They called their hangout at Chip’s place the Land of O.Z. Not because there were witches, wizards, or munchkins there, but because whenever Chip, Blake and Tony got together, the ideas would start flying. And they were living in the Opportunity Zone.
The three friends met in the dorm at their university, and were all business majors. And they were dreamers. Entrepreneurial types, always looking for the next big idea or opportunity.
In the Land of O.Z., no idea was considered taboo. These friends would dream and scheme, design and research, test and toss away ideas before breakfast was done. They even tried one or two, mostly for fun. Not much happened.
Their big opportunity came when they anticipated the emergence of smart phones and the apps that drove them. This would be their surefire thing – what the Internet boom (and bust) had meant to the 1990s. They would establish a software design company that specialized in apps for iPhones.
A year later, Wizard of Apps was more or less history, and the friends-for-life had moved on.
Because they never could take their eyes off the Land of O.Z. long enough to focus on one idea. They never wanted to listen to anybody who asked the discouraging questions (“dream stealers” they called them). They never had the patience to actually learn app design or the money to hire somebody who could do it for them. And they never had the humility to take a sober look at what was missing in their ideas, habits, or skill sets.
Nothing wrong with the dream. Everything wrong with the team.
A Mirror and a Telescope
One of the most commonly-used techniques for planning or assessing an organization (or the idea for an organization) is the famous SWOT analysis. In case you never had to do one at school, work, or your church/nonprofit, here’s how it works:
“SWOT” stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.” Strengths and weaknesses are those factors within the organization or the idea. Opportunities and Threats are factors outside the organization – things like competitors, market factors, technology, government regulations, the economy, etc. All four are important for leaders and organizations to understand.
A well-done SWOT analysis serves as a good mirror for a team or organization. It helps us understand what we do well – what our genius is – and what we do poorly. That helps us decide how to approach those factors in future planning.
An accurate SWOT is also a good telescope, helping leaders and team members peer into the future by anticipating changes in the world around them. Again, that helps us position ourselves.
Oh, and even if you never experience this in organizational life, SWOTs are good things to explore about yourself, your work, or your ideas.
What’s Your SWOT Personality?
Did you know you have a SWOT personality? I believe you do.
Here’s what I mean by that. At any given time, any of us could focus on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats. But being the creatures of habit that we are, we tend to focus on the one or more things that energize us the most. This is usually based on our “real” personality, skill set, or sometimes even spiritual gifts.
Let me show you what I mean. The Land of O.Z. dudes mentioned above were obviously wired to search out Opportunities. People like this (and I consider myself to be one of them) can go through ideas like Sherman through Georgia. They get energized by ideas. Their ideas. Your ideas. Doesn’t matter. Want some ideas? Talk to one of these people and they can give you half a dozen before the conversation is done. These are the entrepreneurs, the consultants, the church planters, the inventors. They are the creative types who take pleasure in the beauty of their dreams, even if the dreams never materialize.
Other people are energized by excellence. These are the Strengths finders. They focus on performance – calling out genius in others and perfection in themselves. They are the trainers, the drill sergeants, the coaches, the motivators, who recognize and develop excellence in themselves and others. Then they take that excellence to the next level. They have no patience for working on weaknesses – their leadership mantra is, “Work in your strengths and staff to your weaknesses.” They have a bias for action and get-it-done focus when they’re operating in the zone of their genius and gifts.
Threats-oriented people are energized by security. They are vigilant for signs of danger – to themselves, to their organizations, even to their country. They live in a world of what-could-be, and with the right perspective can offer enormous protection. These are the people who stay awake all night making sure you sleep in safety. They are the actuaries, the analysts, the risk management people, the police officers, the professional worriers. On teams or in organizations, sometimes they come across like bad news bears because they always seem to be focused on what could go wrong. But the worst thing you could ever hear one of these people say is, “I told you so!”
And then some people – the Weakness-oriented people – are energized by improvement. They are uniquely gifted at pointing out what’s wrong or what’s missing from a situation. They tell you when the pastor should have said “Jeremiah” instead of “Elijah” three times in the sermon or why there’s a ping in your engine. They love to improve everything – marriages, people, organizations, contraptions. These are the fixers, the mechanics, the managers, and the marriage counselors. Sometimes misunderstood as being too critical, Improvers are simply using their expertise to make things or people or teams better. And doesn’t everybody want to hear how they can do something better?
Building a SWOT Team
Want to lead for the long haul? Better make sure the planners and doers on your team are wired differently than you.
The temptation in leadership is to surround ourselves with people who think, act, and choose just like us. That is a recipe for disaster. Each of the four SWOT perspectives – I call them the Performer, the Improver, the Dreamer, and the Protector – can offer tremendous value to your team or organization. But only when they are partnered and balanced by the other perspectives.
Put a bunch of dreamers-only together, and you’ll get our Wizards of Apps. Long on possibilities, short on execution and follow-through.
A team of nothing but performers becomes a team of specialists and lightning rods, with gaping holes in needed talent and an often reckless disregard for wisdom and safety.
A team composed of Improvers-only becomes a nitpick brigade, micromanaging everything, training themselves into obsolescence, and never actually doing anything.
A team composed only of Protectors lives in a mental bunker of their own making, where every decision is based on the least predictable calamity or disaster.
But something magical happens when opposites attract and choose to come together as a team. Ideas are generated, protected, executed, and improved upon. Valid concerns are anticipated with fresh ideas, relentless improvement, and excellent execution. Extraordinary talent becomes future focused, nimble to changes, and open to improvement. And cautious analysts are exposed to a world alive with possibility and fraught with danger – yet they are called to take action because they come to understand – it’s always easier to steer a car that’s moving than one that’s sitting still.
Learn your SWOT style. And surround yourself with people who are annoyingly different. When all is said and done, you may be the team that does exploits.