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The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work Hardcover – Jul 19 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (July 19 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 142219857X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422198575
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #24,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


“It's a very instructive read that I highly recommend… a groundbreaking book.” - Huffington Post

“In The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer have provided an inspiring combination of solid scientific research and management insight. They have succeeded in bringing to life a new paradigm in management, fully supported and elegantly presented.” — Research-Technology Management

“This practical orientation for managers makes the book an important resource for organizations experiencing a decline in productivity and employee engagement.” — CHOICE Magazine

“Filled with honest, real-life examples, compelling insights, and practical advice, The Progress Principle equips aspiring and seasoned leaders alike with the guidance they need to maximize people’s performance.” - Innovation Watch

"The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer is a masterpiece of evidence-based management—the strongest argument I know that "the big things are the little things." A masterpiece every manager should have...I believe it is one of the most important business books ever written." – Bob Sutton

“The one of the best business books I’ve read in many years.” – Daniel Pink

“But in singling out one book that offers the most important message for managers this year, I recommend The Progress Principle. The breakthrough in knowledge it provides makes it my choice as best business book of the year. This a pioneering work on employee engagement, with lots of memorable examples culled from those in-the-trenches diary entries.” – The Globe and Mail

“You will never return to the older and outmoded theories of employee motivation again.” – Blog Business World

“When Bob Sutton, a leading management professor at Stanford University, says a new book “just might be the most important business book I’ve ever read,” the rest of us should take notice. Sutton is right. The Progress Principle is...fantastic. I am a big fan of this book, and I have decided to make it one of the alternate end-of-semester book assignments for the master’s students in my introductory public management course this fall.” – Steve Kelman, Federal Computer Week

“This is the roadmap to how to create progress, even baby steps through small wins, and therefore create a culture that supports a meaningful and joyful “inner work life”, which is the secret to great leadership and harnessing the best of employee psychology.” – Innovative Influence (Suzi Pomerantz's Blog)

“Those who appreciate the work of people like Dan Pink (Drive), Chip Conley (Peak) should seriously consider adding The Progress Principle as the third member of a very compelling trio of books offering just about everything you need to know about tapping the deepest wells of human creative performance.” – Matthew E. May, Guru Forum (American Express)

“…the authors have done a good job in reminding us all that "it’s people, stupid" who lie at the heart of successful organisations.” – Nita Clarke, People Management Magazine (UK)

“This book is a must read for those wants to be good leaders (or those wishing they worked for one).” - LeaderLab

“It’s a clear guide that can help managers with a potentially challenging and frustrating task.”- 800CEOREAD

About the Author

Teresa Amabile is a professor of Business Administration and a Director of Research at Harvard Business School. The author of numerous articles and books, including Creativity in Context, she has long studied creativity, motivation, and performance in the workplace. Steven Kramer is a developmental psychologist and has co-authored a number of articles in leading management periodicals, including Harvard Business Review and the Academy of Management Journal.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on Aug. 29 2011
Format: Hardcover
The information, insights, and recommendations that Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer provide in this book are research-driven -- based on real people in real-world situations -- and thus have a legitimacy that would not otherwise be credible. The authors collected data from 238 professionals on 26 project teams who reported their day-to-day workplace experiences in seven companies. Analyzing the 12,000 daily electronic diaries they gathered, the authors obtained answers to two "burning" questions: "How do positive and negative work environments arise?" and "How do they affect people's creative problem solving?" The revelations are shared in this book. Here are three that were of greatest interest to me.

First, what Amabile and Kramer characterize as "Inner Work Life" is the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday. "Inner work life is inner because it goes on inside each person...It is work because that is both where it arises - at the office - and what it is about - what people do...[and it is life] because it is an ongoing, inevitable part of the human experience at work every day." The challenge for leaders is to determine how to create and then sustain workplace conditions -- at all levels and in all areas -- that will foster positive emotions, strong internal motivation, and favorable perceptions of colleagues and the work itself. "Great inner work life is about the work, not the accoutrements...As inner work life goes, so goes the company...Work-related psychological benefits for employees translate into performance benefits for the company...and the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress - even small wins.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 42 reviews
102 of 105 people found the following review helpful
A Masterpiece Aug. 3 2011
By Robert I. Sutton - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read an advance copy of The Progress Principle several months back, and I just went back and read the book again. I am even more impressed this time than the last. Four things struck me in particular:

1. While most management books are based on anecdotes, the biased recollections of some famous executives, or on research that is presented as rigorous (but are not... Good to Great is a perfect example), the Progress Principle is based on the most rigorous field study ever done of creative work. And it draws on other rigorous work as well. As a result, the overall advice about the importance of small wins may be known to many people, but once you start digging into the smaller bits of advice about how to keep work moving along, the evidence behind those is very strong. In my view, the Progress Principle is the best example of an evidence-based management book I have ever seen.

2. The authors didn't drown in their rigor and the details of their work. They worked absurdly hard to write a book that is quite engaging to read and chock full with one implication after another about what you can do right now to do more effective work and to motivate it in the people around you.

3. Finally, the main point of this book may seem obvious to some readers, but if you listen to most management gurus and fancy consulting firms, the approach that the authors suggest is actually radically different. The broad sweep of strategy and radical change and big hairy goals is where much of modern management advice focuses, yet the finding from this book that it is relentless attention to the little things and the seemingly trivial moments in organizational life that real makes for greatness is not something that most leaders and their advisers get, yet it is the hallmark of our most creative companies like Pixar, Apple, Google, IDEO and the like. The implication of The Progress Principle, for example, that management training should focus on how to deal with the little interactions and smallest decisions -- and that is what makes for great leaders and organizations -- would, if taken seriously, mean completely revamping the way that management is taught throughout the world.

This book isn't a bag of breathless hype, it doesn't make grand and shocking claims, and it doesn't promise instant results. But it is fun and easy to read, it is as strongly grounded in evidence as any business book ever written, and it is relentlessly useful because it points to little things that managers, team members, and everyone else can do day after day to spark creativity and well-being. And it shows how those little things add-up to big victories in the end. I believe it is one of the most important business books ever written.

In the name of full disclosure, I am friends with the authors and did endorse the book. But I am friends with a lot of authors, but when they write bad books, I decline endorsement requests, and as I did very recently, let them know that I think their books aren't very good. Yes, I am biased, but I believe that this book deserves to be a #1 bestseller.
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Ground-breaking research that shatters the conventional wisdom of what truly motivates workers. Aug. 1 2011
By Paul Tognetti - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The researchers themselves never saw it coming. When Teresa Amabile of the Harvard Business School and her husband developmental psychologist Steven Kramer decided to collaborate on a study exploring worker creativity through the eyes of those in the trenches who actually perform the work they simply had no idea of the secrets they were about to unlock. Typically, studies are done exploring topics like employee productivity and creativity from the point of view of upper management. The methodology that Amabile and Kramer chose to employ for this project would prove to be a bit unconventional to say the least. The authors were primarily interested in determining exactly what it is that motivates top performers. They were able to recruit 238 people from 26 project teams in 7 companies in 3 different industries. The participants were professionals whose work required them to solve complex problems creatively. What made this study truly unique was that at the end of each workday the participants were e-mailed a diary form that included several questions about their work experiences on that particular day. Much to the authors' surprise an overwhelming majority of the participants responded on a daily basis. Furthermore, they recorded their experiences and impressions in a far more candid way than expected. Amabile and Kramer had unwittingly stumbled upon a previously unexplored world. The insights that they gained from this remarkable undertaking is the subject of their new book "The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work". Many business books can be rather dry and a chore to read. But much to my surprise this book was different. I simply could not put it down.

If you are a manager or team leader seeking optimum performance from the people you oversee then listen up. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that it is primarily things like salaries and benefits, bonuses and recognition programs that motivate individuals. While these are certainly important the authors unearthed the fact that what matters most to employees is what they dub the "inner work life". Amabile and Kramer define inner work life as "the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday". In the 12,000 diary reports submitted for this study the authors discovered that they possessed a veritable goldmine of information. They had real-time access to the workday experiences of lots of people in a variety of different departments and organizations over an extended period of time. In "The Progress Principle" you will be able to experience the ruminations of these workers first-hand and in the process you will discover the secrets that motivate people to be the best that they can be. Furthermore, you will be able to compare and contrast the experiences of those who were employed by truly great organizations and managers who encouraged autonomy, set clear goals and furnished the resources necessary to succeed with companies whose managers and team leaders stifled creativity, constantly put obstacles in the way and were generally apathetic towards members of their team. As the title of the book suggests what truly motivates today's sophisticated and highly trained workers are those "small wins" that indicate that progress is actually being made on a problem or project being worked on. Managers and team leaders need to adjust to this new reality if they expect to achieve the kinds of positive results they are looking for.

One of the major reasons that I found "The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work" to be so darn compelling is that along the way I have worked for both types of organizations. Chances are that you have too. The clues are unmistakable and once you have the basic precepts of the book down the reactions of these employees become highly predictable. It is precisely why certain organizations thrive even in difficult economic times while others wither away on the vine. "The Progress Principle" is chock full of useful tips and strategies that managers and team leaders can implement right away. Furthermore the authors include a simple daily diary that managers and leaders can employ to assess how they are doing. Utilizing this tool just might turn out to be the most important five or ten minutes a leader can spend each day. "The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work" just might be the best business book that I have ever read. This book will challenge much of what you think you know about managing people while offering interesting alternatives to the way you have been doing things. A totally engaging read from cover to cover. Very highly recommended!
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Need to find the progress Aug. 2 2011
By Dr. Cathy Goodwin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
When I was an academic engaged in research, I was familiar with Teresa Amabile's work. She was and is a respected researcher who studies creativity in organizational settings. So I was eager to read this book and intrigued by the notion of small wins.

The book shows the author and her team conducted impeccable research. They found that people who were fortunate to engage in work they found meaningful, and who were appreciated and valued for their work, also were productive and creative. They noted the importance of emotions during the day. They emphasized that organizations will, often unintentionally, kill creativity and create a workplace where people flee.

My biggest question about the book was, "Who should read it?" The authors observe that an organizational environment is created by a confluence of forces coming together. It's rarely the case that one person can change the culture, although the CEO can make a huge difference, as shown by the story of Xerox's Anne Mulcahy. Yet will company CEOs and divisional VPs actually read the book and, if they do, will they have the skills and resources to make changes? Does the book provide enough direction to make change?

In any company there are so many ways a company can create negativity; if nothing else, success can make a workplace stressful. I've met people who say the culture of Microsoft has become more like established business than a start-up. I once worked for a company where a new CEO wanted to create more employee involvement, yet many employees saw the new activities as intrusive; they wanted to do their work and go home and "bonding" was not important. The lesson is that desiring to create a culture of positivity isn't enough; there are many places to slip in the design of change as well as the implementation of any program.

It seems that employees have to figure out how to survive and thrive in a variety of cultures and/or become more skilled at assessing a culture before joining an organization. The authors say they tested personality traits of the subjects they studied, but I kept wondering whether some people were just naturally positive and happy and therefore more creative. I know a few people who never met a job or a boss they didn't like. They didn't let things get to them. I always envied those people and wondered how the rest of us can learn their adaptation styles. I'd also wonder whether there's a way to balance a stressful job situation with positive activities off the job, or whether those outside activities just made the job seem worse in contrast.

Finally, while I think the book makes a contribution due to the extensiveness and quality of the research, I am not sure what's new here. As the authors say themselves, Alice Isen and others have studied the impact of mood extensively. We know that happy people perform better in a number of ways. Arlie Hochschild's studies of emotional labor have also contributed to our understanding of workplace emotion.

The book jacket refers to the importance of small events, and indeed subjects in the study were asked to describe events in their day that were mostly small. But some examples were huge, such as Mulcahy's turn-around at Xerox. The authors give examples of companies known as great places to work; it's unclear how the overall culture is based on small things. Meaningful work doesn't seem small. I'd have liked to see more discussion of incremental effects and how employees as well as front-line managers can influence them.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
I was a member of the 95% who didn't know the #1 employee motivator... Oct. 23 2011
By D. Kanigan - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The authors surveyed 100's of managers around the world and asked what motivated employees. They were startled to find that 95% of these leaders fundamentally misunderstood the most important source of employee motivation. It's not about getting the right people on the bus. Or about higher incentives. Or about athletic facilities and free child care. Their research has found that the best way to motivate people is by facilitating progress, even small wins. Yet managers surveyed, had ranked "supporting progress" as dead last as a work motivator.

The authors conducted a rigorous analysis of nearly 12,000 daily diary entries provided by 200+ employees in 7 companies. They found that the best managers create a high quality of "inner work life" for their employees. Inner work life is about favorable and unfavorable perceptions employees have about their managers, the organization, the team, the work and even oneself. A positive inner work life determines whether the employee has the motivation to their best work - it determines their attention to tasks, the level of their engagement and their intention to deliver their best work.

The authors found that there are 3 types of events that are particularly important in creating a positive inner work life:

1) Progress in meaningful work (e.g. small wins, breakthroughs, forward movement, goal completion),

2) Catalysts that directly help work (setting clear goals, allowing autonomy, providing resources, providing sufficient time, helping with the work, learning from problems and successes, allows ideas to flow),

3) Nourishers/interpersonal events (e.g. respect, encouragement, emotional support, affiliation/bonds of mutual trust & appreciation) that uplift people doing the work.

Research found that #1, progress in meaningful work, was the most important event in creating a positive inner work life.
People's inner work lives seemed to lift or drag depending on whether or not their projects moved forward, even by small increments. Small wins often had a surprisingly strong positive effect, and small losses a surprisingly negative one. So, small actions to try to reduce daily hassles can make a big difference for inner work life and for overall performance.

It's also important to note that small losses or setbacks were found to overwhelm small wins. Small everyday hassles hold more sway than small everyday supporting activities.

Be sure that you are not the source of the obstacles. Negative team leader behaviors affect inner work life more broadly than positive team leader behaviors. And employees recall more negative team leader actions than positive events and do so more intensely and in more detail.

Chapter 8 includes a Daily Progress Checklist which is worth the price of the book. A self assessment asking questions on Catalysts/Inhibitors, Nourishers/Toxins, the state of the Inner Work lives of your team and Action steps. e.g., Did the team have clear short term and long term goals for meaningful work or was there confusion? Did I give help when they needed it or did I fail to provide help? Did I show respect to team recognizing their contributions to progress or did I disrespect any team members? Did I encourage team members who have difficult challenges or discourage a member of the team in any way?)

Bottom line, to harness the powerful force of the quality of your employees' inner work lives, you must ensure that consistent forward movement in meaningful work is a regular occurrence in your employees ` work lives, despite the inevitable setbacks.

The book was laborious to wade through but it has important findings, conclusions and recommendations which merit it being required reading for managers at all levels.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Progress Serves As Its Own Reward Aug. 27 2011
By Richard S Melrose - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Progress Principle", by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, qualifies as a must read for anyone involved with knowledge work and especially for those who lead, manage or facilitate knowledge work.

Every knowledge worker would benefit from a better understanding of the components and dynamics of their "Inner Work Life" - i.e. gaining insights into how certain "Emotions", "Motivations" and "Perceptions" interact.

People managers can apply the Progress Principle to accomplish more, with higher certainty, and less friction - i.e. "... to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of each individual", as the authors aptly quoted Peter Drucker. "The daily progress checklist, TABLE 8 - 1", gives managers an excellent reference for studiously avoiding "Setbacks", "Inhibitors" and "Toxins", while orchestrating "Progress" and managing the "Catalyst" and "Nourishment" factors. The relationships between front line managers and their direct reports constitute the points of maximum focus and leverage for talent management. Moreover, these same points are where the responsibility for progress and results already resides - i.e. affording tremendous potential for thoughtful and purposeful talent management initiatives, born of enlightened self-interest.

Business leaders should internalize The Progress Principle and the implications of both the positive and negative forms of The Progress Loop. Great leaders routinely make substantial and universally positive contributions to what the authors call the "main climate forces" of "Consideration", "Coordination" and "Communication".

Upper-middle managers should become subject matter experts in the knowhow of The Progress Principle, in order capably mentor front-line managers and insightfully advise business leaders. This notion borrows from Ikujiro Nonoka's Middle-Up-Down management concepts.

HR Professionals should embrace The Progress Principle insights to help shape organizational policies, procedures and practices in directions that foster positive Progress Loop forms and curtail negative forms.

The Progress Principle complements other thought leaders' talent management contributions, superbly, and adds special value with its direct linkage to in-depth empirical research. Moreover, The Progress Principle evidences the simplicity, transparency and accountability that successful talent management initiatives demand, while leaving ample room for individual people managers to apply their specific strengths and knowledge to the orchestration of progress.

Well done Teresa and Steven!