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Cross impact analysis: A primer

Cross impact analysis: the details

See HERE for a brief post summarizing the method.

How to use cross impact analysis

A cross impact matrix is a grid with a set of items repeated down one side and across the top. To cross impact, you explore how that set (a small set is best) of trends, forces, decisions, etc. affect each other. 

I recommend a simplified version of the grid with duplicate pairings. The result is the stair-step diagram below. You can download a template for this at the bottom of this page.

  • Take empty cells as a challenge—try to fill them.
  • Be “crazy,” speculative, even silly, it draws out fresh thinking.
  • Some interactions will not matter to your task at hand, but you may not know that until you try them out.
  • Go slowly. Allow yourself time to think.
  • Rest and return later. Don’t continue to fill out a matrix if you get worn out by the process and aren’t generating interesting ideas. Stop and start again later.
  • A white board or chalk board works great. Post-Its for ideas are a terrific way to allow you to try out, collect, and rearrange things.

Working through your grid you will make at least a few discoveries. Those are the gold in the pan. You will see them and say Ah Ha! Or you will notice patterns, like when one of your items seems to have the most impact.

Your goal is not to just somehow figure something out for each cell. It is to get to fresh insights. But as you scribble down the possibilities, know that that’s part of the process–you doodle and write to discover.

Should you ever consider the impacts in both directions? i.e. should you differentiate how A impacts B versus how B impacts A? Maybe. It is mentally hard, and may be especially hard in a team effort, since people’s brains are wired up differenlty. But doing so could be important if factors seem to have unbalanced impact on one another. 

What it does for you

Working through a cross impact analysis can help you:

  1. Identify the key elements of the system (with the initial act of setting up the grid, and by working through it)
  2. Discover new impacts and interactions and therefore potential future outcomes
  3. Identify the most significant factors or elements of a system (the ones that seem to have the most impact across the grid)
  4. Identify emerging challenges and opportunities
  5. Strengthen the understanding that the future is shaped by myriad interacting factors
  6. Paint a more full picture of the potential future
  7. Engage colleagues in exploring the future

Can anyone use it?

Yes. As a “blunt force” tool, it’s clear what to do. That does not mean the thinking is easy, but the tool pushes you to make new discoveries.

Is it a tool for groups?

It can be. With a wall-sized display, for example a board with Post-Its, people can work in real time or when they have time, but collaboratively. A small team of 3 or 4 can share the task. But cross-impacting is not a good fit for a larger workshop. It is hard to manage on a bigger scale, and it should not be done quickly the way a brainstorming breakout or whole group activity often is.

Templates and instructions

Here is a link for a template: Cross impact template and instructions

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