How to see the whole

When everything is in a state of flux, it helps to have some kind of structure that remains constant and allows you to see the wood from the trees. The Elemental Matrix is a way of looking at a system.

Peter Brownell
Mar 23 · 3 min read

In a time of massive change, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. So many things changing at once can be paralysing. It’s too hard to even know where to begin, let alone look a few steps ahead.

It gets a bit easier if you have a way to break all the complexity into smaller parts, look at each piece on it’s own, and then put it all back again. The trick is to make sure that you don’t have too many blind spots — otherwise you are going to be missing all sorts of things that you never even knew existed.

Constructing the matrix

The Elemental Matrix is a methodology for quickly breaking a system into a coherent set of parts, without missing too much. It’s comprised of 12 different perspectives, each of which emerges from a combination of two different aspects.

The matrix works by breaking a system down into a series of “elements”, and then looking at how these elements can be perceived across different “phases”.

The Elements

Fire, Earth, Air and Water are an almost universal set of conceptual elements used across the world, for thousands of years, to make sense of the universe. When you understand what they represent you can very easily see why they work.

At a simple level you can assign these meanings to each of the elements.

It doesn’t take long before you can start to use these aspects to categorise almost anything. When trying to make sense of any kind of change, these elements are a pretty good place to start. The matrix adds another level to this, and then expands each element into three different phases.

The Phases

The phases represent a different mode of categorization. I’ve called these phases because, they could equate to phases of matter, which works well with our idea of elements.

When it all comes together

The Elemental Matrix emerges when elements and phases are combined, creating a set of 12 different ways of seeing a system.

First you look at the elements in terms of individuals. Then you look at them in terms of relationships and groups, and then in terms of the whole.

For example, if you are look at an organization, the indiviuals are employees, the relationships are the teams and the whole is the organization.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing more about how this works in practice.

The matrix in practice

This matrix is not just a concept, it’s a very practical tool. It can be used in essentially any context to make sense of the options available. In these amazing apocalyptic times, it can really help provide a structure to manage the incredible transformation we are going through.

Over the last few years, this matrix has been used to do things like:

History and future

I’ve been working on developing this tool for half my life. I can’t claim too much authorship and consider my work simply a contemporary reinterpretation of a number of systems that have been around for a long time.

I use this tool every day, in almost every aspect of my life. I’m looking forward to sharing it.


Developing the capacity for organizations to embrace the…

Peter Brownell

Written by

Human and technical systems. Not all that good at remembering specifics but configured to seek the patterns. Aspires to become a gardener.


Developing the capacity for organizations to embrace the future

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