Use a Matrix Before it Uses You

Why are SWOT's so popular despite the weight of research clearly showing they not only don't work, they can do real damage? 


A matrix is a tool for analyzing data. In math, a matrix is a rectangular array of quantities or expressions in rows and columns that is treated as a single entity and manipulated according to particular rules. But for our purposes, a matrix chart is a simple visual tool that helps you understand and relate different things based upon agreed-upon rules.


In management circles, particularly among those who have earned a conventional M.B.A., the best-known matrix chart is the SWOT, which, despite its popularity, has a checkered reputation, and it is not my favorite. I will explain why and provide some links to the scientific research at the end of this document.

Really, any data put into table format, with columns and rows, for the purpose of comparing and relating them, is a matrix. And there are a wide variety of these.


But by now, should be aware that I am a fan of keeping things simple. It really isn’t possible to model reality to perfection, and approximations combined with direct observation in the moment, where the thing is happening, is a more economical use of energy, time, and money than inventing complex models, and pretending they are real.

Used properly, for the right problem, they can be very helpful. Properly used it Is a tool of analysis, of looking at data organizing it, another version of an affinity chart for more complex relationships.

It is not a great tool for brainstorming, or generating ideas because of the way our brains are built. Generating ideas, and/or collecting data, when mixed up with analyzing is not the best way to go about it. The research has shown that the great weakness of the SWOT, in practical application, is that it tends to limit ideas and can lead to pretty humbling mistakes by omission.

I don’t know for sure what the mark of a really good analyzer is, but I know with the mark of a bad one is, and that’s making things more complicated than they need to be.

Free Report on Matrices


1. OED

2. “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Attributed to Einstein by Roger Sessions. {Roger Sessions quoting Einstein, #6782} http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/05/13/einstein-simple/

3. Google inductive/deductive/convergence/divergence/integration:

4. Hill T. & Westbrook R. 1997. SWOT analysis: it’s time for a product recall. Long range planning 30: 46-52. AND Armstrong J.S. 1984. ‘Don’t do SWOT: a note on marketing planning’’. ManyWorlds. com‐The Knowledge Network for Thought Leaders on Business Strategy, Innovation and Futures

5. Box G.E.P. & N.R. Draper 1987. Empirical Model-Building and Response Surfaces (Wiley Series in Probability and Statistics). Wiley. p 424

About the Author

Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.