The Progress Principle | Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

One of the reasons I really like The Progress Principle — Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work  by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer is that it validates my long-held view of the importance of a making progress — even a little progress — every day.  Many people are familiar with Lao-tzu’s quote “a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step” but it is challenging to incorporate it regularly into one’s daily work routine — a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and it requires many steps every day for a long time, each one making a little progress on the journey.  The authors describe how one’s inner work life (the perceptions, emotions and motivations individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday) affect performance in four areas:  creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality and how positive inner work life leads to extraordinary performance.   Inner work life includes perceptions and impressions about managers, the organization, the team and the work.  They show how events that are part of everyday workday affect inner work life — and present the following diagram to show how they are all related (this appears as Figure 4.3 (p. 85) in the book).

progress principle 2012

The negative forms of these events (setbacks, inhibitors that hinder project work, and toxins (interpersonal evens)) undermine inner work life.  And negative events are more powerful than positive events.

The authors state “of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most important is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most power is the opposite of progress — setbacks in the work.”   They propose a new approach to good management:  manage the progress.

One part that was particularly fascinating was the explanation of the neuroscience and how emotions shape performance.  The authors report that brain imaging research shows that when people see emotionally charged pictures, more of their visual cortex is activated than when they are shown emotionally neutral pictures.  In addition, the authors report that research on patients suffering from damage to emotional centers in the brain shows that the patients have a harder time making decisions when the emotional centers of the brain are damaged.  Emotions enable people to make decisions and cause people to think differently depending on how emotional it makes them feel.

I was very impressed with this book in part because of the research on which it was based and how it shared anecdotes and specific stories to support the research.  The book provides a checklist to help leaders manage progress by recognizing progress, setbacks, catalysts, inhibitors, nourishers and toxins.  I strongly recommend this book and expect to re-read it again.


  • Nathan S. Gibson

    Nathan S. Gibson is an independent worker compliance business partner who provides expertise and creative solutions to enhance workforce flexibility and maintain compliance. He helps mitigate the risks associated with the misclassification of self-employed consultants, freelancers and independent contractors.

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