Threats and Opportunities

There’s a tool in the entrepreneurial utility belt called a ‘SWOT analysis.’ The acronym stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The idea here is that by identifying which factors, internal and external, fit within these four different boxes, it’s possible to get a better view of the environment in which you’re playing.

The SWOT, like any other tool, can be useful if applied correctly. I would argue, however, that we often (whether formally through a tool of this sort, or instinctively) see more of the threats and fewer of the opportunities.

Which is a shame, really. Because to a creative person who’s paying attention, threats are always potential opportunities.

I see the fear in my peers’ eyes and words every single day. Many of those who work in publishing are unnerved by anything new and potentially threatening (strange for an industry supersaturated with creative people). If there’s an adjustment in who holds the power, a new distribution media, or a new gimmick announced by Amazon, something like 90% of the publishing world declares that the sky is falling. The response is seldom, “Interesting, let’s see what we can do with this new state of affairs.” Instead, it’s, “This new thing is bad and the old way was clearly better. I, for one, won’t stand for it.”

But the thing about threats and opportunities is that they don’t care that you don’t approve. They simply are, and will be whether you’re enthused or enraged.

Much better than knee-jerk alarm, I think, is to decide what you think is most ideal only after assessing what might be done within your new environment.

So let’s say Amazon has released some newfangled publishing product that will kill your existing business model and make you far less money per month. How could you use this new product to do business? Or how could you work alongside it? How could you work counter to it, using their new program as an example of what you’re not?

These are productive questions because they turn a threat into something that could help you. Sure, this new thing could just as easily not help you, and it could be that your industry, or your way of operating within it, is on the cutting block and this truly is a death sentence to your way of life, philosophy, or whatever.

But even if that’s the case, calm assessment with the intention of finding opportunities rather than things to be scared of or enraged about is the better solution. Because if you take a good, long look and there’s no possible gain to be found, you’ll know that it’s time to start honing another skill set and learning another trade. Or that it’s time to build something new of your own, something that will cause the source of the current threat to look at you with alarm, wondering if its own days are numbered.

Update: April 18, 2017

I think even folks who keep an eye out for opportunities are prone to reactionary thoughts and actions. But the more you can whittle away at the time between learning about something new and possibly dangerous to your way of life, and beginning to think about how you might utilize it for your own ends, the better.