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Mastering Change: What You Can Learn From KFC and Instagram

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Agility is the secret of turning your efforts into assets.

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When I started speaking in front of large groups, a friend suggested I do some yoga to relax and center myself. One of the aspects of yoga that I appreciate most is the way practitioners shift and pivot in order to move seamlessly from pose to pose, using the last pose as a launching point for the next one, which is often quite different. It’s a useful metaphor for entrepreneurs and businesses in general. Both need the agility to change positions without disrupting the good systems they have in place.

The most successful businesses, both large and small, know when and how to shift plans and pivot strategies. For example, when KFC introduced the Go Cup this fall, it was responding to the changing desires of fast food consumers, 21 percent of whom eat meals in cars. The Go Cup allows people to put their chicken container in their cup holder to eat more easily while they drive.

Likewise, Kevin Systrom started Burbn to blend elements of Foursquare and Mafia Wars in a mobile HTML5 app. Systrom got funding for the project and brought on Mike Krieger to help. But they scrapped the idea when they realized their app was too cluttered. Instead, they shifted direction, simplified the app, keeping only its most important features, and Instagram was born.

Here are three ways to know when it’s time to shift and pivot your business to take it to the next level:

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1. Scrutinize your customers. Psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman told the McKinsey Quarterly that, “There are some conditions where you have to trust your intuition. My general view, though, would be that you should not take your intuitions at face value. Overconfidence is a powerful source of illusions, [instead] you do as much homework as possible beforehand so that the intuition is as informed as it can be.” That means taking a deep dive into your market -- its habits and buying patterns, the history of similar products in the marketplace, what people like about your product and how they really use it. 

Jeremy Stoppelman started a company in 2004 that began as an automated system for emailing business recommendation requests to friends. The idea fell flat with their market although they noticed that users liked the system for its ability to allow them to write spontaneous reviews of local businesses, just for the hell of it. The team pivoted and created a community review system. Yelp was born, a network that today has 50 million users a month and more than 17 million reviews online.

2. Give your business a 'premortem'. That means examining your idea from every angle, including the negative ones. As annoying as that sounds, it helps avoid potential failures later. Kahneman discusses the the idea of a “premortem” in which you you imagine your idea has failed and then list all the reasons why it happened. The beauty of premortems is that they’re easy and cheap to do. They won’t cause you to abandon an idea, but rather to tweak it in beneficial ways.

I know a retail fashion consultant who wanted to start a personal shopping and styling business because she was tired of working in big department stores and pushing their merchandise. We worked on the first scenario before she hung up her shingle, which was to charge customers an hourly fee of $150. As a “trial” customer, I felt I wasn’t getting enough out of the consultation, which lasted only about 90 minutes and cost $225. On the other hand, paying for another 90 minutes was too expensive and it didn’t seem like a good value at $450. What about a day-long consult, for a flat fee of say $399, which included a closet consult, styling session, and shopping trip? That seemed much more enticing and very reasonable considering what I’d be getting. So that’s what she did and she’s booked four days a week.

3. Assess your motivations honestlyIt's important to uncover where your feelings of attachment to your ideas are coming from. Ask yourself: Do I love this idea because I loved something similar in the past? Do I want to stick with it because it reminds me of something or someone pleasant?  If there aren’t any feelings of attachement, great. But if there are, you should unpack them to make sure they aren't clouding your judgment. You don't want to run the risk of being influenced by inappropriate personal interests or attachments.

When deciding between two different approaches to a problem or a design, for instance, choosing the one that seems easier or cheaper to execute should give you pause. Our subconscious has positive emotional tags for convenience and we have to make sure we’re not attached to something because it offers the path of least resistance. The Instagram founders were not overly attached to their busy iPhone app, so it was easy for them to shift gears to something simpler and more functional.

By using these three steps, you can shift and pivot as effortlessly as a yogi on her mat. What's more, you’ll get a more accurate picture of where the missteps and potential winners are to better steer your business to success.

Debra Kaye

Written By

Debra Kaye is a brand and culture strategist and partner at Lucule, a New York-based innovation consulting firm. She is author of the book, Red Thread Thinking (McGraw-Hill, 2013).