The Progress Principle

Teresa Amabile

Creativity, Productivity, and the Psychology of Everyday Work Life

Diary #1: The Champion July 30, 2011

In order to stimulate a conversation about the progress principle, inner work life, and events that influence inner work life, we will regularly feature a vignette from the lives of people in organizations – a story that we think is both interesting and informative. Initially, we will use examples from the diaries written by participants in our research (thoroughly disguised), but in the future we hope to include stories submitted by our readers. Please join the conversation with your insights and reactions as you read these posts.

In our opening diary, we look at a great team leader. The progress principle implies that the most important thing leaders can do to enhance the inner work lives of their workers is to support them in their work. Such support is seldom dramatic or exotic, but it is critical to helping the team make progress. Often it involves just dealing with problems when they occur or preventing them from becoming more serious problems. Here, Dave learned that support for his team’s project was in jeopardy.

I found out very late today that in a strategic discussion meeting that I was not involved in, our project was discussed and received less support than I thought it should and was given little chance for success by group managers and senior technical staff members. [Dave, 2/5] 

Dave wasted no time. The very next day he found the people who had expressed doubts about the project and gained their support.

Demonstrated to two persons (who have expressed doubt about [the] success of our project) the quality of the prototypes. Demonstrated that the prototypes have sufficient properties for [our] planned applications. [Dave, 2/6]

Not only did Dave regain support for the project – support which helped lead to the project’s eventual success – but he showed his team that he had their backs and that he was willing to do what it took to make the project a success.

Dave gave some disturbing news about how our project was being perceived with the higher management. It seems they did not understand the great progress we're making and were not giving us much positive support. Dave is trying to clear this up and is putting much energy forward into this. [Richard, 2/6]

Have you had a leader who championed your work? Or if you are a leader, does your team know that they have your support? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

Teresa & Steve


On July 30, 2011 Paige Prentice said...

Support for projects absolutely fuels my fire. I work in a behavioral healthcare organization and my areas of responsibility are residential, primary care and psychiatry. However, I am also very interested in mentoring “up and coming” women leaders and developing training programs. To this end, my boss understands these aren’t “distractors” to my progress…but are endeavors that are important to me and keep me motivated. They also end up being great for our orgnaization as I network with others across the state and our name and logo become recognized more readily. Her ability to recognize the value in supporting these activities - both in her words and her actions keeps me loyal, motivated and working hard!

On July 30, 2011 Teresa Amabile said...


Your experience with mentoring others—and being supported in that “extra” activity by your boss—is a great example of the progress principle. Her words and actions boost your inner work life, which leads to above-and-beyond contributions from you. Not only is that cycle a plus in your life and a value-creator for your organization, but it has positive effects in your healthcare profession and the wider society. Meaningful work! I wish examples like this were more plentiful. You and your boss are both very fortunate. Thanks for your comment.


On August 01, 2011 Mary said...

What keeps me motivated is working with focused, hard-working teams.  We had a problem 2 years ago with a high pressure ulcer prevalence rate for our hospitalized patients.  A team of nurses, transport aides, skin care nurse, and nursing supervisors came together to put a new process in place.  Steadily our rates have improved, and over the past year we have had only 2 months where we had a single pressure ulcer acquired; all of the other months were 0!  The team and all of the staff who care for patients are informed of this accomplishment on a monthly basis.  The new process has become hard-wired, and our patients have benefited immensely.

On August 01, 2011 Teresa Amabile said...


Thanks for your interesting comment. My guess is that the high rate of pressure ulcers (bedsores) was not only difficult for patients, but extremely frustrating and demotivating for the managers and staff of your hospital. Putting together a team to devise and implement a new process for solving a problem—rather than dictating a process for them to use—is one of the best ways to make real improvements. The amazing results of your process are testament to this. But taking the approach you did is also one of the best ways to support people in making meaningful progress. I’ll bet that that team is highly motivated by its success.


On August 29, 2011 Doug Robinson said...

With all the business books that are out every now and then a book comes along that you know will be good. It will explain what you know and have seen but haven’t been able to put your finger on it. This book researches the small increments to progress and the appropriate recognition to build momentum to your people. As an ops manager (14 years) with a BS in both Psychology and Business Process Management, I knew that small, incremental progress with milestones and small victories was very significant. I watch daily as senior managers bark out orders to their staff to build and create their strategy, only to see it fall by the wayside in failure. The false expectation of outdated mantras such as “just do it” and other faded business motivational jargons have been a big part in these failures. Managers who embrace the “monkey see, monket do” just bark out the same orders and expext results. They maintain the 80/20 rule, 20% of my people are doing 80% of the work, and they ask why???

On August 29, 2011 Steven Kramer said...

Doug, Thanks for the kind words. We are hopeful that others will see what you do and support everyone in making progress, not just the “top 20%”.

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