We officially call this the Desire and Possession template, which actually means the same thing as wanting and having. 

It’s a powerful way to map out a person’s (or work team’s) situation, and to pinpoint potentially helpful changes. It’s also an effective tool for anyone experiencing dissatisfaction or lack of fulfillment in any important area of life. And if you’re a coach, it’s a handy way to get clients on track.

In the top right quadrant, the client places items that they want and have. In the next quadrant (to the left), they list items that they want but do not have. Next, moving down one quadrant, they put what they don’t want AND don’t have. Finally, sliding to the right again, we get to what they have but would prefer to be rid of. 

In the middle is the Zone of Ambiguity/Ambivalence, which are the elements in our lives that don’t fit so neatly into the other categories.

I usually guide my clients through the matrix by starting in the top-right quadrant, moving in a Z-shape pattern to the lower left quadrant, and then ending up in the middle. 

I start in the want-and-already-have zone because it sets a keynote of gratitude. You could say that the top right quadrant is where we count our blessings. What do you have in your life/work now that you want?  The types of things I hear may include:

  • “I have interesting work.” 
  • “I have a variety of work.” 
  • “I receive really clear directions from my manager.” 
  • “I like my teammates.”

Apart from anything else, this is a good anchor for not screwing things up. If we’re going to make changes in our lives or careers, let’s not lose what we already have and like. 

Then there is don’t-have-but-do-want. There is always plenty of material to fill this quadrant – perhaps that’s the nature of the human animal. It’s certainly the nature of most businesses. I ask: What do you want in your company/job situation/life that you do not currently possess? People might say:

  • “I want to work with really smart people who inspire me.” 
  • “I want more recognition from my teammates.” 
  • “I want to do that really cool project that everybody gets to work on besides me.” 
  • “I want better pay.” 
  • “I want to elevate myself to be a leader and get a promotion.” 

These unfulfilled aspirations become issues that I coach around. The next few sessions can all be about: Well, how can you get those things? 

cardsmith board example of the have/want analysis

Often, I start my coaching sessions with an open question like, “What’s on your mind today? What would you like to be coached on today?” Or, more specifically, “What would you like the outcome of this session to be?” If the client is in an unfocussed or noncommittal head space and says, “I really don’t know,” then I can reach for the want-but-don’t-have list we created previously. It always provides a fertile starting point.

Then there is what we don’t want, but do have. These would be things like:

  • “I have to fill out tedious paperwork every day.” 
  • “I have to sit through this boring meeting every week, which annoys me and I see no value in it.” 
  • “I can’t get the team I lead to cohere and work together effectively.” 

This quadrant also offers potent departure points for coaching. The governing question is, how do we get rid of what we don’t want? Do we delegate tasks, find a different job, develop new skills, improve existing skills, negotiate with powers-that-be, ask the right person for help, etc.?

By contrast, don’t-want-and-don’t-have is another gratitude zone. Here, we appreciate that we are actually free from a number of easily identifiable troubles, and this can also be very clarifying as well as reassuring and even uplifting. People might say, “Well, I don’t want backstabbing coworkers.” Great! So don’t change jobs to a place where you’re going to have to deal with backstabbing coworkers. 

The utility of this quadrant is that it helps us identify things we want to avoid, and conditions that may arise with changes we set out to make if we are not sufficiently careful in our decision-making. But more than this, like want-and-have, it also highlights the reality that some things really are working just fine for us!

But perhaps the most provocative zone is the one in the middle, and this is where I most often hear people remark that the Have/Want matrix is an incredibly useful tool … because so much of what we think we want isn’t quite what we want. Or we’re not sure. The matrix – and in particular, the Ambiguity zone — helps us to tease out the nuances. 

For example, I’ve heard people say, “I get stressed out because I’m working on so many projects at one time.” And then in the next sentence (or in our next session) they’ll say, “I love the variety in my job. I get to work on all these different kinds of projects.” This is a very juicy issue to unpack! Maybe we can fine tune or tweak some things to get more joy, as opposed to stress, from having so many projects. Maybe we can find a way to pare 17 projects down to a person’s favorite 12. Or maybe, if they can simply learn to manage their time a bit better, they can truly enjoy all the variety they get to experience.

As a coach, I’m always trying to keep my clients on a track of progress and forward movement. But like anyone else, my clients get busy. They forget what they’re really trying to achieve, they forget what they want, and they forget what they don’t want. With this tool, I can come back to them and say, well, let’s look again at this or that. It’s a very rich process. I’ve used this tool with people for 20 or 30 minutes and ended up with material for five or six hour-long coaching sessions! 

This template/matrix gives me a menu of things to work with and talk about with my clients, and it all feels very natural. There is nothing contrived or forced about it. Best of all, my clients enjoy it, even as they’re using it to do serious, productive work.