Ben Schnell
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Matrices I Like

Matrices I Like

I find matrices really interesting. They can provide insight by showing relationships between seemingly unrelated things. As you’ll see in the examples that follow, they are often helpful as a metaphor to explain trends, and as such they tend to paint with a wide brush. This is also their weakness as counter examples proliferate.

The first matrix I ever learned about was from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. It compares importance to urgency as it relates to tasks. Check out the image below.

Matrix 2 - Important vs Urgent

In quadrant I when have both urgent and important. These tasks are usually crisis tasks, putting out fires. Some people spend all of their time in QI, either to save a project or because they’re martyrs.

QII is the sweet spot – important but not urgent. This is time spent preventing crises. Stephen Covey says the more time you spend in QII the less time you have to spend in QI. In addition to planning ahead QII is for recreation, family time, and anything important that is not rushed. QII is often the quadrant for mission, creativity, and growth.

QIII is a sad place indeed – urgent but not important. People here think they are in QI. Phone calls seem urgent, so we answer them. People make requests of us, and we respond, often without evaluating the importance of the request. It’s an over-simplification, but the nature of corporate America is such that people spend most of their time in QIII. I imagine QIII is where we get the term rat race – that sense that we’re chasing an illusory goal.

QIV is neither urgent nor important. This is where people to go to escape their QI and QIII lifestyle. It’s not relaxing or recreation, it’s just distraction.

Covey argues there is no reason to spend anytime in QIII or QIV. If it’s not important, there’s no reason to do it at all. The difficulty, as Covey points out, is that tasks don’t present themselves clearly labeled in one of these categories. Importance exists on a spectrum, and sometimes it’s genuinely hard to discern. Being aware of these categories however has been extremely helpful for me to prioritize and evaluate how I’m spending my time.

The second matrix example I have for you has nothing to do with the first, except that it’s a matrix. It explores the relationship of methods and message in the church context. The method refers to how church is done, what kind of building it’s in, order of service, equipment, tools, etc. The message refers to the ideas they are trying to get across. See the matrix below.

Matrix 1 - Method vs Message

In QI the intention is to maintain methods and the message. In this category you have the Amish, fundamentalist groups, and biblical literalists. They tend to be defensive against any change, and find value in consistency in all aspects of church.

In QII you have those who maintain the methods but will change the message. The Episcopal church is most notable in this category. They maintain their liturgy and book of common prayer (methods) but change their theology, for example ordaining homosexual bishops (message).

In QIII the idea is to change up the methods but maintain the message. In this category I think of the mega-churches. These churches worship in stadiums and have flashy rock programs while preaching the same gospel message.

In QIV you have the postmodern church, who change both the methods and the message. I would argue you can put the Quakers here as well, although some could make an argument to put them in QII.

This matrix often makes people think of Marshall McLuhan, who became famous for emphasizing the idea that “the medium is the message.” If that is true than the Quadrant III and Quadrant IV are the only real possibilities. This matrix was insightful to me in understanding how different groups approach doing church, and how decisions they make about methods and message attract or turn away certain types of followers.

My last matrix example compares tradition to institution by generation. I learned this one from Bret Schlisner at a party the other day.

Matrix 3 - Tradition vs Institution

QI represents the silent generation – my grandparents generation. They like both tradition and institution. Next is the baby boomers in QII, and they like institution but not tradition. Generation X didn’t like either one. And millennials, my generation, like tradition but not institution.

This can be helpful in explaining the conflict parents and grandparents often have with their kids and grandkids about priorities, choice of work, and even what’s appropriate to wear.

Yeah, so I like matrices because I think they provide interesting insight into how seemingly unrelated things sometimes relate closely together in certain contexts. These were the matrix metaphors I like and find insightful. If you have any you like, please share them with me I’d love to see them!