Death to the SWOT

A New Game Plan for Planning 2013

Please toss out your SWOT analysis and replace it with these easy to use new tools for strategic innovation.

‘Tis the season for evaluating our performance in 2012 and dusting off our strategic plans to refresh them for 2013.

I have a radical idea.

Please don’t start with a SWOT analysis.

For those of you who haven’t used them, the SWOT analysis is a tradition in many board rooms and break rooms. We analyze our companies based on our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats and magically discover what our next move can be to grow our companies by 10 percent.

What should the rat do next?

What should the rat do next?

The problem with SWOTs is that they weren’t designed to automatically help us discover what to do next. As a matter of fact, I’ve sat through hundreds of strategy sessions that start with a big SWOT assessment on the wall and observed the glazed-over eyes staring at all of the data posted all around the room.

That glazed-over look always reminds me of my expression when I once walked into a science lab where lots of data was displayed all around me about how the rats had been responding to their mazes for the past week. I thought, “Well, I can see what the animals have been doing in the past, but it’s very hard to tell what might happen next.”

Don’t get me wrong—there is a time and place for SWOTs and rear view mirror metrics are exceedingly helpful in assessing where we are on many levels. But the problem is that no matter how long we stare at our present situation, we will be operating at a severe disadvantage when it comes to the future if we don’t upgrade and rethink our perspectives to include what I believe to be the new basic tools for figuring out what we should really do next:

1) SWOTS ARE STATIC. THE WORLD OF BUSINESS IS DYNAMIC. Replace “SWOT” analysis with foresight analysis. Piece together a view of opportunities that are on the horizon today and teach your team to discover what’s next (not only focus on what has been). Start with “trendification” (see #2) and “customerization” (see #3). Add in insights about business processes, talent and culture, and products or services and paint a picture for your team that shows a full spectrum view of the dynamic, rapidly-changing world you’re operating in.

For example, if you’re an airline, plaster the walls with insights and concepts from the evolving world of travel including what the life of a traveler looks like when they’re NOT flying on your airline. What about their kids? Pets? Plaster that data on the walls and begin to read the tea leaves.

2) REAL TIME IMMERSION IN TRENDS IS A DO OR DIE PROPOSITION. INCLUDE CROSS-INDUSTRY INSIGHTS. Replace “predictive modeling” with what I call “trendification”—a real-time response to emerging trends that will have an impact on your business. If you’re the Hyatt Hotels and you discover that great smelling rooms are at the top of the guests’ checklist, pay attention to what allergy clinics are doing. Overlay those insights onto #1. What can you learn from companies like FedEx, Virgin, Johnson & Johnson, or Nike?

3) TOMORROW’S CUSTOMERS ARE ALREADY SHOWING US THEIR PREFERENCES. Teach everyone in your organization the art and science of “customerization”—observe the movement of your current and prospective customers with a new lens. What else are your customers doing, buying, and feeling that can give you early signs of what your next move should be?

4) LEADERS FOR 2013 NEED TO LISTEN AND OBSERVE MUCH FASTER. Forget management by walking around. Dive in. Sprint. If you’re running a restaurant, invest the time to make a new dashboard that tells you what grocery stores and convenience stores are doing. Learn about what small innovative entrepreneurs are up to if you’re P&G or Nestle. Immerse yourself in the signs of the future today and be the kind of leader who inspires everyone around you to be inquisitive about what’s next.

Picture yourself leading a planning session like that to get ready for 2013. Then, do it.

20 Responses to “Death to the SWOT”

  1. Andrea Kates October 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Thank you for sharing Death to SWOT with your community. Eager to hear ideas for how to spread the revolution.

  2. Clay Phillips November 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    Andrea, I agree with your premise. The problem with a traditional SWOT is that it puts too much emphasis on strenghts and weaknesses as a constraining input rather than a desired outcome based on the magnitude of the opportunities and threats identified. SWOTs lead to incremental movement at best, which can work in some industries. But if you’re in a disruptive state, you need to understand the externals first (including the mega trends), figure out what the opportunities and threats are, and then build the strengths needed to take advantage of the opportunities and defend against the threats, and well as understand what weaknesses you’re willing to tolerate. Getting to the future first with giant steps is still more fun and rewarding that crawling.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks:

  1. A New Game Plan for Planning 2013 - October 26, 2012

    [...] var hupso_services=new Array("Twitter","Facebook","Google Plus","Linkedin","StumbleUpon","Digg","Reddit","Bebo","Delicious");var hupso_icon_type = "icons";Here is an excerpt from a recent blog post by Andrea Kates in which she explains why the SWOT analysis (of Strengths, Weaknesses/Limitations, Opportunities, and Threats) is inadequate to the challenges that await in 2013 and beyond. To read the complete article, please click here.] [...]

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