The control/responsibility matrix | Seth’s blog





Well-informed readers of my last two articles have probably guessed what this one is about.

The control/responsibility matrix (click to enlarge)

People make choices about their preferences for control and taking responsibility. When we combine these choices, we end up with a simple matrix.

At the top right is an ideal combination. Someone with control and authority who also takes responsibility when things go wrong. This creates a helpful feedback loop because they can actually do something about the problems they caused.

Bottom right, disaster is imminent. It’s about a fragile megalomaniac, Robert Moses, the builder, who spent nearly a century paving New York while neglecting housing and other social justice issues, but never taking responsibility. from any of the effects of his work. People who take control and avoid responsibility are often easily identified because they spend a lot of time whining.

In the upper left corner is someone who really cares. They bring great empathy to the situation and they help people feel seen. Alas, because they have no power (either because they have been denied it or because they avoid it), their will to take responsibility is somehow hollow. It’s one of the reasons why frontline workers who have to exercise emotional labor and empathy at work burn out so often.

And finally, in most situations, most people are bottom left. The system pushes us to be cogs, to accept what is given in exchange for being out of the woods and not being held accountable for what happens next.

In many situations, we have the freedom to choose. We can choose a quadrant or we can choose not to participate. And if we’re lucky or care enough, we can choose who to vote for, who to work for, and where we go.





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