THE TROUBLE WITH PIVOTS
I don’t know. Maybe I am misunderstanding this new-to-me concept of “pivots,” as applied to making business moves and such. They seem to be telling me: You don’t like the way things are unfolding? Fine. Turn around. Go sideways. Move that booty. Yuh-huh!
WHAT IS A “PIVOT?”
The pivot, as applied to businesses, was an idea that apparently gained traction after Eric Reis’s book, “THE LEAN STARTUP: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business” hit the entrepreneurial bookshelves in 2011.
Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but the Lean Startup thing seems to start with the premise that it’s a good thing to cobble together a prototype of a half-baked idea that’s “new and different” and offer it up first and fast with the intention of getting the product, service or other offering to Good on the fly. Hmmm….
Apparently, this methodology is supposed to be a less expensive and more efficient way to gather relevant feedback from potential customers and measure the specific tastes, desires, and purported wants and needs of early-adopter buyers and others who come after as you churn out assorted re-iterations of your product or whatever.
Walking this way, they say, you’ll be all set to tailor your product, service, or business model to meet your customers’ needs and fulfill their wishes better.
The “pivot” is a particular mindset that’s part and parcel of this Lean Startup thing. You’re supposed to stand at the ready to tweak, twiddle, and change the components and structure of your infant business – the products you sell, how you sell them, the way you communicate with and serve your clients and customers, the way you use your resources, and so on and so forth — in order to capture more and more business.
Really, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea. I’m just trying to figure out why it does not resonate with me.
IS IT BECAUSE OF THAT DANCE THING?
Maybe my problem with this whole pivot thing comes from my knowing dancers and martial artists who use another sort of pivot step.
That one is modeled in the following YouTube Jazz Dance video “How to Pivot Turn” (published in 2012 by Howcast). In it, director and dance choreographer Liz Piccoli shows you how to do a pivot step.
(Note that the step Piccoli is showing is labeled as a “beginner jazz dance move.”)
Maybe I’m stuck because I’m having a hard time getting away from using this beginner-baby dance step as a metaphor for the how that the guys who tell you such things say you (as a hard-charging, savvy, and All-That entrepreneur or other business-leader) can make changes to the way you do whatever it is that you do.
It does seem to me that if doing business is a dance, then there’s got to be more to it than just doing the pivot this way and that until you get the walk “right” (according to your audience)…even with the added body-English. Doing the pivot step over and over and over looks like “twirling around.” To me, it just seems like a good way to get dizzy.
US CREATIVES DON’T DO IT LIKE THAT…OR DO WE?
Maybe my problem with the thing is the whole engineering-world, feature-creature taste of it all. Frankly, getting feedback from assorted others as you’re building your vision sounds wrong-headed to me.
Wanna-be Creatives have always been exhorted to “find your own voice.” Expressing your own self and being “original” is supposed to be the end-all and be-all of the Creative gig. “Authenticity” and being “genuine” is a basic tenet of Creator-hood, it seems to me.
As a Creative hopeful, you start from the belief that the “meaning” of your work is all bound up in you – how you see and feel things and your own conclusions about why the World is as it is. Your Job Number One is, basically, figuring out where you stand and why.
F’r real, it is confusing and frustrating work. It’s all about slog, slog, slog, and wandering around in heavy fog.
Looking for feedback too early in your process is likely to keep you from finding your own voice. My own thought on it all is if you’re going to do all that hard work in the first place, what’s the point of speaking with anybody else’s voice?
As you develop your own voice and your own vision, you’ll be moved to send out “reports” from that place that is unique to you. This could result in any number of “products” – pictures, sculptures, pots, performances, books, poems, songs, Rube Goldberg-y inventions, whatever.
With them you are trying to reach out to everybody else, using whatever skillful means you’ve developed, to produce a body of work that allows others to see the world as you do. Your purpose in all of that is to get them to buy into that vision you’re sharing.
(The deal is, if enough of these folks buy something you’ve made, you can keep on doing what you do.)
A FEEDBACK SOURCE
Of course, none of this necessarily means that your vision or your work will mobilize and move the world to do anything other than what it is already doing.
THAT is when feedback comes in handy. Asking for feedback from other folks and being open to suggestions can help you in a lot of different ways.
- Maybe you’ll find venues to showcase your work because of a thing someone or other points out to you.
- Maybe you’ll try different ways and means to refine how well your message connects with and influences other people, winning their support for your work.
- Maybe you’ll find soulmates and partners in surprising places who help you expand your horizons. (You might even find your tribe.)
Some things will work. Others will not. You’ll keep doing the things that work and maybe you’ll try other, new things as well to get your work into the hands of your supporters.
Instead of pivoting willy-nilly, you’ll use the vision you’ve developed and ride herd on it as you test and try out other people’s suggestions that help it evolve. You’ll use your own vision to make sure that everything you do – your work and the marketing of it — aligns with the direction you are wanting to go.
That’s a good thing, don’t you think? I do.
PIVOTS AS THE WAY BACK
I do think, however, that sometimes you as a Creative may find the pivot is useful for getting back to the vision and voice you’ve already developed. When you have gone off-course, it may be the only way to get back to moving in the direction you want to go.
My own favorite example of a pivot of that kind is the one made by a long-distance solo sailing legend, Bernard Moitessier (1925 – 1994). He was inducted into the Single-Handed Sailors’ Hall of Fame in 1988 for his life achievements, but he is most famous for NOT finishing a race.
In 1969, the British Sunday Times sponsored the first international Golden Globe yacht race. The fastest single-hander sailor to complete a non-stop circumnavigation of the world stood to win £5,000 (the equivalent of £82,500 nowadays).
The Golden Globe trophy, also sponsored by the Sunday Times, would be awarded to the first solo circumnavigator to do the round-the-world voyage.
Notoriety, adulation, and fame was expected to follow in the wake of both of these awards. Book deals, speaking engagements, endorsements, sponsorships and the rest were bound to follow.
Moitessier, who was already a sailing legend as well as a noted author, had planned his own world-circling voyage on his custom-built 39-foot steel ketch “Joshua” before the race was organized.
The timing of his around-the-world trip coincided with the newspaper-sponsored race which was apparently structured to automatically include all of the sailors who were attempting to sail single-handed around the world that year.
The sponsors of the race prevailed on Moitessier to participate in the race and he reluctantly agreed even though he made it clear that he felt that doing so was somehow compromising what he considered his special relationship with the sea.
Moitessier was on the last leg of his circumnavigating journey and many say he would have won the Golden Globe race as both first and fastest if he had finished his trip. Instead, he changed his vessel’s course and continued sailing eastward.
He ended up completing a one-and-a-half circumnavigation of the world which took him around Cape Horn (again) and on to Tahiti. It took him 301 days to complete the voyage. In doing so, he broke the world record for the most miles sailed solo non-stop.
Meanwhile, another legendary yachtsman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, became the first winner of the Golden Globe race, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in the summer of 2019. Sir Robin’s voyage took a “stately” 312 days.
Moitessier wrote a note to the London Sunday Times when he turned away from winning the race. He delivered the note by slingshot onto a passing ship.
In the note he said, “My intention is to continue the voyage, still nonstop, toward the Pacific Islands….I am continuing nonstop because I am happy at sea, and perhaps because I want to save my soul.”
His book, THE LONG WAY, chronicled his 301-day voyage. It sold very well.
This YouTube video, uploaded in 2011 by GMGB68, features images taken by Moitessier himself during his nonstop solo voyage around the world.
Here’s a poem:
I figured out something:
I move in circles like the sun because
I want to see everything there is to see.
Like a hunter in territory unfamiliar,
I move slowly, with caution,
Stopping, stooping, seeing the tracks
Of the wild beasts and other things,
Finding the paths they walk,
Following to where they lead me.
I glide softly through the bushes,
Stepping quietly, walking lightly.
I stop and listen to the sounds around me.
Let them touch me, let them flow.
My breath is deep; it fills my belly.
Calm I am, a part of the One.
I move with no thought, no expectations.
What am I stalking?
I don’t know.
There is something waiting for me
Out there, somewhere.
When I have traveled full circle,
Perhaps I shall see what it is.
by Netta Kanoho
Header picture credit: “Sunflower” by Mikael Hvidtfeldt Christen via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
12 thoughts on “THE TROUBLE WITH PIVOTS”
I don’t actually know the book you are referring to, but it sounds like the kind of book that was really popular around that time. I can see some value in the business pivot idea, as you haven’t wasted as much time and money developing something that maybe people don’t want, or will require major rectifications and changes.
“Business pivot” seems like a really odd kind of expression, though. It doesn’t really sound like it has relevance to the subject matter Eric Reis is talking about.
Thanks for the interesting read.
Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts on the post. I do appreciate it.
I used the term “business pivot” to differentiate it from the physical pivot step, and perhaps it isn’t a common expression.
As for the mind-pivoting thing, while I do value openness to other people’s suggestions and am most appreciative of those who give me feedback, I am perhaps a bit leery of anything that might lead to having such an open mind that your brains fall out. But, that’s just me….
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Thanks for your article, Netta!
I kind of think I know this concept, but not with this name. Years ago I used to make web sites, and there I could see two different approaches. Some people they really tweaked and tuned the web site until it was perfect to the very last pixel and tested and everything 110% ready. And then there were others, like me, who wanted to get reasonable site done pretty quickly, and then improve upon it over time. I guess the overall time spent would still be the same, though.
Thanks for your visit and your clarification of the concept. Maybe I’m applying the thing too broadly.
As luck would have it, I’ve just stumbled across a new book, PIVOT: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, by Jenny Blake who is the co-creator of Google’s “Career Guru” program. It’s aimed for people who are looking for making a career change. I’ll see what she has to say on all of this.
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Interesting points on pivoting and changing course in life.
I have mixed feelings on the whole concept, but overall pivoting feels like a necessary force that drives a person towards improvement.
Pivoting can be thought of as making adjustments that are simply better suited to the current environment. It’s not a failure of anything, rather a shift into something that might be better than what one was originally able to conceive.
Aly, thank you for the visit and for sharing your thoughts. I like the direction they are trending, I think.
Maybe you are right. Pivots could be taken as a way to look again at your own assumptions and precepts and help you to bring them into better alignment with what other people see.
It could be a way to see how to communicate your own vision with others. And, it might even be a way to see a better approach to something that is giving you massive headaches.
Please do come again….
My take on the topic of “Pivot” is that this notion that any new concept with the mindset that one shoe fits all will always come with limitation. We all have different personalities that make us unique in who we are, what we think, how we behave, so “pivot” can well be good for a certain group of people.
Hence I fully understand your not being at ease with even the dance metaphor to start up with.
As a side question, are you a good dancer in general aside from the “pivot” thing ?
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Moi MOI. I do agree that one-size mindsets really fit some people funny.
I love dance. Only problem is I confuse “left” and “right” a lot, so I’m lousy in a chorus or a troupe. If I dance with a partner, we have the most fun playing with the set steps and there is often a lot of giggling going on. (Much as I love watching tango and all that, I am just not serious enough to pull it off.) I do solo things just fine!
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Business pivots make sense to me, but not if they are “willy nilly” and I have a feeling that most startups don’t pivot willy nilly, at least I would hope so that they were smarter than that if they want to be successful.
Adaptation is essential to a successful business and vitally important to a startup if they want to take the lead on something new in whatever field their business is in.
Cool story about the one-handed solo sailor around the world. I had not heard of him but I’m off to watch that YouTube video! By the way.. throughout the whole article I saw Ross from Friends yelling “Pivot! Pivot!” haha ha.
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, riverdogg. Hee! “Pivot! Pivot!” Riiiiight.
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I was laughing out loud as I read through this post and truly I get that feeling is not going well with pivoting.
Being a male, I never really fancy the dancing aspect of pivot, although it’s fun when I see my wife do it and I imagine why I never really went along well with it some time ago.
Your poem is really amazing and maybe I will learn to pivot on my own. Cheers.
Benson, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts. It makes me smile.
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