Following up on Larry’s post last week on Strategic Fitness Planning, one of the unique qualities of adopting a complexity-based perspective is its power to not only continue to provide value, but significantly enhance existing processes and tools when applied within this new construct.

The strategic planning process correctly begins by engaging in a comprehensive evaluation of  existing “organizational systems” and often, a SWOT analysis is the tool of choice. Widely accepted by business leaders and managers as an essential evaluation of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, a SWIOT analysis involves both the careful identification and understanding  of the critical “objective(s)” of the business venture or project, and an equally rigorous evaluation and understanding of the favorable and unfavorable conditions that exist internally and externally which influence achievement of the objective(s). A good basic overview is provided by the Management Study Guide site – http://www.managementstudyguide.com/swot-analysis.htm)


To a great extent, the SWOT approach is part of all business decision making processes, even if it is practiced in its most simple form. We all weigh the “pros and cons” of engaging in certain projects. Doesn’t the impact of competition or the advantages of “first mover” innovation come into consideration when allocating resources or determining market choices? SWOT is inherent in the many of the highest level and daily operational choices that are made throughout an organization.

As Larry clearly outlined, understanding how complexity influences organizations offers new options for planning and ultimately for organizational adaptability and agility. The depth of analysis offered through a SWOT analysis provides a set of data points that can be invaluable when considering specific tactical actions. However, how can one truly engage in an analysis of the internal and external systems that impact the organization without understanding the influential and often hidden attributes of the “organizational ecosystem?”

The Organizational Ecosystem is one of the four elements of the Complexity Space Framework (CSF) and offers a new, and I would contend, missing part of a SWOT analysis. To create a full picture of the dynamics of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, it is essential to understand the context of the organizational ecosystem.

Think about how you would conduct a SWOT when also considering the seven dimensions of the Organizational Ecosystem  — the questions asked and subsequent answers offer not only a view of the current system but provide a richer picture of the actual patterns that have been fueling the organization and creating its complex adaptive structures and systems.

History (past, traditions, etc.)

Strategy (value proposition, goals, etc.)

Values (“how we do what we do”)

Identity (how we label ourselves and others)

Culture (“how things really work”)

Engagement (level of commitment, satisfaction, etc.)

Surroundings (larger context, environment)

Let’s consider the strengths component of SWOT.  Some potential strengths might be innovative products or services, the quality of operational processes and procedures, social media expertise and employee flexibility in job roles.

Now consider the additional strengths that are revealed when the patterns within the organizational ecosystem are explored. The differences in evaluating a strength pattern versus simply an obvious strength is that its relationship to the fiber of the organization is stronger and can be leveraged in difficult circumstances (unfortunately a weakness pattern can be more difficult to break).

An example. Suppose a traditional SWOT analysis identifies “social media presence” as a strength. So far, so good.  Now, imagine an organizational ecosystem whose culture, values, and identity value privacy and protection of intellectual property.  How does that social media strength manifest itself in such an environment? Think it might be different than in an ecosystem that values sharing, community, and “plenty of opportunity to share?”

Strengths are manifested differently depending on the context – the ecosystem – in which they are embedded. What is your ecosystem?

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