Engagement & Disengagement Part2: Perceived Progress

In the previous post, I explained how when we are denied a sense of control over our space or environment, we check out, aka “disengage.” When taken to extremes, we might even disassociate. This can happen for example when we experience a trauma.

Knowledge workers need to have a sense of autonomy. Mandates and prescription kill any sense of freedom, autonomy and control. I think there is a pandemic of disengagement at work.

Engagement does require a sense of perceived control over one’s space or environment in my view.


Even with a sense of control, if there is no progress, then the typical person will disengage and “check out” on you. They usually will not physically exit the room. If you are an authority figure, they may even work hard to appear they are with you. They are not.

We all want perceived progress. If you have ever got off the highway during a traffic jam, to take your chances navigating the side roads, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Without movement and a sense of progress, it is easy to feel frustrated and stuck. Without a progression and some sense of movement, I think it is easy to disengage. And that’s exactly what I do.

Therefore: to kill engagement, refrain from paying attention to creating any sense of progress whatsoever.

Therefore: to kill engagement, do not iterate, because that might provide an opportunity to feed a sense of progress by ending the previous step, reflecting on it, and starting another.

Therefore: to kill engagement, don’t depict progress visually with a burndown chart, task board or other visual device, since that might provide a sense of progress and therefore increase at least the potential for engagement. Never depict the current state of progress in any visual way. To kill engagement, don’t provide a progress bar, checklist of completion, or any kind of scoreboard.

Therefore: to kill engagement, never bring time to the attention of the group, since awareness of the passage of time might arouse people to notice that no progress has taken place since last Tuesday.

I think you get my point.

There is not even the potential for engagement without a sense of progress combined with a sense of control. The good news is that it is really, really simple: deliver a sense of control and a sense of progress and you deliver the conditions under which engagement can happen. And yes, engagement can be designed.

Experience design. It’s a big deal, and can be simple, if you get the fundamentals right. If more and more of us start thinking of ourselves as experience designers, we can create engagement where we live, were we play and especially where we work. It starts by acknowledging that everyone wants and needs a sense of control before they can authentically engage. Then it continues by acknowledging that we all need a sense of progress before we can continue to engage in any sense of that term.

Perceived Control + Perceived Progress = Potential for Engagement


  1. Occupy, attract, or involve someone’s interest or attention.
  2. Cause someone to become involved in a conversation or discussion.

See also:

How Good Games Deliver Happiness and Learning