The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer - Highlights

1. Our research inside companies revealed that the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress—even small wins.

2. The negative forms—or absence of—the key three events powerfully undermine inner work life: setbacks in the work; inhibitors (events that directly hinder project work); and toxins (interpersonal events that undermine the people doing the work).

3. Negative events are more powerful than positive events, all else being equal.

4. Over 28 percent of the small events triggered big reactions. In other words, even events that people thought were unimportant often had powerful effects on inner work life.

5. A 2008 study found that small but regular events, including church attendance and physical exercise at a gym, can yield cumulative increases in happiness. In fact, the more frequently that study’s participants went to church or exercised, the happier they were.

6. 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.

7. Inner work life is about emotions—positive or negative—triggered by any event at work.

8. Inner work life is about motivation—the drive to do something, or not.

9. Few things can nurture inner work life as much as being successful.

10. As long as the work is meaningful, managers do not have to spend time coming up with ways to motivate people to do that work. They are much better served by removing barriers to progress, helping people experience the intrinsic satisfaction that derives from accomplishment.

11. This is the inner work life effect: people do better work when they are happy, have positive views of their organization and its people, and are motivated primarily by the work itself. For short periods, people can perform at very high levels under extreme stress, but this happens only under special conditions that we will discuss later.

12. Overall, the more positive a person’s mood on a given day, the more creative thinking he did that day.

13. Across all study participants, there was a 50 percent increase in the odds of having a creative idea on days when people reported positive moods, compared with days when they reported negative moods.

14. Most people were more creative when they perceived their assignments as challenging, and when they had autonomy in carrying out those assignments.

15. Other key elements supporting creativity included sufficient resources for doing the work and sufficient time.

16. If we lowered intrinsic motivation, or increased extrinsic motivation, lower creativity resulted.

17. Physical health is better when people experience more positive moods and fewer negative moods, possibly because mood influences the immune system. You might be surprised to learn that these findings cover illnesses as ordinary as colds and as life-threatening as strokes.

18. You can use the connection between progress and intrinsic motivation to boost innovation.

19. You can’t get a sense of progress unless you’re aware that you have actually made progress in your work. So how does this happen?

20. One—probably the route most managers would think of—is getting feedback. If a manager or knowledgeable peer tells the members of a project team that their work is creative or technically sound, they can be confident that they made real progress. 

21. Interestingly, though, the second route is preferable: getting feedback from the work itself. If a programmer labors to create some tricky new code and then runs the program through a series of tests, that debugging process gives her immediate and complete knowledge about how much progress she has made on that job.

22. Besides progress and setbacks, we discovered two additional categories of events that also turned out to be strong differentiators.

23. The progress principle describes the first of these key three categories of events influencing inner work life. The second is what we call the catalyst factor. Catalysts are actions that directly support the work on the project, including any type of work-related help from a person or group—such as Chester’s mention of other HotelData teams helping Infosuite during the Big Deal project. 

24. catalysts have to do with goals, resources, time, autonomy, idea flow, and dealing with problems in the work. The third of the key three influences on inner work life is what we call the nourishment factor. Where catalysts are triggers directed at the project, nourishers are interpersonal triggers, directed at the person. They include respect, encouragement, comfort, and other forms of social or emotional support.

25. Just as setbacks are the opposites of progress, inhibitors are the opposites of catalysts, and toxins are the opposites of nourishers.



28. Progress motivates people to accept difficult challenges more readily and to persist longer.

29. If you want to foster great inner work life, focus first on eliminating the obstacles that cause setbacks. Why? Because one setback has more power to sway inner work life than one progress incident.

30. The power of setbacks to diminish happiness is more than twice as strong as the power of progress to boost happiness. The power of setbacks to increase frustration is more than three times as strong as the power of progress to decrease frustration.

31. Clear goals are one crucial element of the catalyst factor, a broad category of events that is second only to the progress principle in the key three influences on inner work life.

32. Micromanagement not only poisons inner work life; it stifles creativity and productivity in the long run.

33. Over the past fifteen years, psychologists have discovered that people in many different situations can benefit from writing regularly about events in their lives. In one experiment, people who wrote briefly about their envisioned “best possible self” for four days in a row reported significantly higher levels of well-being by the end, compared with people who did no such writing.