The DNA of Great Problem Solving

Alex Lowy and Phil Hood writing in their book The Power of 2 x 2 Matrix introduce the concept of 2 x 2 thinking. This can be used as one of the powerful tools to look at the solutions spectrum.

They introduce this concept by writing:

A complex situation is modeled as a set of dueling interests. The hunt for a single correct solution is supplanted by the search for understanding, perspective and insight. The game is in effect redefined:

* Tension becomes a good thing. Instead of trying to eliminate tension, we let it lead us to important topics and questions.

* Conflicting goals are seized upon, becoming useful markers that set the parameters for out search

* In place of a single right answer, a set of plausible options is created by considering high and low cases of the two conflicting needs.

* The fours options may be illuminating or not. Generally if the two axes are well defined, the options will be rich in explanatory or provocative power. If this is not the case, it is usually worth redefining one or both the axes and trying again.

They write

2 x 2 thinking is remarkably flexible on a number of levels. The scope of issue scales easily from the personal decisions to large strategic conundrums.

At the same time, they also caution us:


Don’t get hung up on the 2 x 2 form. Use it as a convenient medium and device to achieve important ends. 2 x 2 modeling brings focus and tension, often making issues clearer; it creates the context, the rest is up to you. Like the framework introduced by Peter Drucker looking at Doing the right job versus Doing the job right, if you are working on the right material and act with integrity, you are much likely to succeed.

In reality this is not a new concept. Stephen Covey illustrated it in his book “The seven habits of highly successful people” where he illustrated the classic time management matrix (See image). This structure creates possibilities of seeing beyond either-or perspectives.