I first came across the term "pivot" in the classic book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, who had explained that "every entrepreneur eventually faces an overriding challenge in developing a successful product: deciding when to pivot and when to persevere." He defines "pivot" as "a structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth." Ries is evangelical about learning: every business decision, every tweak and change is necessarily about getting feedback. There is no such thing as a wrong turn or a failure because every step ought to be treated as a data point, which helps to make future decisions and foster your progress.
"Companies that cannot bring themselves to pivot to a new direction on the basis of feedback from the marketplace can get stuck in the land of the living dead, neither growing enough nor dying, consuming resources and commitment from employees and other stakeholders but not moving ahead. Blaze, a manufacturer of urban cycling accessories, launched its first product, Laserlight, in 2013. Laserlight is a beautifully designed bike light with a laser projection aimed at tackling the biggest cause of cycling fatalities - vehicles turning across an unseen bike. It retails at £125 and hasn't quite managed to break through. It is certainly cool and has an innovative feature, but it's a hard sell for a typical urban cyclist looking at alternative products, which are available at a fraction of that cost.
In 2016 Blaze won a tender to supply state-of-the-art lights to the bike renting service in London (known as Boris bikes). With 12,500 bikes to be fitted with Blaze Laserlight by the end of the year and a promising trial in New York in November 2016, Blaze is well positioned to do well in the global urban bike renting marketplace. The company has also launched more modestly priced bike lights which provide 180 degrees visibility, have 65 hours battery life on a single charge and are fully waterproof. They retail at £45 and offer premium features at a competitive price. It is clear that at some point the company changed its direction from a single niche product to a diversified portfolio of business and consumer goods.
Another company I spoke to, Wishi.me, used to be an online crowd styling service. Now it is a marketplace where stylists help clients find the right thing to wear for a special event or come up with new ideas for an old wardrobe favourite for $10-$90. It works both ways with stylists now able to earn extra income working online and independent of location.
Other companies I met did the same. Some of them changed products or services, others changed their business models. It made me think that if successful companies had cracked it that in order to succeed, they need to pivot, why are we - individuals - so resistant to change. Change is difficult, even painful. Start-ups are forced to do so by their investors. No one is nagging us! Yet if we could examine our jobs, relationships, habitat and lifestyle at regular intervals and be brave about tweaking the status quo, we could, ultimately, be happier or at least learn something from the experience. If your relationship is no longer thriving or if a tie around your neck on a Monday morning feels like a noose, then perhaps you ought to ask yourself "Is it time to pivot?"
The most important thing to remember is that every change is simply a lesson. It doesn't have to be right or indeed final. And no one will judge you (because others are too busy judging themselves).