Let’s take a moment to consider the simple, humble 2×2 matrix. This business strategy tool is badly overused, from publications and speeches to every case study you’ve ever read in business school. Every major consulting firm has thousands of 2×2 matrices on Powerpoint slides laying around. It’s trite. It’s cliche. Yet the reason why it’s so overused is because it works so remarkably well at solving two problems: binary thinking and one-dimensional thinking.
The first blind spot the 2×2 matrix helps us overcome is a tendency towards binary thinking. What’s the solution to this problem? What’s the answer to this question? Should I do more of X or more of Y? When’s the best time to post on Instagram? These are all questions that hint at binary thinking, when the answer may not be binary.
The simple 2×2 matrix helps to get us thinking differently by breaking us of the habit of assuming there is just one answer when there may be a spectrum of answers. There may not be a best time to post on Instagram, but a series of them. The best choice may not be X or Y, but a little bit of X and a little bit more of Y.
Here’s a simple example. Have you ever had a heated debate with a significant other about what to have for dinner? Rather than argue, put your choices in a 2×2 matrix based on proximity and price. Now it’s not a binary question, but a spectrum of possibilities:
Overcoming One-Dimensional Thinking
The second blind spot a 2×2 matrix helps us to overcome is a tendency towards one-dimensional thinking. Especially in analytics, we tend to focus on a single metric at a time, like website visitors or Twitter followers or Facebook Likes. We focus on ROI or net revenue or daily downloads, and we look at a metric often to the exclusion of other related metrics that can help lend additional context.
The simple 2×2 matrix expands our mind a little bit by exploring how metrics work together. What else might impact that metric? What is the relationship between one metric and the next? If we see a strong relationship, what might that tell us about how we should implement our marketing strategies?
Consider two very simple metrics from our Google Analytics data, new visitors and returning visitors. These measure different behaviors of an audience; new visitors tend to be a result of our marketing efforts, while returning visitors tend to be a result of the quality of our content. Rather than focus on just one metric alone, what if we plotted out these two dimensions?
By laying out these two metrics and the relationships they have to each other, we develop a framework for evaluating important metrics together. I’d next take my blog by page and plot it using the chart above as a reference:
The 2×2 matrix gives me a plan of action:
- I can now categorize my content and repair the content that is in the bottom left quadrant first.
- I can add more promotion to content in the bottom right content.
- I can tune up and refresh content in the top left quadrant.
- Once everything is fixed, I can find new ways to elevate the content in the top right quadrant.
Use the 2×2 Matrix to Overcome Blind Spots
Just because a tool is overused doesn’t mean it’s bad at what it does; its overuse may indicate that it should factor prominently in your own work.
Keep the humble 2×2 matrix handy, and the next time you’re stuck looking at a problem from one dimension or in a binary way, bring it out and see if it expands your thinking.
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