High growth firms are taught to “pivot or persevere.”
This is a core idea of Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup. Eric argues, “Every entrepreneur eventually faces an overriding challenge in developing a successful product: deciding when to pivot and when to persevere. A pivot is a structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, business model and engine of growth.”
The concept of pivoting is brilliant, especially in a high growth environment. Your firm’s growth may slow down or stall if you’re unable to change directions and pursue greener pastures.
But you can pivot too much. Pivoting is becoming the entrepreneur’s equivalent of calling “squirrel.” (Dug, the talking dog’s tagline from the movie Up.) Pivoting without purpose gets you nowhere.
Purpose Drives Progress
Sticky Brands are built for their customers. They have purpose.
When a company pivots too often or too soon, it’s often a sign the leadership team isn’t clear on the brand’s purpose. The team doesn’t know who they are, why they exist, or what they’re trying to achieve.
Thrashing about in business model renovations demonstrates a lack of purpose.
Your company’s purpose shapes its brand and guides behaviors. Hold onto that. Use your company’s purpose to guide you to create products and services that positively impact your customers.
Pivoting Is Drastic
Pivoting is a powerful concept, because it recognizes that a strategy must evolve.
When a project starts you don’t know what you don’t know. As you implement the strategy you have an opportunity to learn and adapt. Executing the plan provides valuable insights into how the market receives the product, where it fits, and what to do next.
Pivoting is a recognition that your assumptions were off when you formed the strategy, and it’s time to change directions. But this is drastic.
Realistically a company should not be pivoting multiple times every year (or even every 3 years).
Outgrow Your Strategy
Instead of changing directions and pivoting, shed the skin.
I prefer the metaphor of “shedding the skin” — a concept I introduced in Sticky Branding (the book) — to describe the evolution of a business strategy. Think of your organization like a snake. What does it take to break free of your current confines and grow into an even larger, more powerful brand?
Shedding the skin recognizes that your business evolves and changes, but it also stays true to its purpose. You’re not coming up with a new vision or purpose; you’re looking for new and better ways to fulfill it.
To shed the skin ask three questions:
- Where are we today, and where do we need to move towards?
- What’s working, and what isn’t working?
- Who here is part of the team moving forward, and who has stopped growing and cannot keep up?
Let the questions guide you when you feel stuck or you’re hitting a plateau. You may find you don’t need a drastic change in strategy to achieve your goals. It may be a small tweak or a big a-ha that propels you forward.
Pivoting With Purpose
Besides my book, I gift The Lean Startup the most. It’s approach to developing and testing ideas is brilliant.
But the popularity of The Lean Startup has elevated pivoting to unsustainable heights. Pivoting is a last resort. It’s a dramatic change in strategy to leverage insights gathered from testing ideas.
The more sustainable approach to strategy is purpose driven. Focus on your brand’s purpose, and identify how you can transform your business to grow faster and serve more customers.