Making a Personal Pivot
In his book The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Ries describes a process for helping startup organizations succeed through a combination of exploratory experimentation; iterative product development, releases, and market tests; and continuous learning. One possible result of that learning is that the envisioned product will probably not succeed in its planned market. In that case, the organization needs to change its product direction. This change is known as a pivot―a “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth,” according to Ries’s book.
Pivots are changes in organizational direction. Ries writes, “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.”
Individuals can also make changes in direction―personal pivots. These can be in the areas of career, location, organization, relationships, and other important facets of life. And like companies, individuals who cannot pivot can become like the living dead, neither growing nor dying.
During my career, I’ve pivoted organizationally a number of times, going from startup medical device company to radical computer manufacturer to conservative multinational nonprofit organization to small consulting company to an established knowledge dissemination company. I’ve also pivoted in job focus, going from developer to systems engineer to manager to teacher, writer, and consultant, and now to conference program chair. And during this time, I’ve pivoted in locations and relationships.
Ries catalogs different types of organizational pivots, but I like to apply his taxonomy to personal pivots. With a zoom-in pivot, you focus on just one aspect of your previous work and make it your entire work, becoming a valued specialist. In a customer need pivot, you recognize that while you are providing a useful service to your organization, providing a different service would be of even more value, and so you make a change in your responsibilities. In a platform pivot, you move from one organization to another, providing your services to a different set of users. In a business architecture pivot or channel pivot, you transition from an employee to a consultant role. In a technology pivot, you learn and then base your work on new technologies.
Just as startup organizations often must pivot to fulfill their missions, so too can individuals pivot in their lives to increase both their external contributions and their internal happiness and contentment.