Jobs and the Future of Work

How the ‘NO, NO’ Matrix can help professionals plan for success

birds eye view of a professional's hands working at a keyboard. Caption: Professionals are consistently seeking avenues to advance their careers in a turbulent economic landscape.

Professionals are consistently seeking avenues to advance their careers in a turbulent economic landscape. Image: Unsplash/Damian Zaleski

Eli Joseph
Associate Faculty, Columbia University
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Jobs and Skills

  • Most professionals constantly seek new opportunities to explore their decisions and prepare for future opportunities.
  • However, to do that, individuals must overcome disruptions in their endeavours and succeed in their professions.
  • Here's how professionals came to embrace the 'NO, NO' Matrix to overcome failures and advance their careers.

In an unpredictable competitive global market, it is apparent that the choices we make will be essential to the endeavours we will embark on in the future.

Irrespective of high inflation, rising job losses, and economic turmoil across various industries, most professionals experience transformations depending on their response to the outcomes of uncontrollable events.

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Not all decisions are created equal in a workplace. Although some decisions yield swift growth in the workplace, other decisions lead to disturbance and failure among professionals and organizations. While there are unique recommendations to develop skills through failure (i.e. developing a ‘rejection resume’), there are very few suggestions that highlight how employees can overcome adverse outcomes.

Rather than focusing on the possible causes of unpredictability in the job market, we can explore different ways we can immerse ourselves in the never-ending process of redemption, regardless of current or future crises.

The Rumsfeld’s Quadrant decision-making framework

In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld developed a decision-making framework that maps and evaluates the various degrees of certainty and uncertainty. In this model, he highlighted the distinctions between known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

We are aware of certain facts (known knowns), acknowledge the existence of gaps in our knowledge (known unknowns), and recognize the presence of elements beyond our awareness (unknown unknowns).

The Rumsfeld Quadrant
The Rumsfeld Quadrant framework for decision-making. Image: Eli Joseph

This model enhances our ability to prioritize tasks and efficiently allocate resources, concentrating on the most crucial areas of indecision. It facilitates collaborative communication among professionals, leading to more informed decision-making while controlling for potential risks that may lead to potential issues in the future.

However, Rumsfeld’s Matrix has potential limitations and gaps that may help us determine areas of recourse from irrepressible outcomes that professionals face daily.

Why the NO, NO Matrix equals 'next option(s), new opportunities'

Many professionals are afraid to face rejection and failure. The weight of fear associated with potential rejection can be paralyzing, preventing individuals from pursuing the goals they plan to seek. Bold professionals can observe this sentiment early on and a straightforward principle that the worst outcome is simply receiving a "NO".

To overcome this fear of failure, professionals must redefine the meaning of the word “NO”. In this instance, the dual mnemonic term “NO, NO” represents “Next Option(s)” and “New Opportunities”.

The No-No Matrix
The No-No Matrix for professional decision-making. Image: Eli Joseph

The four quadrants of the ‘NO’ Matrix represent the following:

  • Old options, old opportunities: The reminiscing (comfort) zone where we reflect on past outcomes. At this state, we anticipate the outcome of our current goals by drawing from our previous experiences while considering the strategies and decisions we’ve made to pursue these objectives.
  • Old options, new opportunities: We are seeking to anticipate new outcomes of our goals, yet we lack innovative strategies (or ideas) to prepare for these aspirations. We are liable for expecting new success based on outdated approaches.
  • Next option(s), old opportunities: We can anticipate the outcomes of our goals by preparing for every possible scenario, but we are afraid to “pull the trigger” and pursue these aspirations to discover possible breakthroughs.
  • Next option(s), new opportunities: The epiphany state/ Eureka moment; we lack the awareness of potential goals, and we can’t cultivate a strategy to plan for these aspirations.

At any given point in time, professionals are navigating through this model to either enhance their welfare or recover from the growing concerns of uncertainty.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024, respondents in numerous countries selected both unemployment and labour shortages as major areas of concern in the future.

Though low—and lower-middle-income countries tend to rank unemployment as a higher concern, upper-middle—and high-income respondents were more concerned about labour shortages. This impact—like many others—forces individuals and businesses to reshape the nature of work.

Meanwhile, PwC’s 2023 Hopes and Fears survey of nearly 54,000 workers across 46 countries and territories, highlights that 58% of employees are expected to significantly transform their skills in the next five years.

These employees are expected to embrace the journey of continuous learning, letting go of outdated knowledge while acquiring new ones to enhance abilities and welcome different approaches to work to avoid getting left behind in the job market.

The 'domino effect' through options and opportunities

In our everyday lives, we use momentum to get up in the morning and get “the ball rolling”. Through the governance of our decisions, we rely on this impetus to chip away and figure things out as we attempt to improve on our current state.

Depending on the strategic allocation of options and opportunities, professionals can also use quick impulses to spark a change in our momentum based on the sense of urgency to achieve their goals. All it takes is one small nudge to establish momentum. That small action leads to another successive response, cultivating a chain reaction or a domino effect.

Through the interaction of hierarchical elements in the diagram below, it is important to identify the abundance of choices and opportunities that professionals possess in the workplace. Additionally, we can aggregate and calibrate these resources to perform better in the future.

Hierarchy of options and opportunities.
Hierarchy of options and opportunities for decision-making. Image: Eli Joseph

Furthermore, a combination of other investments within the realms of innovation, inclusion, sustainability, and resilience can serve as insurance for growth for nations.

‘Kernel to popcorn’ effect leads to professional success

In an economic landscape where continuous turbulence and unpredictability seem to be the new norm, professionals are consistently seeking avenues to advance their careers, irrespective of the conditions or challenges they face.

Throughout this domino effect of recourse, professionals can reiteratively develop various kernels of renovation. The continuum of pressure and momentum over time will lead to the kernels converting to popcorn of redemption and success.

‘Kernel to popcorn’ effect
The 'kernel to popcorn’ effect for professional success. Image: Eli Joseph

As we continue to encounter possible disruption, allocation and prioritization of essential services, we can use ascertain decisions to our advantage in response to labour market demands and potential dangers.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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