How you choose to prioritize your actions depends on how you assess your company’s or group’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. One familiar diagnostic tool, to “estimate the situation correctly” and determine how and where to “concentrate your strength,” is the SWOT[1] analysis (Table 8.1). It is a widely used and time-tested approach, especially within the framework of shifting to the offensive.

When employed in a group setting, it provides a highly reliable technique for estimating your situation from internal and external vantage points. You also have options of adding complexity to the analysis by using a quantitative weighting system to grade each of the items you wish to evaluate. Or you can simplify the use of SWOT by referring to the points as a guide to an informal, freewheeling discussion.

Even with your best efforts at conducting an accurate SWOT analysis, the reality exists that your business plans can come apart when your original estimates about market conditions do not materialize.

Unforeseen situations can loom as potential threats, such as unexpected price wars, disgruntled channel members along the supply-chain, changing industry priorities, or shifting demographics in your primary segments. In addition, there are threats from overly aggressive competitors that can hamper your best efforts.

Therefore, build enough flexibility and what-if scenarios into your business plans. Also, develop second-tier objectives in the event the primary ones are no longer within reach. Then you can react in sufficient time to remedy situations that might otherwise deteriorate beyond a reasonable chance of recovery.

SWOT Analysis


Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats


Look objectively at your organization’s or group’s unique strengths, not just its physical resources.

Identify those special skills inherent in your organization that would permit you to push the boundaries of innovation and discovery.

Single out any unique characteristics in corporate culture, leadership, internal communications, products, systems, technologies, and processes.

Now, do the same analysis about your competitor.


Determine what weaknesses you see among the above factors. Look at possible choke points that could prevent implementing business plans.

Examine what can be revamped, reorganized, or discarded. Estimate at what costs in time, money, and resources drawbacks can be remedied.

What weaknesses can you detect about your competitor?


In scanning the customer, competitor, industry, and environmental situations, what opportunities do you see that would represent a decisive point?

What openings exist to displace the competition, expand the company’s entry into new markets, serve new customer groups, or generate new revenue sources?

How would you define the opportunities for long-term growth vs. short-term limited payouts?

What similar opportunities would your competitor have against you?


What immediate and longer-term threats do you anticipate, and how are you going to face them?

Are advances in technology outpacing your company’s financial and human capabilities to keep up?

What governmental, environmental, or legislative issues are looming to hinder your ability to operate profitably?

What point of concentration can competitors use to threaten your market position?

In any specific action, we always have the choice between the most audacious and the most careful solution. Some people think that the theory of war always advises the latter. That assumption is false. If the theory does advise anything, it is the nature of war to advise the most decisive, that is, the most audacious.


Consistent with the strategy of shifting to the offensive, Clausewitz reinforces the point by advising that if given the “choice between the most audacious and the most careful solutions,” take the “most decisive, that is, the most audacious,” pathway to activate your plans. All things considered, then, when activating your plans, you can take an audacious course of action in such areas as enhancing your product’s competitive position with new applications or launching into emerging market niches to open new revenue streams.

As for additional possibilities, you can push pricing decisions down to field personnel, initiate fresh promotional incentives, establish joint ventures to access new technologies, and install innovative value-added programs within the supply-chain.

As to what constitutes bold, you would have to determine that by looking at the historical patterns in your industry or your marketplace, observing the general buying patterns when new innovations are introduced, and observing the nature of the competition at all levels of the marketing mix. Again, to keep a sense of balance, keep in mind that these factors are bound to a guideline of “when on the defensive, plan for the offensive.”

In any circumstance, it is an unacceptable alternative to stand still, immobilized by fear, and see your business plans falter or to take the risk of giving your competitors open access to your markets and supply-chain. Then, you may have to endure the disagreeable task of going back to management with a suitable explanation and appeal for more resources—with the strong odds of being turned down.

An additional and workable solution to permit flexibility is to retain sufficient reserves. This maximizes your ability to maintain an elastic position against known and unknown circumstances. Within that same context look to your staff for answers, for the wise executive “selects his men and they exploit the situation.”

  • [1] In addition to SWOT, use the evaluation tools provided in the appendices to this book: StrategyDiagnostic System and Appraising Internal and External Conditions. If you find other tools arereadily available that would serve your company’s needs, use them.
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