The weaknesses and threats of SWOT analysis

by John Mahaffie on August 2, 2012

Used in the typical way, SWOT analysis can do more harm than good. Why? Because the tool too easily forces thinking that ignores the future.

Using the four SWOT categories; strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a recipe, if you don’t take care, for a firm focus on the present. It gives you an organizational assessment, at best.

Typically, a group sits down with flip charts or white boards and inventories the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

And typically, the group has the immediate concerns of the organization foremost in its mind.

  • The strengths are those that have, for the past while, made or kept the organization strong, or should have.
  • The weaknesses are those things that are keeping the organization from prevailing or growing as it would like to in the past and today.
  • The opportunities are things about the current marketplace that suggest there could be more growth and other successes, if only the organization took advantage of them.
  • The threats are things that are freaking people in the organization out right now: who, or what is going to get them, to eat their lunch.
That present day focus is limiting, it fails to account enough for a changing world.

What to do about this

Modify SWOTs to be sure it pushes the view into your future, at least ten years out. Define the elements like this:

Strengths — What attributes of the organization will help us face the changes shaping our business over the next ten years?

Weaknesses — What are gaps and insufficiencies in our skills, organization, financial position, technology, etc. that could dampen our success over the next ten years?

Opportunities — What new areas of growth, development, alliance, expansion, etc. could we take advantage of in the coming decade and beyond?

Threats — What and who could challenge us over the next decade, putting our business, our current market share, etc. at risk?

Reworking SWOT analysis this way will make it a powerful tool for exploring your future, and get you beyond presentist thinking.

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