Fifty years ago, researchers at Stanford University were hard at work on a solution for a fundamental type of corporate failure. Fortune 500 companies, anxious to see the researchers succeed, provided funding and extensive internal access.
The problem: businesses were unable to recognize, prepare for and adapt to changes shaping their markets. Corporate planning exercises were too reliant on predictions and formalized processes. They did not help a company think strategically about internal and external changes. Most importantly, they did not create a vision for how the company could thrive amid those changes.
To understand the issue, the team at Stanford interviewed more than 1,000 organizations. They developed a 250-question survey and solicited responses from more than 5,000 executives. Insights from the exhaustive study would ultimately inform a new tool—known today as SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).
Innovation often comes from looking at something old and familiar in a new way. Many (if not most) companies use SWOT analysis and some, like IKEA, apply it to sustainability. But is there a new twist we can put on the traditional SWOT tool to deal with the global changes and megatrends we see today? Could it help catalyze more insights and collaborative action for sustainability?
It is no secret that today’s big trends are reshaping markets. Populations are growing and flocking to cities. By 2030, urban areas are expected to have absorbed more than a billion additional people. In that time, there are projected to be two billion new middle class consumers, along with billions more low-income consumers to engage at the “base of the pyramid.” Today’s technologies, particularly relating to computing and mobile communications, are opening doors for new business models, customer and supply chain engagement and other forms of collaboration.
Meanwhile, environmental challenges with a changing climate and growing pressure on natural resources are also transforming tomorrow’s markets. These challenges threaten business interests and create new business opportunities. Leading management consulting firms are now highlighting how environmental challenges will influence future business value.
Sustainability champions within companies want a way to show their executives how big trends relate to environmental challenges and how the company can identify new risks and opportunities. They also want to learn from and share insights with companies in other sectors to inform their own thinking on where to innovate and invest for future success (e.g., R&D, products, services, environmental goals, facility upgrades, supply chain strategies).
The World Resources Institute, in partnership with members of the Next Practice Collaborative, has developed a tool borrowing the familiar SWOT framework to help companies catalyze new sustainability insights, innovation, and collaboration. We are inviting companies to “road test” it this summer. Companies across several sectors will be applying it to ongoing strategic conversations and working with colleagues to create compelling case for action for their CEOs, CFOs, Boards of Directors and other decision makers.
Learn more about the details of this tool and about opportunities to benefit from the insights and experiences of several other companies road testing it this summer: