Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

When it comes to planning and decision-making, too many people rely on complicated procedures and detailed statistics when there is an excellent tool that is easy to use and requires no math at all.

The 2×2 matrix is a great tool for early-stage planning. It is an excellent jumping-off point because it:

  • Illustrates complex concepts simply. 
  • Gets us started in the right direction.
  • Provides the big picture at a glance.

Two criteria are chosen and characterized as either Yes or No, a deliberately oversimplified way of looking at things. The criteria can be any two we want, but the more they are aligned with our objectives, the better they work.

A testimonial

Let me show you how using this approach helped me many years ago when I was unhappily stuck in a job I didn’t like. I did some background reading that led me to solid research that showed me that for people to be happy at their jobs, it wasn’t enough for them to just like the work. They had to be good at it, too. 

So I built the 2×2 matrix below using as my column heading, Do I like doing the work? My row heading was Am I good at it? Both of these questions get answered with a simple Yes or No. Save the detail for later when we’re farther along in the process. Remember this is only our first step – don’t gum it up.

Now provide examples for each of your four cells

Off the top of my head, I thought of a YES/NO example (the bottom left cell) for myself. Something I really liked doing was playing golf, but if I tried to earn a living at it, I’d starve. So liking something wouldn’t be enough for me to be really happy at work.

  • NO/YES. In the top right cell I put something I was good at but didn’t like doing: math. I’d had a lot of training and it came to me easily, but the thought of sitting day after day like Bob Crachit doing nothing but running a calculator or building algorithms didn’t appeal to me. So being good at something wouldn’t be enough, either.
  • NO/NO. I didn’t spend much time here, because what’s the point? Who wants to work at a job they don’t like doing and are no good at either? It’s a trick question, of course, because this is the candidate pool where executives go to find people to work in customer support, fast food, and the driver’s license bureau.
  • YES/YES. What I liked doing was puzzles, the harder the better. I was good at it, too, but what kind of job could I get where I solved puzzles all day and got paid for it? The answer was research, where the puzzles are very hard. 
Needing to learn how to solve tough scientific puzzles, I went to graduate school

There, the Sociology Department at Indiana University taught me how to methodically solve really big and complex puzzles with uncommon rigor, discipline, and objectivity. At two previous universities I had learned next to nothing about research methods or sampling or bias or questionnaire design. Heck, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know, which was characteristic of not just me, but of most people. Day after day, how many people do we hear talking about things in such a way that it is obvious they don’t know what they’re talking about?

Some things to keep in mind

Like doing. Make sure you really like a job enough to do it all day every day. I only played golf on the weekends, which made me prone to overestimate how much I would enjoy doing it day in and day out, month after month, year after year. And what about having to play in spite of bad weather or when injured? Make sure you have an understanding of what the job really entails. 

When I was a kid, I couldn’t imagine anything better than driving cars, so I got a chauffeur job. It had never occurred to me that being a chauffeur was more about waiting around than driving. For every hour driving the car, I spent three or four hours waiting around, bored to tears, constantly checking my watch, wishing I was driving. It wasn’t like being off work, where I could go do something else in the meanwhile. The point of having a chauffeur is that your driver is always waiting for you, not the other way around.

Good at. It is so easy to overestimate our skills that 90% of us believe we are above average, my all-time favorite example of how unaware we can be. Friends and colleagues are an obvious place for us to get feedback about what we’re good at, but they’re not going to completely honest with us, are they? Being “good at” something means being judged as having above average skills by external experts. It also means having credentials that took years to earn, not just months or weeks.

If you need to go back to school and learn something new, now’s the time. It won’t get any easier as you get older and have more commitments. I didn’t finish graduate school until I was 34. Like all the rest of us, you’ll be surprised later in life to find that 34 is young, not old.

Stay open to change

After 30 years of writing research reports that mostly gathered dust on the shelves of hundreds of organizations, I found I enjoyed writing even more than I enjoyed doing research. So I began writing a weekly blog. Regular readers like what I write about. They are a self-selecting bunch, though – they take the time to read because they feel they usually get something from it. That and the money back guarantee.

So try out my 2×2 JobSat Matrix and see what you can discover about yourself. Send it to your friends and compare results. All you have to do is be honest with yourself. And if you can’t do that, no tool will work for you. 


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