Opportunities and threats do not exist

Climbing a frozen waterfall -- a threat, or an opportunity?When I was fairly fresh out of business school I was asked to prepare a strategic business plan for a half billion dollar pan-European technology services business.

The sector was undergoing a lot of change, both in the technologies being used and the way they were being applied. The needs of the customer and the customer’s customers were also changing so I thought it made sense to apply the well-known SWOT analysis tool we had been taught on the MBA: to list the internal Strengths and Weakness of the business and compare them against the external Opportunities and Threats in the marketplace.

The trouble was, the model didn’t make sense. Or rather, it wasn’t useful. The shift from old technology to new technology was a threat to the existing business model. 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 if we built our own data centres then it would become an opportunity. The strengths we thought we had in delivering old technologies were fast becoming an irrelevant weakness. And as the needs of our customers and their customers changed, so the ability to deliver what they wanted yesterday was becoming a ball and chain that was holding us back from delivering what they wanted tomorrow.

What I discovered then was that, during times of change, threats and opportunities don’t really exist. And neither do strengths and weaknesses.

Yes, there are changes in the marketplace. But whether they turn out to be ‘opportunities’ or ‘threats’ depends more on how we choose to respond than on any intrinsic characteristic of the situation. Similarly ‘strengths’ can fast become outdated weaknesses and even a complete lack of ability in an area can become a strength if it allows you to move faster than competitors. Just look at Airbnb.

‘Opportunities’ and ‘threats’ do not exist except in the way we choose to respond to a situation.

What do you see as your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? How might you turn the threats into opportunities? How might a competitor or new entrant turn your strengths into weaknesses?


Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Laurel F via StockPholio.net

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