original lack of resource hurdle. Which we still have – as it may not have been reduced enough. Or the proposition may introduce new missing resources (typically seekers skills/knowledge in this case).

It turns out that the act of making a proposal introduces five new roadblocks! These are in addition to the initial lack of resource hurdle. And we still have that because it may not have been reduced sufficiently by the proposition. Or, the proposition may introduce new missing resources (in this case, skills/knowledge of the seeker).

lack of resourceis there a lack of resource that will hinder progress,
adoptabilitycan the progress seeker readily see themselves using the proposition
resistancewill the progress seeker postpone, reject, or worse, oppose the proposition
misalignmenthow far apart, on the progress continuum of enabling to relieving propositions, are the proposition and the seeker’s wishes
confidencedoes seeker trust proposition and/or helper
effort elsewherehow many service credits does a progress seeker need to get from elsewhere to engage this proposition

We discuss these hurdles further here.

Where do propositions come from?

As we’ve noted, seekers often have a lack of resource providing them with a hurdle to progressing. They don’t feel they are capable of completing one or more activities. It’s also possible that they don’t have the skills/knowledge (a type of resource) to know what those activities are and when they need to be scheduled.

However, some adventurous seekers may still attempt to progress. And, in doing so, they may discover how to make the desired progress. From those, a number may attempt to take advantage of their newly acquired skills/knowledge. They might offer a progress proposition. For example to offer to:

  • apply their newly acquired skills/knowledge for the benefit of someone else, or
  • teach the skills/knowledge they have gained to others

Either way they do so in order to participate in service exchange (ie they provide a service to get a different service in return). Which is what the 1st foundational premise of service-dominant logic tells us:

Service is the fundamental basis of exchange

service dominant logic foundation premise #1

And through bootstrapping this process of skill/knowledge acquisition by adventure, and subsequent application and distribution, we have advanced society from being simple hunter gatherers to where we are today. Giants of technology, manipulators of DNA and splitters of the atom.

Nowadays we still see this adventure based approach. Often we call those seekers entrepreneurs. Though we also see more systematic approaches, such as R&D. Although many organisations appear to leave innovation flapping in the wind. The progress economy is aimed at facilitating a more systematic approach.

Relationship between progress sought and progress offered

Before we get to our definition of progress propositions, let’s look at an interesting relationship. Rather than requiring progress offered to directly match progress sought we are practical and allow flexibility.

Obviously if progress offered is too far from that sought it would not help the seeker. And they’d identify that in the engagement decision process. Most likely they’d feel that progress potential is too low to start/continue engaging the proposition.

Take a look at the progress diamond tool below. On the left, you’ll see progress sought. And progress offered is on the right, which may match, fall short of, or exceed progress sought. And there’s a benefit in this.

Firstly, it might not – currently – be possible to offer to help make the full progress sought.

Progress Diamond
The progress diamond tool showing potential relations between progress sought and progress offered (under offered, matched, over offered)

Secondly, it can be a deliberate innovation approach.

If we over offer progress then we might be meeting progress the seeker didn’t realise they were looking to make.

Whereas under offering might just be a disruptive innovation approach. In the true sense of Christensen. The seeker may be able to accept just good enough progress right now (and then repeated innovation increases the amount of progress).

Here is maybe an interesting time to introduce how markets look in the progress economy. They are:

markets: groups of progress seekers who seek sufficiently similar progress

That fits nicely with disruptive innovation. As it does with a combination of over offering on some aspects of progress sought and under offering on others. That leads us towards Kim & Maugborne’s Blue Ocean Strategy thinking. And finding new, uncontested, markets.

OK, now we’ll explore our full definition of progress propositions.

Defining progress propositions

The International Society of Service Innovation Professionals’ current definition of service is:

Service is the application of knowledge to co-create value

International Society of Service Innovation Professionals

And even though we’ll go beyond that definition it is only in terms of depth and breadth. Our progress economy definition of progress proposition, below, is fully consistent with that.

But we’ll avoid using the word service as much as we can. In truth it means little to us in the progress economy. We have only progress propositions. Whose variances in progress resources mix may give the impression of goods or service; but that is just an interpretation.

Here is our definition in full:

The progress economy’s definition of service.
Though we will usually refer to service as progress proposition to avoid an unnecessary argument about goods vs service.

It’s inspired by Grönroos’s definition of service in “Service Management and Marketing : A Customer Relationship Management Approach”. And is founded on Vargo & Lush’s service-dominant logic. With updates to reflect the progress economy thinking and terminology.

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: an entity that encapsulates specific skills and knowledge an actor’s operant – such as skills, knowledge, time – and operand resources – such as goods and physical resources (which are both distribution mechanisms for skills and knowledge)

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

Progress seekers typically bring their time and knowledge/skills to activities. These are examples of operant resources.

operant resources: resources that act on other resources in order to make progress

And Alves, Ferriera and Fernandes (2016) give us a wider list to consider. They say that “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, seekers may need to bring operand resources to an activity.

operand resource: resources that need to be acted upon in order to make progress

A refuelling proposition, for example, requires the seeker to bring some kind of container (car, plane, gas can…) in which to store the fuel. That container is an operand resource.

When we move away from simple operand resources – those that a seeker can find in nature or create themselves – we are referring to other progress propositions. Those that are heavy on goods. And keep in mind that a good is simply a mechanism for distributing skills/knowledge.

The container in our refueling example freezes the knowledge of how to transport a flammable substance safely.

helping seekers gain resources

According to Alves, Ferriera and Fernandes (2016), higher levels of progress seeker expertise and self efficacy enhance value co-creation (making progress in the progress economy thinking).

Interactions of operant resources
Improving seeker’s resource (Alves, Ferriera & Fernandes)

They also show that customer (seeker) expertise and value co-creation increases as the helper educates them.

We can therefore surmise that it is beneficial for helpers to include activities that help seekers gain expertise and self efficiency. These might be educational or alignment activities or instructions aimed at reducing resource misuse. Which is a factor in value co-destruction.

taking advantage of resource gained in other markets/industries

Sometimes we can take advantage of skills and competence seekers have gained in other markets/industries.

Consider the now-widespread use of QR codes. These first appeared in the automobile industry. Though it could be argued that the availability of smart phones with QR reading capabilities was where seekers truly gained proficiency. They are now widely used in ticketing, light access control, information sharing (for example, scan the QR code on the right with your camera phone to quickly access my LinkedIn profile), and a variety of other applications.

Scan for my LinkedIn profile

Carrying approaches from one market/industry (even firm to firm) is an approach to innovation.

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

Progress Helper’s resources

The progress helper similarly has operand and operant resources. Some of these are exposed to seekers – the progress resource mix that we will discuss shortly. As well as others that are used internally.

Hunt’s “On the service centered dominant logic of marketing” tells us there are several operant resources a progress helper has:

  • human (e.g. the skills and knowledge of individual employees)
  • organizational (e.g. controls, routines, cultures, and competences)
  • informational (e.g. knowledge about market segments, competitors, and technology)
  • relational (e.g. relationships with competitors, suppliers, and customers)
Hunt, S. (2004) “On the service centered dominant logic of marketing

And, later, Madhavaram and Hunt (2008) identified there is a hierarchy of these operant resources – basic, composite and interconnected. Resources become more difficult to obtain as we move up the hierarchy. However, obtaining them will result in a more sustained competitive benefit.

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”).

It’s useful to group the resources a helper offers up for integration together in something we call the progress resource mix.

the progress resources mix

We call the resources a progress helper exposes to seekers to integrate with the progress resources mix.

progress resources mix: a progress proposition’s varying amounts (including none) of:

  • employees,
  • systems,
  • goods, and
  • physical resources

that are integrated with seeker resources during progress attempts

And, the progress resources mix is one way for progress propositions to differentiate themselves from others. Along with progress offered, proposed activities, and how the six progress hurdles are addressed.

The elements of the mix are the following four resource types:

employeescall centre operative, mechanic, chef, doctor, nurse, driver…
systemssmart phone app, chatbot, telephone, phone menus, atm, artificial intelligence/machine learning …
goodsItems used in making progress where the progress seeker is the intended owner.

Both physical items, such as food, cars, vinyl records etc, and digital goods.

Note that goods are distribution mechanisms of knowledge and competence.
physical resourcesItems used in making of progress that the helper retains ownership of.

Includes items that the seeker may temporarily be seen as exclusively using (eg goods). As well as locations for performing progress or parts of (buildings, factories etc)

We can visualise the mix for a particular progress proposition using the progress resources mix tool.

Service Mix tool
Service Mix tool

And helpers tailor their mix to reflect what they believe is an appealing offer that will assist a sufficient number of seekers in making specific progress (an existing or to be generated market). While ensuring the helper’s entity/ecosystem’s survival.

I dig deeper into the progress resources mix here.

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”).

Wrapping up

And that is how we arrive at our definition of service/progress proposition.

It is simply our understanding of progress that is updated to reflect that progress is now made as a joint endeavour. Where one or more progress helpers offer progress propositions offering to help meet progress sought.

What is a service
The progress economy’s definition of service.
Though we will usually refer to service as progress proposition to avoid an unnecessary argument about goods vs service.

As a result, activities in the process of making progress are now mostly acts of resource integration. Where the seeker brings their resources, typically time and knowledge. And the helper offers their resources in the form of a service mix. Which is varying amounts, including none, of employees, systems, physical resources, and goods.

We find that goods are simply another component of the service mix. You could buy a car, rent one, take an Uber, teletransport…these are all equivalent offerings. And goods can be seen as freezing service. Allowing them to be transported in time and space. To be unfrozen by a progress seeker through use. Although the freezing of service may be more complicated than a simple freeze.

This joint endeavour nature leads us to understand that value (a measure of progress) is co-created and made “in-use”. Rather than there being the classic view of manufacturers embedding value, signalling that through price, and there being a value-in-exchange moment.

Additionally we will need to update the progress decision process to take account of there being progress propositions. Which essentially means it expands to take account of 5 additional hurdles. It now becomes our engagement decision process and we look at that in this article.

Engagement Decision tool
Engagement Decision tool

Finally, we can say that our definition shines a light on several zones for innovation, including:

  • the relationship between progress sought and progress offered
  • altering the service mix
  • positioning on the service-service continuum, and
  • minimising the hurdles in the engagement decisions.

Add to the discussion…

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