Meta-SWOT

In the face of uncertainty and disruption, strategic tools need a remake to be reliable guides in helping us interpret new contexts and unfamiliar challenges.

A daring strategy at times of disruption requires new thinking methods for value innovation

Thinking can be a dangerous act. The answers we give ourselves aren't always right, but sometimes they are comforting. We lean towards what we like to hear, but it often isn't the answer we need. Self-deception costs us a lot. We risk making bad decisions that lead to weak performance.

Often, our thinking habits freeze us to move with confidence on the best path forward. We get excited about the destination, but it is hard to turn it into a practical and actionable plan. Without one, we are bound to feel stuck despite our best efforts and intentions. A daring strategy at times of disruption requires new thinking methods to pursue value innovation and action learning. Not a simple task!

Tools as traps

Tools, of course, can be the subtlest of traps.

Neil Gaiman

Strategic tools are not to be taken lightly. They are powerful instruments but always at fault if the results are disappointing. The reality is that context changes faster than our ability to adapt. In our attempt to fight disruption and complexity, we trade ease of use and speed for biases. Simplicity allows subtle biases to creep in and influence the way we think. They limit our ability to be creative about the challenges we face and discover insights. 

  • Given the right tools, everyone who influences outcomes can make a difference and impact success. 

  • Given the inappropriate tools, teams can sabotage the strategic process and make suboptimal decisions.   

Classic SWOT

It may come as a surprise, but the number one strategic tool used in business today is SWOT. A team at the Stanford Research Institute wanted to know why corporate planning failed. So, they asked companies about the satisfactory factors in the business, the opportunities, faults, and threats. The analysis led to the first release of the framework, known as SOFT. Later, satisfactory factors became strengths, and faults turned into weaknesses. SWOT as we know it was born.

SWOT quickly gained popularity as a simple tool used for organizational analysis to communicate the strategy. As a high-level overview, many rely on it to create a shared understanding. But there is a limit: SWOT is there to justify the direction, not set the course of action.

It is a big stretch to imagine that SWOT can become a mindmap. But it is our intent and where we are heading with its remake. Why? Because we are after interesting cues, which the classic view doesn't offer.

Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today's job with yesterday's tools and yesterday's concepts.

Marshall McLuhan

Meta-SWOT

Forget for a moment the current layout and four sections and think about them as building blocks that can shift positions. Now, SWOT is no longer a static form but a dynamic platform for strategic insights.

There are multiple ways how to create useful templates for critical analysis. Our approach is to put any of the four components at the center of the model to build a specific scenario. These lenses provide more depth without adding extra complexity to the discussion. The relationships are sources of insights to identify the unique position for the business. All you need to do is shift perspectives several times.

We build the mindmap by using the power of connections:

  • Strengths are closely linked to Weaknesses in the same way Opportunities are connected to Threats. Based on the context, they all can change roles and meaning. 

  • Some Opportunities can be transformational and make Weaknesses irrelevant. 

  • Threats can reinforce Weaknesses and make Opportunities out of reach without relevant Strengths

Meta-SWOT overcomes the limitations of oversimplification by using mindmaps and scenarios. SWOT is so widely used because of its simplicity. We didn't want to lose this advantage. We made Meta-SWOT easy to use by building four templates:

#1. Scenario Core Strength

Core Strength is the most direct route to action strategy. It helps you build a robust core in the business that can prevail in times of uncertainty and potential disruptions. It consolidates your skills and capabilities as your greatest assets. We’ve built this scenario using the theory of Effectuation, developed by Saras Sarasvathy in 2001.

#2. Scenario Core Weakness

Core Weakness is a breakthrough scenario and the most transformational strategy. It helps you assess the extent of your weaknesses and how to build your strengths outside the narrow mindset. Core Weakness provides openings for difficult conversations and ways to move forward with a solid understanding of weak areas.

#3. Scenario Core Opportunity

Core Opportunity is a disruption scenario and the most goal-oriented strategy. It helps you plan how to seize the Opportunity from within and close any gaps in your current skills. Core Opportunity allows you to assess possible scenarios of the future and how best to adapt and thrive during disruption.

#4. Scenario Inside Threat

Insider Threat is a risk scenario and the most critical path to assess threats inside the business. It helps you identify red flags or possible self-sabotaging aspects that will affect the business in the long run. Inside Threat allows you to look for causality and identify creative solutions to risks.

Disruption shows up uninvited

Companies are rarely equipped with a protocol for disruption. When it happens, emergency meetings are called to address the big questions around scale, impact, and ways to control the situation.

Although an exciting route, it is hard to turn disruption into an opportunity. This depends entirely on the human variable and how we can adapt and change. It is a non-linear process of building a strategy that is both a coping mechanism in front of adversity and a chance for growth within the disruption zone.

We don't choose the scale of disruption that affects our lives and businesses, but we can choose how we respond to it. Having tools to help us cope with change is essential, but more importantly, we must know how to upgrade them to reflect the challenges right now.

Expecting the tools to be a perfect fit for our needs might be problematic. There's a great chance we'd end up losing focus on the problem or the goal to only 'please' the tool.

Classical SWOT analysis is limited to prioritizing elements. But Meta-SWOT focuses on the relationship between them. The conversation is open and goes beyond the scope of the few elements to draw a more coherent story around the brand and disruption. The result is a powerful narrative and an execution path based on insights. Try it for yourself.


Here is a link to our podcast episode on Meta-SWOT:

Odd Owtcomes: Meta-SWOT