S.W.O.T.

 When I first went to the US, it was the height of the Cold War.

Like every public space, my college canteen had the strange yellow and black symbol on the wall, with a number under it.

For how many people it could hold in the event of a nuclear attack.

The strange logic of the Cold War was called MAD: mutually assured destruction.

America knew the USSR had enough nuclear warheads to kill every American eight times over.

But the US had enough nuclear warheads to kill every Russian 20 times over, so they were ahead, weren’t they?

The thing the US was terrified of was the "missile gap": the possibility that Russia was building more missiles than America, and narrowing the gap.

The Pentagon constantly used this fear to get extra funding to build more missiles.

The more Russia built, the more America built, and so on.

The stockpiles grew to beyond-insane levels.

It was time for some creative thinking.

In 1973, Andy Marshall and James Roche wrote a paper about a different kind of logic.

They basically used the same thinking that Amanda Walsh told me she was taught as a young marketing exec: SWOT.

Amanda told me, it’s a great exercise to run a SWOT analysis on your client’s business every so often.

S for strengths. W for weaknesses. O for opportunities. T for threats.

Andy Marshall and Roche ran an analysis like that on the US/USSR situation.

They found the US’s strengths were technology, they were decades ahead of the Soviets.

They found the Soviets’ weakness was financial, they couldn’t afford to compete in a new area where they had no knowledge.

So, the opportunity was to change the game from "the missile gap" to "the technology gap".

To stop trying to keep up with the USSR in numbers of missiles.

Instead, to create an entirely new game, where the Soviets would have to spend all their resources starting from scratch.

And, like the SWOT analysis, the US would concentrate on their strength and drive the competitive agenda.

Which, beginning with Ronald Reagan, America did: more accurate missile targeting, cruise missile technology, stealth technology, Star-Wars Defence Initiative.

How did this new thinking work?

The Soviets tried hard to compete and, as predicted, they went bankrupt.

In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, in 1992 the USSR collapsed economically, politically and militarily.

By switching the competition from an area where the Soviets could compete – building missiles – to an area where they couldn’t compete – technology.

The Soviets were forced to spend all their resources trying to catch up.

Marshall and Roche had changed the game, literally.

All because of a technique that used to be taught as standard practice amongst young marketing execs.

But nowadays young execs can’t be bothered to learn the basics.

They’re too busy catching up on the latest buzzwords for that.

Something as basic as SWOT is too old-fashioned.

And so they carry on trying to keep up with the fashionable trends.

Like the Russians, they are letting someone else write their agenda.

They are too frightened of being left behind to consider changing the game.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

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