Good and Bad Reasons to Pivot

Much has been written about a startup making a pivot in direction after Eric Ries first coined the term
in a 2009 blog post “Pivot don’t Jump to a New Vision.” The word pivot has attracted almost as much wordplay as the word lean.  What follows is a short list of good and bad reasons to pivot.

Recognize Need For Change, But Make Sure it’s Progress

A pivot is recognition of two requirements for success in a startup:

  • You  have to continually re-evaluate and refine key hypotheses in your business model, remaining alert not only to the possibility of failure but also improvement.
  • As you make this change you have to do so in a way that you continue to explore new market and technology possibilities instead of traveling in circles (or playing “rock paper scissors” with yourself where you cycle through a series of options such that each new one appears superior to your current one but if you are not careful you discover you have return to an earlier point of departure).

Pivot: Build On What You Have Learned and Accomplished

“Successful startups change directions but stay grounded in what they’ve learned. They keep one foot in the past and place one foot in a new possible future. Over time, this pivoting may lead them far afield from their original vision, but if you look carefully, you’ll be able to detect common threads that link each iteration.”
Eric Ries in “Pivot don’t Jump to a New Vision” (2009)

In my experience most new things you try don’t work. The key is to continue to tinker and experiment, keep a log of what’s been tried and the reasons it was abandoned in favor of something else, and at each step to choose from a range of options. It’s rare that the final solution is seen in a single flash of insight

Greg Foster Sideways Spark

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”
Anais Nin in “Journals Of Anais Nin Volume 3”

Fix What’s Not Working

GOD: They displease me. They displease me greatly.

GABRIEL: Should I get more bolts ?

GOD : No use getting more thunderbolts. They don’t do the trick. It’s got to be something else.

GABRIEL: How would it be if you was to doom them all again, like that time you sent down the Flood? I bet that would make them mind.

GOD : You see how much good the Flood did. There they is, just as bad as ever.

GABRIEL : How about cleaning up the whole mess of them and starting all over again with some new kind of animal ?

GOD: And admit I’m licked?

From The Green Pastures (Part Two) by Marc Connelly [Text at Internet Archive]

It can be hard to admit that something is not working when you don’t have a good idea of what to try next. Nonetheless I think it’s important to acknowledge the elements of your business that could be better and the reasons why you believe this.

The Best Reasons To Pivot

  • Prospect and Customer Feedback, in particular lack of interest from prospects who clearly satisfy your target criteria.
  • Prior Direct Experience, if it’s clear that your solution is unsatisfactory to the founders who have relevant experience in the target market or with similar or related technologies.

Poor Reasons To Pivot

  • This is harder than I expected, said by someone who has not worked on problems of similar challenge or difficulty. Treat your product as a member of a category and benchmark yourself against similar products.
  • This is taking longer than I expected, , said by someone who has not worked on problems of similar challenge or difficulty.
  • This article or blog post or speaker at last night’s Meetup said that this other area is hot, we should switch to that.
  • I cannot believe I was wrong about this. Get used to it.
  • I told all of my friends our startup was X for Y, I will be embarrassed if we “give up.”

Common Worries That Are Not Reasons To Pivot

  • Worry: I may have made a mistake.
    Fix: don’t worry, you have made more than one. Find it.
    Better: find the mistakes in your next plan of action by subjecting it to detailed scrutiny before you commit to it.
  • Worry: I am making a fool of myself.
    Fix: look at the data, have others look at the data talk to peers.
    Better: none of us are perfect, fools keep making the same mistakes.
  • Worry: I am not good enough and will be discovered as some kind of imposter.
    Fix: focus on what you directly observe and hear from prospects who fit your target criteria.
    Better:  make your word your bond and only commit to what you know you can deliver.

Related Blog Posts

Photo Credit Greg Foster Sideways Spark

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