One of the tools you can use when analyzing and getting to know yourself is a so-called SWOT analysis. The SWOT analysis is a structured planning method that had been used in management for decades before agile and lean entrepreneurship was even invented.
This is to say, I just want to emphasize that this blog is not only about applying agile and lean methods to personal lives, but also about applying all other business methods that prove to be valuable. It’s not like traditional tools are always outdated and the new ones are magical solutions. You just have to know which tools to use when.
When analyzing and getting to know yourself, the SWOT analysis can help you a lot. In business, the SWOT analysis is used to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats involved in a project or a business venture.
It can be applied to the level of a selected product, place, industry, entire organization or many other dimensions. As mentioned before, it can also be applied to a personal level, and it’s especially frequently used as a career-planning and decision-making tool.
- Strengths and weaknesses are considered as internal factors on which you have a direct influence and which you can change (or influence) by investing your time and energy.
- On the other hand, opportunities and threats are considered as external factors you have less influence on or maybe even none. Nevertheless, it’s also very important to consider external factors when preparing your strategy.
It’s very obvious that strengths and opportunities are favorable factors, and weaknesses and threats are unfavorable factors in terms of achieving your objectives.
Internal and external factors
When analyzing strengths and weaknesses, you are analyzing internal personal factors such as personal traits, competences, financial situation, knowledge, skills, personal network and so on. It’s the area that you have influence on, and you should act as proactively as possible, not reactively.
You should be aware of your strengths and act out of power. You should also be aware of your weaknesses and have an action plan concerning what do to about them.
Strengths are internal factors that positively influence your ability to achieve your objectives. It’s the area of your life where you are strong, where you are better than the competition and where your forte lies. It’s important to further develop your key strengths and make sure that they stay your strengths in the long term.
It’s easy to forget to constantly keep developing your strengths, but that’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If you aren’t progressing in life, you are going backwards and your strengths are no exception here.
While you are relying on your strengths and aren’t developing them further, there are many people out there who are working hard to enhance their strengths and who outwork you.
Some questions that can help you identify your personal strengths:
- What are your talents and which things are you naturally good at?
- Which knowledge and skills have you developed over the years and are really good at?
- What are your positive personality traits?
- What are you much better at than other people?
- Where do other people see your strengths and what are the qualities that people admire you for?
- What resources do you have at your disposal?
- Which subjects did you excel in during formal education?
- What contributed the most to your past victories?
Weaknesses, on the other hand, represent all the areas where you are lagging behind, where you have shortcomings and gaps in skills. Some of your weaknesses are easily seen while others are not.
You have to know that your enemies or competition will probably exploit your most obvious weaknesses.
Nevertheless, you should compile weaknesses into three categories:
- Critical weaknesses that you have to get rid of or convert into strengths. These are the weaknesses that prevent you from achieving your objectives or will maybe cause that kind of a situation in the future.
- Weaknesses that you have to at least neutralize if you want to achieve your goals and objectives.
- Weaknesses that are not a real problem and you should not bother with or those weaknesses that are part of your personal uniqueness and it is to your advantage to have to work around them (more about that later).
Some questions that can help you identify your personal weaknesses:
- Where could you improve? (You can do and look at your Kaizen list of potential improvements)
- Where are you not talented enough?
- Where in life have you struggled the most?
- Which things are you avoiding and are afraid of?
- Where do other people see possible space for improvement?
- Which resources are you lacking?
- Can you do anything better?
- Do you do anything badly?
Let’s now move on to external factors, threats and opportunities. When analyzing threats and opportunities, you are analyzing external factors such as market trends, labor market trends, macroeconomic stability and changes in your country, technological and legislation changes, promotion options, changes in the company you work for, people who have influence over your life etc.
You’re analyzing all the environmental factors in your life that affect you. It’s the area on which you have less influence and you should be as flexible as possible.
Opportunities are external factors that have a positive influence on you achieving your goals. It’s all about the environment’s paradigms and flows that help you achieve your objectives and accelerate your execution process. Opportunities are where you can go with the flow of the environment based on your strengths.
Understanding trends and opportunities is a big leverage you have to count into your life strategy. Markets and trends always win and you should never go against the market.
Going together with the market, preferably with one that’s in the phase of high growth, is the biggest opportunity in the environment there is. It’s essential to identify such opportunities for your success.
Questions to identify opportunities:
- Which are the biggest changes that are occurring in your current environment?
- Which opportunities are you not exploiting at the moment?
- Where do you see the biggest favorable circumstances for achieving your objectives?
- Do you know people who can help you achieve your objectives?
- What kind of moments do you hope for? Are they actually happening?
Last but not least, threats are external factors that have a negative influence and can prevent you from achieving your goals. It’s about analyzing external factors on which you don’t have much influence and which can prevent you from going forward.
When analyzing threats, you should think about possible alternatives and how to stay as flexible as possible. Being aware of potential threats even before they actually come to existence is very helpful, since you can react much more rationally when the threat actually occurs.
When analyzing threats, you also have to identify whether you are potentially going against the markets and what level of a challenge that really brings.
And some questions to identify threats:
- Which are the biggest changes that are occurring in your current environment?
- Which obstacles are you facing at the moment and why?
- Which is the biggest external danger to your goals?
- Which factors beyond your control can prevent you from achieving your goals?
- Which negative market trends are you facing at the moment?
- What are the biggest risks you are facing?
Building up a strategy
Conducting a personal SWOT analysis is a fun way of getting to know yourself and analyzing your situation all in itself. But what counts much more is building a life strategy and a decision-making system based on the conducted SWOT analysis.
There are two basic ways of building a strategy after doing a SWOT analysis: one is called matching and the other one converting.
Matching simply means connecting internal strengths with opportunities. You look at your strong points and the ways you can take advantage of them based on the opportunities that are given in the environment in which you function.
This is your main forte and the point where you have to build a strong competitive advantage. Matching your strengths to the opportunities is also where you should be very aggressive and take offensive action.
On the other hand, matching your weaknesses to threats can show your biggest vulnerabilities. You’re always only strong in a specific context and you have to be aware of that context and which situations cause you to step out of it.
If you are strong in an unfavorable situation, you can at least fight and regroup and rethink and change your moves. But if you are weak in an unfavorable situation, your personal power becomes very limited and you are left to the mercy of the environment. These are the situations you should definitely avoid in life.
In situations where your weaknesses are matched to threats, you should act much more defensively. Nevertheless, if you don’t find being defensive is an adequate strategy, there is an alternative strategy available, called “converting”.
Converting simply means transforming weaknesses into strengths and transforming threats into opportunities. It’s easy to write that down, but it’s much harder to do in real life. The key is to understand what converting really means.
The first approach is to really convert your weakness into a strength. For example, if you aren’t very creative at the moment, you decide you’ll become creative no matter what. Creativity is nothing but a skill and based on the growth mindset, you know you can cultivate it.
You start going to art classes, you do daily brainstorming sessions etc. You put so much more effort into it, even more so than talented people, that you become really good at it, therefore surely converting a weakness into a strength.
The second option is that you find a different context for your weakness and you try to see it as a feature. For example, a manager who has a hard time staying focused can be a really successful entrepreneur.
The best way for converting a weakness into a strength in this kind of way is explained by Marty Neumeier in the book The 46 Rules of Genius:
A good personal style will mostly come from your limitations, not your strengths. It’s the result of working around your shortcomings, using all the skills you can muster. Since your limitations are unique to you, your style will also be unique.
And that is how you convert weaknesses into strengths.
Of course, there is also a third option, in case a weakness cannot be converted. In that case you should try to minimize weaknesses or avoid them. The idea is that you neutralize your weaknesses to the point at which your strengths can be unfettered. .
After conducting the SWOT analysis, you can define four different strategies, while also keeping converting and matching in mind:
- Opportunity – Strength strategies: Obvious natural forte where you can use your strengths to exploit opportunities.
- Threat – Strength strategies: Easy to defend, where you want to exploit your strengths to wipe out threats.
- Opportunity – Weakness strategies: Potentially attractive options with which you want to overcome your weaknesses to exploit new opportunities.
- Threat – Weakness strategies: Your personal very high risk where you want to apply a defensive strategy to prevent threats from turning up because of your weaknesses.
Traps of the SWOT analysis
As everywhere else, there are also a few traps when it comes to conducting a SWOT analysis. The first trap is quite obvious. There is always a big gap between what you think is true (the subjective reality) and what actually is true (the objective reality).
And wrong assumptions are the mother of all fuckups, as said many times before. Thus it’s really necessary that you implement agile and lean practices when building your life strategy based on the SWOT analysis.
You have to realize that some of the elements of your SWOT analysis are nothing but hypotheses that you have to test in order to see whether they are true. The best way is to only use the SWOT analysis to help yourself define detailed hypotheses of your superior life strategy. You have to regularly update the analysis based on feedback from the environment.
The second trap is seeing weaknesses as a balanced antagonist to strengths. Of course we all have our strengths and weaknesses. But there’s no balancing act or “life fairness”. It’s necessary for you to build on your strengths, convert some weaknesses into strengths, put other weaknesses into a different context and then minimize, avoid or neutralize the rest of them.
You also have to be aware of the fact that the final goal of your personal SWOT analysis is to help you build a superior life strategy and consequently help you make better decisions, big ones as well as smaller ones, in everyday life. Thus the most important items of your SWOT analysis are those that produce valuable strategies.
As mentioned before, a SWOT analysis should be an input to your AgileLeanLife superior productivity strategy and, even more importantly, it has to be updated regularly, based on the feedback you get from executing.
For the conclusion, let’s look at some additional guidelines for conducting a personal SWOT analysis. Be as realistic as possible when writing down your strengths and weaknesses. Also be as specific as possible and avoid abstract definitions and grey areas.
Try to avoid complexity and don’t overanalyze things. It’s good to keep your SWOT analysis short and simple. Definitely build different strategies and options based on your SWOT analysis.
See the SWOT analysis as an input to your superior life strategy. It will help you come up with better insights, analyze your current position, brainstorm possible directions, highlight opportunities and flag possible threats.
Know that you have to test some assumptions and do regular updates. A SWOT analysis should help you get to know yourself, but conducting only a SWOT analysis is not real progress in life. Building a superior strategy and executing it is.
Sit down right away and do your own personal SWOT analysis. Happy analyzing. Here you can also find an example of my own personal swot analysis.