The Art of War

SWOT is an Ancient Strategy

SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

Every corporate manager and business student has heard of the SWOT acronym. And over the years many have used it to assess their current circumstances or to determine if their latest “good idea” can succeed.

No definitive date commemorates the creation of this analytical approach to decision making. But most believe it became an accepted business tool in the mid-to-late 1960s.

This timeline suggests an approximate fifty-year history. But even Gordon Gekko, in the movie “Wall Street” (1987) knew better: “I don’t throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things. Read Sun-Tzu, The Art of War. Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”

As Mr. Gekko suggested, ancient wisdom is still relevant in the current business world. What is old, especially ideas? When do they become new again? Sometimes a cycle takes two millennia to make its return.

The advice offered by the Art of War (500 BC) mirrors the SWOT analysis in use today. It states (original language):

“If one compares their organization (government), management (military leadership), strategy (logistics), and environment (ground) to their rivals, they will understand their advantages, disadvantages, weaknesses, and strengths. From these comparisons, a good leader should be able to prevail in any undertaking.”

Eventually, Bud Fox, Gekko’s understudy believes he has deciphered the old sage’s wisdom and paraphrases Sun-Tzu to his mentor, “If your enemy is superior, evade him. If angry, irritate him. If matched, fight, and if not split and reevaluate.”

It takes more than parroting back a quote for the student to become the master.

It takes mindfulness and wisdom.

Which may sound ancient but it is a strategy worth recycling.

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