Last week I facilitated a 2-day brainstorming meeting for the National Confectioners Association (NCA). One of the methods I've developed is a my own variation on the tried-and-true S.W.O.T. Analysis.
We know that Strengths and Weaknesses are based on INTERNAL factors. Where are we strong? Where are we weak? Groups never have a problem listing these.
The Opportunity portion gives participants a chance to think EXTERNALLY. Is there new technology we should be using? Do our customers have a new and/or different need we could fill for them? Like Strengths and Weaknesses, there never seems a lack of ideas here.
Where most groups fall down is in the Threats discussion. It's relatively easy to compile a list of external threats. For almost every organization I've worked with, for example, the economy, technology, terrorism, Mother Nature, and government regulations are on that list.
But so what? What happens next in the discussion? Sure, it's important to be prepared for such possibilities, but for the most part, these are contingency plans. And, frankly, in brainstorming sessions, most corporations and associations are focused on proactive thinking, not reactive.
At this point I turn the Threat discussion around and offer a new perspective for the participants; a Threat-You-Can't-See discussion.
I think it was Bill Gates who said many years ago, "I'm not worried about the competition I can see. I know what they're doing. It's the competition I can't see that keeps me awake at night. It's the guys in a garage somewhere that I don't know about, who are working on something I haven't thought of." (BTW, I have no idea what the exact quote was. I'm going on my certainly unreliable well-over-50 memory.)
The scenario I posed to the Confectioners task force last week was this:
With this type of conversation, you turn the Threat discussion around from reactionary planning back to proactive. By putting them in a different frame of thinking, the NCA participants were able to identify those areas they needed to actively work on right now. In addition, this discussion both reinforces and amplifies some of the Weakneses, but from a new perspective.
Give it a shot for your own organization, no matter your size. You might find it not only shows you gaps that need plugging, but you might also discover new areas of opportunity not thought of before!
Excellent thinking. By anticipating threats and working proactively, not only can a company prepare for such threats, but may also discover a new niche they can fill.
Good thinking Steve. Too often the SWOT part of the strategic planning meeting is an obligatory hour of flip charts with little bearing on any actions/decisions made later on.
You’re right, Kim. I didn’t talk about that. A well-thought out SWOT discussion can and should determine those Key Initiatives that drive future planning!
That’s good critical thinking, Steve. Great post. Successful organizations can become complacent, which invites attack. Encouraging a culture of critical thinking and always objectively looking for that white space is a great way to help a succcessful organization keep its edge.
Does this mean that even though I’m paranoid, people might still actually be out to get me??
Seriously, this is a great way to think about external threats and where weaknesses and hence opportunities are. Thanks Steve.