SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The analytical tool has been in use for around fifty years, and while some attribute the origin of the SWOT analysis to Stanford Research Institute’s Albert Humphrey, because he doesn’t take credit for it, the derivation of the device is not clear. Nonetheless, SWOT analysis has been a mainstay of organizational strategy, in part due to its simplicity and exposing power.
The device considers both internal and external factors to help identify areas of improvement and potential areas for emphasis. The SWOT analysis provides a concise snapshot of an organization’s present health as well as uncovering opportunities for refinement and growth. The internal factors considered are strengths and weaknesses. Identifying current strengths and weaknesses within the organization helps leaders assess how well the organization is meeting its mission or how badly it is missing the mark. On the external side, opportunities and threats are examined in order to evaluate climate and environment for that organization’s function. SWOT analysis is a tool that can help organizations monitor past and present performance (strengths and weaknesses) and to identify action points in anticipation of the future (opportunities and threats).
For example, in the late 1990’s Kodak began experiencing significant financial difficulty. Their primary products were film-based. A SWOT analysis for Kodak then would have revealed that the emerging technologies which were making digital photography much more accessible to the marketplace were a threat to Kodak’s film dominance. Little more than a decade later, after being unable to adapt quickly enough, Kodak had to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. Emerging from that process, Kodak has since broadened its product line to account for emerging technologies, and has seen marked financial improvement.
Like most common-sense tools for organizational health and leadership, the SWOT analysis has Biblical parallels, and what can be used to guard and protect organizational health can also be used in self-assessment and personal growth. Let’s parse the device one more time, this time to underscore the Biblical principles.
The internal and past-looking components are the strengths and weaknesses assessment. The Christian is told repeatedly to look to the past and present to be aware of strengths and weaknesses. Whereas an organization might compare the strengths and weaknesses to its mission in order to assess the present level of overall success, an individual can do the same. If the highest order personal goal is to glorify God in all things (1 Cor 6:20, 10:31), then all (intermediate) actions should contribute to the accomplishing of that goal. For example, Christians are told to love one another (Rom 12:10, Col 3:14), and to love everyone else (Rom 13:8). We are reminded that the one who doesn’t love his brother is described as walking around in a blinding darkness (1 Jn 2:11).
To assess whether one is strong or weak in love, we can look at the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, for example. The chapter first describes the centrality of love. If we do great things, but don’t have love, we are “nothing” (1 Cor 13:2). The chapter then describes love in practical terms that make it easy for us to assess:
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor 13:4-8a).
If I we are not demonstrating these characteristics, then we do not have love – we are not loving. We can assess whether or not love is in our strengths or weaknesses column. And lest we become prideful in identifying love as a strength, we can consider two things: (1) love is not arrogant (pride in being loving is a self-contradictory concept), and (2) love is identified as fruit of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers (Gal 5:22), and thus we can take no credit for our having and showing love. Yet, if we are not showing love, we are worthy of the blame, because we are told to actively walk in submission to the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16).
Understanding, for example, that the love we have and show will be proportionate to the degree we are submitted to the Holy Spirit (e.g., Eph 5:17-19, Gal 5:16), a SWOT analysis of our personal life should draw into sharp focus our relationship with God and how faithfully (or not) we are reflecting that relationship in our daily lives. Just as in an organizational assessment, strengths and weaknesses are not identified for purposes of pride, in personal assessment strengths and weaknesses are examined as a status report on faithfulness to the mission (of glorifying Him).
The external and forward-looking aspects of the SWOT analysis are opportunities and threats. The threats part is easy: Ephesians 2:1-3 describes three threats to the believer: the world (system, not the people in it), the flesh, and the devil. So the believer must always be on the lookout for how these three things might manifest themselves. The opportunities component can be a bit more challenging, but an honest assessment reveals many opportunities. For example, believers are exhorted in Hebrews 10:24-25 to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling…but encouraging one another…” One opportunity might be to have more committed fellowship with other believers. If we are charged with looking after the well-being of others, and they are charged with looking after ours (Php 2:1-5), then it would only be beneficial to be more engaged with others.
Balanced introspection and self-assessment is a good thing. Obviously an imbalance can be self centered and inappropriate. The SWOT analysis can be a helpful tool to help each one “examine his own work” (Gal 6:4). The principles that are effective for an organization are also effective in one’s personal life. And interestingly – though not surprisingly – the basic Biblical principles of faithfulness within an individual’s personal life correlate to organizational leadership and health principles. God’s word simply works.
For those who might be unknowingly borrowing Biblical principles and seeing their positive fruit, I encourage you to consider the Source, to taste and see that the Lord is good. How blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him (Ps 34:8).