Innovator vs. SWOT

SWOT can be a very effective weapon in an Innovator Consultants arsenal. It is a commonly known process of which most clients are aware. But, what is SWOT Analysis and how does it differ from Innovator?

SWOT (Strengths / Weaknesses / Opportunities / Threats) is probably the most common process methodology, like Innovator is a methodology, for conducting a strategic group dialog. The tools and techniques of Innovator can complement and enhance most process methodologies, including SWOT, which is actually an abbreviated Innovator conversation.

Internal External





In the basic SWOT Analysis, Strengths and Weaknesses are examined with an inward focus, while Opportunities and Threats are coming from outside. This focus may leave internal opportunities and threats (barriers) undiscovered. The main thing missing from the SWOT protocol is any conversation of the end-state or clear description of what success looks like. Without a strong and mutually shared vision, the conversations and outcomes of the session may not provide real strategic value to the organization. It is recommended that when doing a SWOT analysis, a clearly stated objective and a well crafted success state is detailed or explored during the session to ensure that all participants are working towards the same goals.

Using Innovator to SWOT

The techniques and tools used by Innovator Consultants can be applied to a SWOT session to enhance and extend the conversations. Strengths and Weaknesses may be done one at a time or handle them like we often do in Innovator and process them concurrently, which may help participants to keep a balanced approach to the topics. But keeping them as separate topics is perfectly fine – in either an Innovator or SWOT session. Have participants brainstorm on individual papers and sheet launder the items on flipcharts in front of the room, finally quick voting each sheet. If time permits, dive into the greatest strengths and weaknesses to develop a more definitive priority list of strengths to leverage and weaknesses to improve or minimize.

Opportunities can be treated with the same brainstorming technique, or if time permits, with a more rigorous small-group process. Break the participants into small teams and have each team identify 2 to 4 opportunities. For each opportunity identified, have the groups give it a title, and one or more bullet points to clearly describe the opportunity. When the groups are done, process the items identified like an Innovator Critical Success Factor exercise to identify the handful (5 to 8) of key opportunities. Use an Opportunity Map vote to prioritize thee list in two dimensions. On the vertical, pair compare to rank order the opportunities to determine the one that will drive the most success for the organization. On the horizontal axis, you might ask:

  • How ready are we to accomplish?

  • How difficult is the opportunity?

  • To what degree does the opportunity provide a competitive advantage?

Once the four SWOT conversations have been processed, it might  be a good time to revisit the prioritized Strengths and Weaknesses and ask, which of the strengths can be leveraged to sustain the opportunities and minimize the threats? Which of the weaknesses need to be overcome or managed to limit their impact on the organization moving forward?

A SWOT Analysis becomes a more traditional Innovator Strategic Focusing session with the addition of the Changes and Trends conversation at the beginning of the session, and the inclusion of a Profile of Success right before, or right after, Opportunities.

Changes and Trends gives participants an opportunity to explore those external factors, those realities, that are or will be having an impact, positive or negative, on the organization's ability to be successful. These Trends, especially those that are newer and emerging, may expose opportunities in areas that had previously been unexplored. Insights and "hidden gems" can be found as a result of this conversation.

The inclusion of a Profile of Success gives the participants an opportunity to create a shared vision with respect to the stated focus of the analysis being preformed. Having a clear, shared vision of where the organization (or team, or division) is heading gives real focus and credibility to the Opportunities identified and ensures that there is a clear measure for evaluating the relative importance of each. So where to conduct the Opportunities conversation? You could just as easily argue that an unobstructed look at all possible opportunities will help to define the future profile of the organization. On the other hand, a clear vision of what the organization is working towards helps to identify those Opportunities that will provide the greatest strategic value in the organization. When designing a session with an Opportunities discussion consider the following:

  • Has the organization been working with a consistent vision for many years and has trouble seeing new possibilities? Put Opportunities first as a way to spark new thinking.

  • Does the organization have trouble creating clear well crafted shared visions of success? Put Opportunities first to help shape the elements of future success.

  • Does the organization seem to have too many possibilities and conflicting ideas about what to do? Create a shared Profile of Success first and identify Opportunities that exist within in that future world.

  • Does the group consist of highly visionary people from a broad spectrum within the organization? Develop a Profile of Success first and then work towards finding those Opportunities that will provide the most value to the organization.

Opportunities vs. CSFs

An Opportunity is just that, a possible focus or area of interest which may result in driving success for the organization. A "missed" Opportunity does not mean that the organization will not be successful, just that that avenue goes unrealized. A Critical Success Factor, on the other hand, by definition is required for the organization to be successful and reach its stated goals. A missed CSF will result in the organization not reaching its desired end state as defined in their shared vision of the future and Profile of Success. Some Opportunities may become CSFs (as they are determined to be necessary to achieve success), but not all CSFs are Opportunities.

Once a set of real Opportunities is identified by the organization that are in line with achieving a clear vision of the future and meeting the organizations stated goals and strategies, then these can result in additional consulting interventions. For each Opportunity identified, an entire Strategic Focusing session is recommended to help the organization clearly identify what success looks like for that Opportunity and identifying the CSFs necessary for achieving that success.

Using SWOT to Position Innovator

Describing Innovator can be difficult, but SWOT may be a way to facilitate this conversation. Once you have identified an issue to be explored with a client, describe how performing a SWOT Analysis would help the organization achieve its goals. Then talk about how conducting an Innovator Strategic Focusing session and the inclusion of Changes, Profile of Success, and Critical Success Factors, would help an organization create a clear roadmap to drive its own future success. This demonstrates the unique value that an Innovator Consultant brings to the table that other consultants can not.

Protocols at a Glance

SWOT Analysis

strengths Strengths
weaknesses Weaknesses
opportunities Opportunities
barriers Threats

SWOT with Innovator

changes Changes and Trends
strengths and weaknesses Strengths and Weaknesses
success Profile of Success
opportunities Opportunities
barriers Threats
opportunity map Critical Success Factors
action plan Action Planning

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