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The Zen of SWOT Analysis

The Zen of SWOT Analysis

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is important when you are on the road to success. After all, nobody is perfect!

Now if you’re one of those people who has an ‘over-inflated’ ego, chances are you’ve got buckets of self-confidence and a self-image that believes it can do no wrong.

However, don’t forget this important point – you can still make mistakes like us mere mortals too! So maybe you should stop and take stock before you rush head-long into your goals

For the rest of us who still struggle, there is something that can help us a lot in our quest for achievement.

One of my favourite quotes (and you’ll probably hear me say it a lot on this site!) is from Sun Tzu (the ancient author of the famous Chinese ‘Art of War’ written over two thousand years ago.) It goes like this: ‘Know Your Enemy, Know Yourself.’

This exemplifies two things – to succeed in war and strategy, you need to know your enemy thoroughly AND know yourself implicitly. You need to know what makes him tick, and also what makes YOU operate the way you do as well.

The great thing about a lot of the teachings of the Art of War (which is derived from the Chinese philosophy of Taoism), is that it can be applied to many, many other situations. And this includes the art of success as well (well, let’s face it – the whole book was about success in warfare anyway!)

And there’s a great way of applying this concept to your goals or projects in a very practical way.

SWOT analysis  – the ‘Zen’ approach to planning for success. (Tweet this!)

What is SWOT analysis?

If you have set yourself a goal or project (and you want to analyse the chances of it reaching a successful conclusion) you can apply a very long-established model that been used repeatedly by the business community (and if your goal is one of business success, you might want to take notice of this one!)

It’s called a SWOT analysis, a very simple method that has been proven to work time and time again. This (of course!) is mnemonic and it stands for the following:

 S             –              STRENGTHS

W           –              WEAKNESSES

O            –              OPPORTUNITIES

T            –              THREATS


How does it work?

Well, this is very simple really. For example, if a business decides it’s going to launch a new product or service, it will first subject the idea to the SWOT analysis.

The first factor the business will look at is the STRENGTHS. This means that they will ask themselves such questions as:

What are the strengths of the product? To whom does it appeal to? What market (or niche market) does it fit into to? Does it solve a problem? Is it well constructed, fit-for-purpose, well –designed, appropriately priced etc. etc.?

If the answers to this question are all positive, these are the strengths of the product which the business will want to build on in order to bring it to market.

The second factor they will look at is the WEAKNESSES. In terms of the product, the business will look at anything that might undermine or weaken its position. Essentially, these would be negative responses to the questions asked above.

For instance, it might be identified that, although there is a demand for the product, the production costs have driven up the price far higher than the amount customers would be prepared to pay within the niche market. This might also depend on the current economic climate as well.

Also, the product design may not stand up to rigorous testing, so this would need to be addressed before it goes into final production. There may also be rival products on the market which are of a higher standard etc. etc.

In fact, there may be a host of weaknesses that might be flagged up during this analysis which would need to be highlighted. However, that’s the point of it – so that these weaknesses can be dealt with as soon as possible and at the earliest stage possible.

The third factor a business will look at is OPPORTUNITIES.  In the case of the new product, they will look at such things as the size of the potential market, who the customers are likely to be, what position it will take, what gap in the niche market it fulfils and what opportunities have already been missed by the competition. They will also look at things such as marketing and promotional opportunities for the product, whereabouts the potential customers are likely to encounter the product and when would be the best time to introduce it.

In fact, they will look at a range of opportunities which could be exploited in order to gain the highest possible advantage. The aim of this is to maximise the potential profit that could be obtained from taking this product to market at the right time. If and when these opportunities are identified the business should naturally then exploit them.

The fourth and final factor the business will consider is the presence of any THREATS. For this, they will need to consider what threats there are in getting this product to market, such as the strength and presence of the competition, and whether there is an existing product that already dominates the niche (as stated above in WEAKNESSES.)

They may need to consider the likelihood of it being copied (for which they’d need to consider patent and trademark protection.) They may need to consider such things as the expense of production and the marketing the product. In fact, there would probably be a myriad of things they’d need to take into account within this section and which could be a major hindrance to the promotion and profitability of their product (much of which would link in with the weaknesses identified previously.)

So, in summation, a business would and should always undertake a SWOT analysis before taking a product to market.

How can you apply SWOT to your success goals?

The great thing about using SWOT as an aide to creating a powerful psychology of success is that it so simple but effective.

All you have to do is subject your goal to the same rigorous analysis as the business would do for the product or service launch. In other words, identify the strengths of your project and the weaknesses you may encounter. Then look for the opportunities you may have to progress it and the threats that may emerge.

For example, let’s say John sets a goal of writing a novel. He decides to undertake a SWOT analysis to see how likely it is he will be able to write and complete it (let’s say that John decides to leave the actual publication side until later.)

These might be the things John identifies under his SWOT analysis:

Strengths – John identifies that he is a capable writer and that the task would not be that daunting. He has a really strong idea for a plot which he has already worked out, has undertaken a substantial amount of research and has already got most of the characterisation sorted. He’s had experience of writing some short stories and has managed to already publish one or two on Amazon Kindle. John strongly believes that a major strength of the story is that it is so powerful and original that this will be strong enough to keep him motivated to write and complete the novel. This should be enough to see it through to completion, as well as the personal satisfaction of having actually finally written a novel.

Weaknesses – John is still unsure about the locations he is going to feature in the novel’s setting, especially as some of them are overseas in places he has never visited before. He is going to need to do some more research into these before he can get started, which is a bit of a pain as he chomping at the bit to get started. Moreover, he is starting to have one or two doubts about the end market for the story. Even though he is personally motivated by the plot, he’s not sure other people will necessarily want to read it at the end of the day. If this is the case, what will be the point of reading it?

Of course, there are two major ways he can overcome these weaknesses. He can do some research into the overseas locations without having to jet off there, just by using the internet. And, as for people not liking it – so what? He can just write it for himself initially then worry about that later. Anyway, it’s probably likely some people will want to read it when it’s completed, so he shouldn’t let that put him off!

Opportunities – John can now turn his attention to the opportunities he has before him to get the novel written. As stated before, he has already written short stories before so he’s already proven himself able to complete the task. He has a lap-top with a remote keyboard set-up on a work station he has arranged in an office. His family know to leave him alone when he’s in there working, so he should be relatively undisturbed. He has already obtained a decent piece of writing software which will help him to fully plan and write the novel quickly and easily. Apart from completing that bit of research he needs to do, he has plenty of opportunity to start cracking on with the task.

Threats – the final thing John should consider is potential threats. There could be many of these. He has a full time job and a family, which means that time is going to be a factor. He could end up being short of time due to other commitments, which might mean he never gets the task done. Furthermore, John does have a powerful inner critic which tends to puts its oar in from time to time. (This is a metaphysical manifestation of the ‘enemy’ whom Sun Tzu said you should ‘know’!) When this happens, he does tend to become overwhelmed and develop ‘writer’s block.’ This happened previously when he was writing his short stories.

In this case, John could quite easily overcome these threats by putting aside writing time outside of work commitments and negotiating with his family to allow him to use this without any disruptions, in return for him spending some quality time with them. And as for the inner critic, he could easily sign up for some writing-related coaching programmes which can help deal with this problem – (such as the products and programmes run by my friend Jurgen Wolff!)

So, by running his own SWOT analysis, John can create a powerful strategy which will help him to complete his goal of writing his novel…

So, why don’t you try this with your own goal or goals?


Whatever your goal is, try subjecting it to a SWOT analysis using the table below (remember, to print this article off all you have to do is hit the ‘print friendly’ button at the bottom):




STRENGTHS – what are the strengths of the goal? For instance, what will you gain as result of achieving it? What is a powerful motivator that will keep you focussed? What is so really powerful about this goal that makes it worth pursuing? Think of as many strength as you can.
WEAKNESSES – what are its weaknesses? What could undermine progress towards achieving it? What things have you not considered yet which you should consider? Again, think of as many as you possibly can and then try and think of ways you can overcome these weaknesses. Be as creative as possible.
OPPORTUNITIES – what opportunities are available to really push this goal forward? What will help you work towards it? What actions can you take advantage of to give dynamism to the goal? Remember, the factors you identify here are your ‘allies’ in being able to powerfully progress your goal to its ultimate conclusion!
THREATS – what threats are there to your goal? What might halt the whole thing it its tracks? What blocks might you encounter? In particular, do you have an inner critic which might want to undermine your every move? Be as specific and honest as possible here, as it will help you powerfully identify what the threats are before you begin and –hopefully – allow you to neutralise them before they have any opportunity to cause any harm to your intentions.


What do you think? Add your comment below. If you have made use of this exercise and have found it useful, your feedback would be most appreciated!

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