Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Finding and Understanding "The Progress Principle"

A book review by: Darlene Kent
Creativity Coach, Consultant & Trainer


The lean, mean business machine myth died with the publication of The Progress Principle, written by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. This book shares a study about the importance of inner work life on productivity and creativity. Inner work life is made up of our perceptions, emotions and reactions to what happens at work. As something happens at work people do their best to make sense of it. Leaders, especially immediate supervisors/managers, have a significant effect on the members of their teams, and as a result inner work life.

The focus of the book is on the creative climate. While many of the creative climate studies have been focused on external factors, this book looks at how the external factors affect the person internally, and this is a fairly new perspective in creative studies.

Book Summary

The results of the study presented in the book illustrate that it is our humanness that matters most in productivity and creativity. We all want to make progress towards meaningful work, and it is the manager’s job, and that of the organization, to support people to make “small wins” every day in meaningful work. It is also important to remove obstacles that get in the way of productivity, because the effects of negative events are twice as strong as those of positive events.

Inner work life affects the way we pay attention to tasks, our engagement, and our intention. When inner life is good, we are interested in doing a good job; when inner life is bad, we are not interested in doing much of anything. Making progress or experiencing setbacks are the biggest influences on meaningful work.


The book did a great job of presenting its results, connecting it to existing research and providing a thorough overview of how the research was done. The methods employed appear reliable and valid, and the book certainly adds to our understanding of work and creativity.

The progress principle resonated with my own understanding and experiences of what motivates a person at work. The Progress Principle is well written and uses everyday language. It backs up its findings with results of the study, and brings in other research, giving depth and breadth to the topic. I felt I was seeing beyond the surface skin, to the soul of what it means to be a person living in a modern world.

The next step would be to research the implications of the study outside of work, on how we could all have more meaningful lives if we used the progress principle in our private life. We are responsible, each one of us, to support a healthy climate for all, at work and in the world at large.
The authors give leaders a checklist to help them focus on what is necessary to support the people around them to achieve progress in meaningful work. It would be great if more tools and techniques were added through additional research on the progress principle.

Connect to Creativity

The book has something to offer practitioners of creativity. I find myself contemplating how to use visuals and dialog that will show progress in Creative Problem Solving (CPS), so people can see they are making forward movement towards a meaningful goal. I find myself taking steps at work to support the people around me to help them see that they are making “small wins” every day.

This book is about research, and it was written to present the results. Personally, the part that most intrigues me is how I can help people see that they are making progress in creating meaningful lives. This book suggests to me that you get the biggest bang out of creativity when you use it to make progress in living a life full of meaning. Create meaning, create progress, and you ultimately create purpose, satisfaction and happiness.

The Progress Principle offers a fascinating glimpse into the heart and soul of earning a paycheque; it reveals that inner work life and progress in meaningful work are more important than rewards or money. It reveals the hidden truth of what motivates us at work, and I look forward to seeing further research on how the progress principle could be applied to help humans create a life rich in meaning, creativity, and achievement in their personal lives.


Amabile, T, & Karmer, Steven. (2011). The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press. 

About Darlene Kent

Darlene’s passion is “artlightenment” – enriching life with creativity. She is a creativity coach, consultant and trainer, and is earning her Masters in Creativity from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. 
While doing a screenwriting workshop she discovered her life’s purpose: support, celebrate, and contribute. Support people to reach their dreams or goals, celebrate the steps forward, and to contribute her skills and expertise to make the world a better and happier place (one creative act at a time).
She will guide you through the adventure of innovating success, from ideas to results. She has helped Creative and Artistic Professionals get inspired, organizations to innovate, and individuals to embrace their creative potential. Reach and connect at 826.dk.

Dissecting CreativityYou can see an interview with Dr. Teresa Amabile, co-author of The Progress Principle, live at Buffalo State!  Click on the image for details!

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