Where is the next big idea for my company going to come from? This is a strategic question that business owners have probably been asking since the Industrial Revolution.

The business tool often used these days is the SWOT Analysis.  And not just to find new market or product ideas.  It’s also a great tool for the development of defensive strategies.

If you haven’t been involved in a SWOT, it is a proven brainstorming technique to identify your firms’ Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s often used in the early stage of developing a strategic marketing plan to pinpoint the company’s most marketable assets and the things that might get in the way of achieving goals.

This post isn’t a how-to guide on SWOT. There are plenty of articles and books for that.  Rather I’m going to share three important insights about the process and what it reveals about the makeup of your company, team and culture.

SWOT Analysis

STRATEGIC COMPETENCIES

Here’s where you find out what’s really of value to your best customers.  To expand your market share, you’re going to have to do more than employ good people, make quality products and provide customer service.  In fact, those are simply the cost of entry in today’s hyper-competitive product categories.

Did Jimmy John’s become the marketing juggernaut it is by promoting the quality of its ingredients? Not really.  It grew to prominence by first recognizing and then fulfilling a need in the market place – very fast, well-made sandwiches for busy people.  That wouldn’t be possible without matching its strength (operational excellence) with a viable customer need (good food, prepared & delivered quickly).

The question you’re looking to answer is: What resources, technologies or processes will provide customer value and differentiate my product?

HOW MANY “RADICAL THINKERS” ARE ON THE TEAM?

To be effective at SWOT Analysis, tap into a diverse group of folks you trust.  Most of the companies I’ve worked with engage a cross functional team to conduct a SWOT.  Fill the meeting with different types of personalities, levels, areas of expertise.  That’s how the best brainstorming takes place.  If your SWOT Analysis isn’t producing potential big ideas, you may have some wrong folks on the bus.  Find a way to add mavericks or radical thinkers to the team.  They’re also known as “mad scientists.”

THE WORLD IS FULL OF POSSIBILITIES

If your team goes silent during the Opportunity brainstorming, you may be in trouble.  It points to several possibilities that need addressing.

Your team may be short on ideas because they haven’t thought hard enough about the growth opportunities that are present in the market place.  It’s also possible they haven’t been provided with the right stimulus for the analysis.  It’s very difficult to brainstorm unless participants have been given something to start with.  Examples include well-worded open-ended questions or small team exercises.  Send them into the field to visit with customers or observe end users to discover unmet customer needs.

Once Opportunities have been identified, the real work begins in prioritizing them.  Eliminating the ideas that don’t fit with your organization’s brand, culture and resources is a good start in the prioritization process.  If your team is good at this part of the process, you’ve got a decisive staff, ready to take action on the next big idea.