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An Interview with Authors of the New Book “The Progress Principle”

When it comes to the application of positive psychology in everyday life, the work place is an ever increasing platform to examine concepts and principles of optimal human performance.

Learning how to motivate employees, stimulate greater productivity, and enhance job satisfaction are crucial areas of concern for growing, successful companies.

Fortunately researchers like Teresa Amabile & Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, are helping to reveal how companies and workers can find greater engagement and fulfillment from their work.

They were kind enough to answer a few questions regarding their book. Read the interview below for insight on creativity, work performance, and motivation.

Please briefly explain the concept of inner-work life and what it involves?

Inner work life is the constant stream of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that people experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their work day. We call it inner because it is a psychological process that cannot usually be observed. It is work because that it is where it arises, and that is what it is all about. And it is life, because it is an ongoing, inevitable part of the human experience at work every day.

Not only does inner work life have a profound effect on the individual experiences, it also dramatically affects that person’s performance. When people have positive inner work lives – when they are happy, have positive perceptions of their work and their colleagues, and are intrinsically motivated by the work – they are more creative, more productive, more collegial, and more committed to the work.

What responsibility do you believe the manager, supervisor, or organization overall has in keeping employees satisfied and motivated?

While there are some aspects of an employee’s inner work life that are beyond a manager’s control, there is, in fact, a great deal that managers can and should do to help maintain positive inner work life. And this is not just because it is the right thing to do for the people that work under the manager (though it is the right thing to do). It is also because people will only do their best work when they are fully engaged in their work, and that can only happen when they have positive inner work lives.

From your research you found employees from certain organizations rating their emotions, perceptions, and motivation to be higher and more positive than other organizations. What were some of these organizations doing right and why were others less effective in this area?

Of all the things that can boost inner work life, the most important is simply making progress in work that is meaningful in some way to the person doing it. This is the progress principle. When we talk about meaningful work, we don’t necessarily mean work with profound implications for society such as curing cancer. Meaningful work can be anything that the individual values. It can be as ordinary as providing a useful product or service to customer, or supporting his/her colleagues. Basically, people at work want to feel like they are contributing positively to something of value.

So, the companies whose employees had the best inner work life tend to do three things. First, they provide their employees with meaningful work to do. Sadly, too many people do not see any connection between much of their day-to-day work and something they value. Second, the best companies catalyze progress in that work every day. Management provides people with the clear goals, resources and help that they need to succeed, while allowing them the autonomy they need bring their own knowledge, skills and talents to the task. Finally, these companies directly nourish people’s inner work lives by showing them respect, and providing encouragement, emotional support, and a climate of affiliation and camaraderie.

Do you feel that there is a changing expectation for how employees should be treated? For instance, it seems employees are quick to change jobs if the employer fails to provide opportunities for growth, engagement, and meaningful work. How do you think this influences employees’ perceptions about their work life?

We don’t know if there has been a change in people’s expectations. We think that people have always sought jobs that gave them an opportunity for growth, engagement and meaningful work. The lack of any of these will have a negative effect on inner work life.

For instance, if people are not given an opportunity to grow, they will begin to perceive their employers negatively, they will feel under-valued, and their motivation will decline. This is pretty much the definition of poor inner work life. Similarly, if work is sapped of its meaning, not only will people’s motivation decrease, but the progress principle will not be able to operate to lift their inner work lives. Progress on meaningless or demeaning work is, well, meaningless.

For those people working in a job with no clear upward mobility and who may be feeling a little discouraged, what can they do to have a more positive inner-work life?

Of course, the best solution is to find a new job that does provide the opportunity for upward mobility. But this is likely to be difficult and take time, especially in the currently challenging economic climate. In the meantime, it is important for people to try to maintain a positive inner work life. There are a number of things that people can do if they are feeling inner work life flagging, regardless of the cause.

First, they should look for aspects of their job that they do find meaning in, and try to find some time each day to make some progress on that work. Then, at the end of the day, spend a few minutes celebrating that success. Too often, we go from one problem to the next, and never take time to feel that satisfaction of having made some progress. It is surprising how much better that one little thing can do to make you feel better about your work. We also recommend keeping a journal in which people can focus on their progress and what facilitates and hinders that progress. It not only helps people become more aware of what they do accomplish each day, but it is great opportunity to learn about what they can do to make more progress, and as a result, to enjoy a greater sense of accomplishment.

For more information about Teresa Amabile and her work visit her website.

An Interview with Authors of the New Book “The Progress Principle”

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2011). An Interview with Authors of the New Book “The Progress Principle”. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Aug 2011
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