A Matrix of Urgency and Importance


I’ve been thinking about “the most important issue” in terms of a matrix (that I hope shows up) with the axes of long-term impact and urgency. Within each box there is a “most important issue” which I think is a more interesting discussion than which box is the most important.

Let’s start with low-impact, low urgency. I put buying new t-shirts as the epitome of this, because while I need new t-shirts as some point (or so my roommates tell me) there are just a host of more important things that always seem to come up (like eating- which falls in the low-impact,  high urgency box.) This box is what you do on P-days, the unfortunate things that we must, and don’t like to do.

Low long-term impact, high urgency is what creates and perpetuates most of the stress in our life. This is laundry that needs to be done, the grumbling of your stomach, the answering of phone calls and door knocks. This is also the arena that many organizations target as immediate relief efforts. This is where clean water, clean food, and temporary tents after hurricanes come in.

High long-term impact, high urgency; I think very few things truly fall into this box, but medical responses, and military action generally fall into this. Matters of life and death take the form of flying bullets or fires, etc. The men and women who target this box are often who we hail as heroes and heroines.

Now high impact, low urgency is that box that is so important, and because of the low urgency rating, perpetually is under-addressed on the political agenda and in our own lives. This is education, global warming, coral bleaching, ending polio, the spread of AIDs, helping blue-collar workers. And too often, problems fester in this box until they grow and rise into the high-impact, high urgency problems when they are much more expensive to fix.

Within the high-impact, low urgency box, there are a series of problems that I am not going to attempt to rank in importance. Is eradicating polio as important as eradicating malaria? Education and equality for women?

However, learning how to create solutions to the problems and concerns in the high long-term impact, low urgency box is the arena that I think is the “most important issue.” These are the issues that we can have the largest impact on because as long they are low urgency, solutions are generally less expensive, and you have the time to figure out an intelligent and the best solution, a luxury that high impact, high urgency problems seldom allow. Solution creation is the most important issue, and that includes model and strategy creation and implementation. That is why social innovation rocks, it’s about solution creation.  is where social innovation can have the greatest impact by solving problems, or keeping them out of the high-urgency box. This is where solutions have time to evolve into efficient solutions. This is where we lack man-power, publicity, and political sway, and thus where we will have the highest impact, making this the most important issue for me.