A Window Into Problems

Capella Tower atrium

In 1955, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham developed a heuristic model for understanding the relationship between self-awareness and transparency with others. The model described four general scenarios in a 2×2 matrix depending on high and low levels of self-awareness and high and low levels of an individual’s transparency with others. Many of you will recognize this 2×2 matrix as a “Johari window.” In fact, what you see below is the original Johari window. (“Johari” is a combination of the first parts of the authors’ first names.)

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The model is rather intuitive. The lower-left quadrant represents self-awareness but low transparency with others. That part of a person is “hidden.” The upper-left quadrant represents self-awareness and at the same time transparency with others. That person is “open” in these areas of life. The lower-right quadrant depicts a lack of self-awareness and that others are also not aware. These are the “unconscious” aspects of a person. Finally, the upper-right quadrant represents elements of a person’s life for which they are not aware, but others can see. This is a “blind” spot in that person’s life.

This heuristic model quickly became known as the Johari window and is still used as a tool for training in self-awareness and communication in groups.

What is a “Heuristic”? The word heuristic comes from a Greek word, heurisko, which means to find or discover. Heuristic models are cognitive tools for developing a good-enough method to understand a problem. Heuristics are not meant to be complete, but rather to shed light on a problem to facilitate moving forward and/or a deeper dive.

As you can see, the Johari window is a simple, yet powerful tool. A complex idea is rather quickly captured in an intuitive, easy-to-understand diagram. Today, the technique of mapping virtually any problem on two dimensions with ranges of low/high or yes/no is called a Johari window.

For example, a Johari window can be helpful describing the relationship between employee morale and reward availability.

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Another Johari window can help describe the relationship between individual interest and ability to perform.

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Johari windows are often used as heuristic tools to understand people, relationships, and cultures, but they can also be used to better understand things. This Johari window depicts the relationship between the price and quality of a product.

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In each case above, the diagram provides a powerful diagnostic and discussion tool. Any given matrix is never perfect. It will never perfectly describe or capture every case in a problem set. However, the Johari window is a place to start thinking and facilitate discussion. Teams can gather to plot cases and create a more detailed picture. You might find, for example, that most of your data points fall in a particular quadrant. This could have a strategic impact on how you approach problem solving.

When used to describe individuals and relationships, a Johari window model can help people understand how they are similar to and different from one another. Having a common “map” for seeing similarities and differences is always helpful for developing teamwork.

I hope you’re getting the idea of how versatile and helpful a Johari window can be. Once you get the hang of creating them, you’ll be able to map out matrices for all kinds of problems. (I developed the three examples above, on the fly, for this article.)

Pick a problem. Consider critical elements of the problem. Pick two and start playing with a Johari window. You might develop some great insights and a powerful tool for problem solving with your team!

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.


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