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The Business of Judging:
SWOT Analysis

George Macoukji

This is the third in a series of articles intended to provide you with a few pointers from the business world, adapted to Magic judging. (Part 1 | Part 2)

What is it?

SWOT analysis is a process of identifying what's best and worst about your company. At its heart, it breaks down the business relationship into four elements. Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors that help or hinder your success, and opportunities and threats are their external counterparts. The name is derived from the acronym of these four elements.

Strengths - Weaknesses - Opportunities - Threats

Although SWOT analysis seems pedantically mundane at first glance, it's a very powerful tool. It doesn't take a fancy, high-priced consultant to do it. It just requires a thorough knowledge of your company and the ability to judge your capabilities objectively. (Having said that, many companies lack the second criterion and thus have to hire an outside consultant anyway.) It allows you to look carefully at each aspect of your business and find out where you need to improve.

Let's examine each part briefly.

Strengths

A strength is an internal element (something within your company) that gives you a competitive advantage over others in your market. Strengths can vary wildly. Maybe you have a patent on a new technology that locks out your competitors. Perhaps you've developed a new manufacturing process that cuts your costs by 40%. Maybe you've built a solid, reputable brand name with established customers for the last 40 years. Anything that gives you an edge over competitors is a strength.

Oftentimes, companies forget their most important resource: their people. A strong corporate culture of work and achievement coupled with smart, hard-working personnel who have an ambition to be the best can power any company to success.

Weaknesses

A weakness is an area where your company could use improvement. Weaknesses are chinks in your armor, and competitors can take advantage of those chinks to steal your customers and your profits. By carefully studying your company and finding out where those weak spots lie, you can work around them or find solutions to them.

For example, maybe you sell your products on credit, but your customers routinely make late payments. If you don't get paid on time, you may run out of cash and have to cut back elsewhere. Alternately, maybe your customers see you as being a slow, monolithic entity that can't respond to their concerns before a new budget cycle. If a competitor could tell your clients, "Hey, that company is running out of cash. They may go bankrupt soon. What do you need from them? We can meet your requirements faster and cheaper than they can," then those clients might jump ship. Naturally, that's an undesirable result.

Opportunities

Opportunities are where you make your money. These are situations outside the company (and hence, outside your direct control) that could increase your profit if you can respond to them. Maybe your customers are demanding a new version of a competitor's product, and that competitor can't get the upgraded model to market for another six months. If you can deliver your version in three months, you may be able to steal away some of your competitor's customers. As another example, what if you spot a new market that no one has approached yet? If you can move quickly enough, you can get your products in the hands of those customers before your competitors even realize that there are any buyers there.

They say that opportunity only knocks once. This is so very true in the business world. When you spot an opportunity, move fast to take advantage of it - or lose it for good.

Threats

Finally, a threat is something that can seriously hurt your company if you don't deal with it. As with opportunities, threats are external effects that can impact your profits. Examples of threats include economic downturns (which can mean less spending), higher interest rates (which means people may prefer to save their money in banks rather than spend it), new competitors starting up, or even natural disasters such as earthquakes.

By having a plan on how to deal with threats, you can reduce the impact on your bottom line.

Integrating it all

The key to SWOT analysis is applying what you learn. Once you've identified your strengths, weaknesses, and so on, take a look at how it all fits together. If you can match your strengths to your opportunities, you have a prime chance to make money. On the other hand, if one of your weaknesses applies to an external threat, you have a serious problem. If you can't fix the weakness, then that threat could cost you big-time.

If you can match a strength to a threat, that means you're in a good position to deal with that problem if it arises. It doesn't mean that you're safe from that threat; rather, it just means that you have the ability to deal with the fallout if it happens. You should still put together a plan to deal with the threat before it grows.

Finally, if there's a match between a weakness and an opportunity, you have a decision to make: do you act to take advantage of the opportunity, even though your weakness could hamstring your success? Or do you pause to fix the weakness, knowing that the opportunity could slip away by the time you get done? This has to be decided on a per-case basis.

How does this apply to Magic?

SWOT analysis is a perfect method to sit back and take stock of your abilities as a judge. The trick to making it work is to first list every strength and weakness, every opportunity and threat you can think of without attempting to analyze the information as you write it. If you're analyzing, you'll influence the results of the SWOT exercise by phrasing the items you list differently than a neutral observer would. Just list the information about yourself; don't try to make it all "fit" until you can't think of anything else to list.

For the results to be meaningful in a judging context, you need to translate the elements of SWOT to Magic terms. The specifics will vary from judge to judge, but here is a short sampling of items that could fit under each SWOT category. This is just a brief listing to get you started; there are many more items that can fit in each category.


Grand Prix Tampa featured a pleasant, hard working staff - definitely a strength

Strengths

  • Knowledge of the following:
    • Universal Tournament Rules
    • Magic Floor Rules
    • Comprehensive Rules
    • Penalty Guidelines
    • DCI Reporter
  • Experience in judging the following types of events:
    • Large or premier events
    • Small or local events
    • Three-judge system events.
  • Diplomacy
  • Ability to work with players of all ages
  • Ability to handle concerned parents, spectators, and site staff
  • Microphone Skills
  • Appearance
  • Self-confidence
  • You are a fast reader and learner.

Weaknesses The same items as Strengths can appear here, but in reverse (e.g., a lack of rules knowledge, etc.).

Opportunities

  • There are many tournaments in your area that you can judge.
  • You live in or close to a large city with many premier events.
  • There is a local Level 3 (or higher) judge with whom you can work and train.
  • You are friends with a local Magic store owner or manager.

Threats

  • You do not have time to judge due to commitments like work, family, etc.
  • You cannot travel to attend premier events.
  • There are no senior judges close by for you to work with.
  • There are many judges in your area, so you don't have as much an opportunity for advancement.

Once you're done writing down items, set the list aside and take a break. Later, come back to that list and start looking for pairings. Is there a strength that you can take advantage of? Maybe after looking at your list, you realize that you missed an opportunity or two. Finish up the lists and start looking for patterns you can use to your advantage.

In short: Match your opportunities to your strengths. Eliminate your weaknesses. Keep an eye on threats.

How does this help me?

Grab a sheet of paper, a pencil, and a cold drink, and try to analyze yourself.

What are your strengths? Is it rules knowledge? Player interaction? The ability to run a tournament alone? Don't forget skills that aren't directly related to Magic, like patience, being multi-lingual, a willingness to teach new players, a sense of humor, and so on.

Once you're feeling good about yourself, take a long, honest look deep inside and write down what you don't like about your judging abilities. These are your weaknesses. For a judge, a weakness is any area where you need work. Maybe you can't list all the different state-based effects off the top of your head. Maybe your command of English is weak. Perhaps you could use some more practice using a microphone to make tournament announcements. Write down anything and everything that you feel is detrimental to your judging abilities. Don't try to analyze the results yet; just brainstorm to get them down on paper.

Next, do the same thing with your opportunities and your threats. Remember, be honest. You're the only one who will see this, and you will lose all the benefits if you "cheat."

Then, take a break. Set the list aside and go do something else for a while. This is important since it allows you to stop fretting over the lists. Give your mind a chance to relax before diving back in for the analysis.


Identify your strengths and weaknesses as a judge.

Once you're back, try to find natural pairings. Look at your strengths, and see if there are any opportunities there that match up. Which of your weaknesses can you work on in the near future? Is there any threat to your judging skills that can be neutralized by applying one of your strengths?

Here's an example of how you can identify your strengths and weaknesses, and apply them to an opportunity and a threat. Let's say there's an upcoming opportunity to judge a Grand Prix and take the test for your next level. That matches well with your strengths of rules knowledge and diplomacy. Your weakness is your inability to travel to big events, but you can make this one since it's only an hour's drive away. Of course, there's always the threat that your boss will ask you to work overtime that weekend, but maybe you can talk to him from now and ensure you'll have that weekend off.

Once you're done with the relationships between the pairings, you should have a better idea of where you stand. Look carefully at your weaknesses. Are there any areas under your control that you could improve? What about opportunities? Are you taking advantage of all the options and resources available to you? If you decide that one particular area is a strength of yours, then maybe you should focus your efforts to improve on another area.

Conclusion

SWOT analysis is a simple, fun way to get a sort of "inventory" of your skills and abilities. It's easy, fast, and not too complicated - but the depth and power of the results can surprise you. Remember to be honest and forthright while doing the exercise; fudging the results only hurts you and reduces your prospects for improvement. If you do it correctly, you'll see some avenues of improvement and have a better feel for where you stand in the world of judging.



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