The industry was undergoing huge change (the technologies being used were changing rapidly and so were customers’ priorities) and so it seemed to make sense to apply the well-known ‘SWOT’ analysis tool we had been taught on the MBA: to identify the Strengths and Weaknesses of the business and compare them against the Opportunities and Threats emerging in the marketplace.
The trouble was, the model just didn’t make sense — or rather, it wasn’t useful. Yes, the shift from old technology to new technology was a ‘threat’ to the existing business. But if we moved fast to adopt the new technologies then it could also become an ‘opportunity’ to upgrade old systems. The rise of cheaper remote programming centres that competitors were building in Ireland (and later India) was a ‘threat’ if we did nothing. But again, if we built our own data centres then they would become an ‘opportunity’. The ‘strengths’ we supposedly had created in delivering old technologies were fast becoming an irrelevant weakness. And as the needs of customers changed, so the ability to deliver what they needed yesterday was fast becoming a ball and chain that was holding the business back from delivering what would be needed tomorrow.
What I realised then was that, in a time of change, ‘opportunities’ and ‘threats’ do not exist. And neither do ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’. Yes, change happens. But whether that turns out to be an ‘opportunity’ or a ‘threat’ depends not on the situation itself but on how we choose to respond. What seems like a strength can fast become an outdated weakness. And even a complete lack of ability can become a strength if it enables us to leapfrog competitors: Airbnb, for example, owns no hotels but has quickly become the world’s largest hotelier.
When we automatically label something as an ‘opportunity’ or a ‘threat’ we are making an assumption based on the way the world used to work. And in a time of change that assumption may no longer hold true.
If we realise, instead, that whether something is an ‘opportunity’ or a ‘threat’ depends mostly on how we choose to respond, then potentially everything becomes an opportunity — if we know how to find it.
What opportunities and threats you currently face? How could you turn the threats into opportunities? What do you think of as your top strengths and weaknesses? How could you turn your weaknesses into strengths? Is there a scenario (like a global pandemic) that would suddenly turn your ‘strengths’ into weaknesses?
Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.
You can sign up to daily posts here.
(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)