Ways to try something new: ‘McKergow’s Matrix’

As some of you will know, I am Chair of Sunday Assembly Edinburgh, the city’s ‘secular congregation’ which meets twice a month (at the moment) to do church-like things without religion.  We sing, hear poems and inspiring talks, reflect on how we live life and how we can live it as fully as possible – our motto is Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.

Our assembly on 1st November was on the theme of Happier Living, with speaker Simon Wallis talking about the 10 Keys To Happier Living framework produced by Action For Happiness.  We agreed that rather than try to talk about all 10 keys, Simon would briefly introduce them and then focus on one in particular – trying new things.  This was Action  For Happiness’ theme for the month, and they published an excellent monthly calendar with ideas for every day.  (They do this every month, with different themes – excellent and well worth looking at.)

The assembly was excellent, and we continued to discuss how we might try new things.  It struck me that the boundary between ‘new’ and ‘old’ is actually rather fuzzy.  I did an MBA degree many years ago and learned about the Ansoff matrix for product and market development.  Inspired by this, I improvised a framework for different ways to try something new:

One of the key aspects of working in a Solution-Focused way (an approach I’ve been using and developing for nearly 30 years) is to ‘do more of what works’.  So, the first option for trying something ‘new’ is, in fact, to think about things you’ve enjoyed and found beneficial but have somehow stopped doing – trying an old thing in an old way (again).  Maybe you used to take 10 minutes of mindfulness before breakfast but since you changed job it hasn’t been convenient to do it?  Maybe you enjoyed getting your watercolours out and taking an afternoon painting in the countryside?  I think searching back for things that have helped you before and revisiting them is a great way to do something new – indeed, the fact that it’s helped you in the past is a good reason to think it might be useful again. 

Stretching out a little, something that helped you in the past can be up-cycled by trying an old thing in a new way.  Perhaps that mindful moment might make more sense at the end of the day, rather than before breakfast?  Maybe watercolouring from photos in the warmth of your own home might be more appealing?  Or perhaps it’s time to have a go with oil paints?  The list of variations is very long indeed, all building on something that worked for you at some point and could be worth revisiting. 

The third box is about trying a new thing in an old way.  So rather than being mindful before breakfast, you could maybe take a walk around the block instead?  Or go outside for the afternoon and birdwatch rather than paint?  Fit something new into an existing ‘point’ in your day or week, which already works for you.  So if you enjoyed doing evening classes about film appreciation, try an evening class about medieval architecture or writing poetry. 

The fourth and final box is about trying a new thing in a new way. This is the biggest stretch of all, and is perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when we are asked to think about ‘new’.  So, this might be about trying hill-walking or even Munro-bagging rather than morning mindfulness, or video performance activism in the street rather than country watercolours.  Whatever is grabbing your attention at the moment is well worth investigating. 

However, as we have seen above, there are lots of ways in which new things can come in somewhat more familiar guises.  And even if it’s something really new for you, think about what you can gather about the way you might approach it. Maybe you learn well with others, perhaps with someone who does this kind of thing already?  (It you are taking up parascending, I recommend this heartily!) Or perhaps you like to team up with a fellow novice (perhaps a friend) and explore together? Or maybe  you love to read up on something before trying it.  Or even write directly to the world champion and ask for advice? (I was out with Jenny at Cramond near Edinburgh yesterday, and we saw some amazing balanced stone sculptures which had been made earlier in the day by the European Stone Stacking Champion… who knew that was a thing, let alone that we have an expert right here in Edinburgh?)  

So, ‘try something new’ is an excellent idea to expand your life. And it can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from revisiting the old to a totally new concept.  Perhaps you can have take the simple matrix above, which some of my Sunday Assembly colleagues have started to call McKergow’s Matrix, fill in each box with something relevant to you and then see which is the most appealing?

Dr Mark McKergow is director of the Centre for Solutions Focus at Work (sfwork) based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He brings new ideas into the organisational and leadership field which are effective, efficient, counterintuitive and humane, and is currently developing work on post-heroic leadership (http://hostleadership.com) and micro-local community building (http://villageinthecity.net). His book The Next Generation of Solution Focused Practice will be published by Routledge in April 2021.

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