Gapingvoid - pivot


Seth-urday sequel to my Seth birthday post on a concept near and dear to my heart – “The Pivot”. The “Pivot” is not just the most powerful feature of Excel. It is an agility to respond to failure with an adaptation which “pivots” to a new direction. In so doing in business, it exploits one of the most critical concepts in product marketing – “adjacency”. It is the spirit of Scott Adams’ goal-less system focus (“Fail At Almost Everything…”). Or as Seth describes it…

  • “A pivot is when a start-up quickly changes from one product to another or from one business model to another. The valley is full of stories about companies that started with a lame idea and hit it big after a pivot. Most start-ups in the valley are software-based, so pivots are both practical and economical. The pivot used to be the exception. For example, a company starts out selling PEZ dispensers online and later pivots to become eBay…[S]uccess in the start-up realm is mostly luck. They discover this by trying great ideas coupled with great execution and failing. And they further discover it by observing unexpected successes at other start-ups. Success simply can’t be predicted to any level of statistical comfort.”

I witnessed this dynamic in my experience at Kenan Systems. The company had focused on decision support systems (DSS) which the founder Kenan Sahin thought would be a big market. But after doing a successful system for a financial company, the customer asked if we could do some systems work on the transactions processing itself. That led to a basic billing system which was eventually sold to phone companies. As it happens, the telephone deregulation and the rise of cellular network created a surging demand for relatively inexpensive billing systems using new computing platforms. It became a huge success (the company sold for $1.5 billion). No business plan ever indicated that the company would grow to massive heights selling billing systems.

The Pivot is needs to take place upon the death of dreams. One must not be devastated by such fatality of fantasies, but be on the alert for those nearby serendipities which generate new dreams. Portfolio workers live and breathe the pivot turning certain skills into a broader range of services and pursuits. My father was my earliest role model in this career pivoting. He went into architecture inspired by the creativity it offered, but when that disappointed, he pivoted into a field more explicitly focused on the creative by teaching literature with the Great Books Foundation. His growing interest in reading, interpreting and sharing insights from great texts led him to the seminary to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. Then, the whole career came full circle when he linked his original interest in architecture with his occupation in the clergy to become an author and authority on church architecture.

The concept reminds me of the devout man trapped on the roof of his house by rising flood waters. A man in a row boat came by and told him to get in to be rescued. The man on the stoop said, “no” because he had faith in God and would wait for God to save him. While the waters kept rising, a man in a motor boat came by and told the man on the house to get in because he had come to rescue him. The man in the house said no thank you. He had perfect faith in God and would wait for God to save him. The flood waters kept rising and there was just a small patch of roof left. A helicopter then came by with a rope and told him to grab hold and they would save him. The man told the pilot that he had faith in God and would wait for God to rescue him. The flood waters kept rising and the man on the house eventually drowned. When he got to heaven, he asked God where he went wrong. He told God that he had perfect faith in God, but God had let him drown. God responded, "What more do you want from me? I sent you two boats and a helicopter."

Pivoting is letting go of initial plan of how you will be ‘saved’ and recognizing serendipity when it reveals itself to you.