When Pivoting Becomes a Pitfall
To survive, we entrepreneurs have to be flexible. We have to respond to customer feedback, competitor movement, changing market conditions, new opportunities and so much more.
That's why a lot of people talk about the need for the “pivot.” This now-familiar term is centered on entrepreneurs recognizing the factors above and adjusting their business strategy to meet a shifting business landscape. When used correctly, pivoting keeps a business on course to navigate changing waters.
However, there can be drawbacks to pivoting and it has the potential to capsize a business if not done properly. Often it’s best to stay the original course and weather the storm. The tendency to overreact is where entrepreneurs can get into trouble.
Pivoting too hard, too fast.
Larger companies run the risk of becoming settled in their ways and not adjusting. Entrepreneurs, however, are all too happy to pivot and follow a shiny object.
Abrupt moves are only wise in an emergency. There are times when you have to pivot hard, but that’s only when you’re in a dire situation. I learned this lesson the hard way. At Infusionsoft we considered a change to our pricing model. We conducted some testing on what the effects would be, but in hindsight it was not nearly enough for such a major decision. Our eyes were wide open with excitement at the opportunity of what could happen if we made a shift. We were chasing the shiny object.
We pivoted hard and fast to move in this new direction and we nearly lost the company.
Gradual change wins the day.
There are those occasions when an abrupt move is necessary. Usually though, gradual and incremental changes are the principle you want to follow.
So how do you gradually improve? You test. Business consultant Jim Collins describes this principle as “Bullets, then cannonballs.” The idea is that you have to fire a lot of bullets -- test new products, services, processes, etc. -- to see what works and what doesn’t. Only after an idea has been tested enough to be proven do you then fire a cannonball. Collins refers to hard pivots as firing uncalibrated cannonballs.
With this method, what looks like a 90-degree turn is actually 90 incremental one-degree turns. It is a series of small pivots that gradually gets you and your company headed in the right direction.
Moving your business in a different direction always involves risk. Too often though, entrepreneurs think that risk is this zero-sum, all-or-nothing game that we're playing to win. Successful entrepreneurs know the value of methodical and tested risks. They're playing a very calculated game of risk and they're stacking the deck in their favor to win.
So yes, they're taking risk. They're moving. They're pivoting. But, they're usually not taking hard 90-degree turns.
If you’re considering making a drastic change to your business, ask yourself first whether you’re in an emergency situation. If not, use the time to fire some bullets before the cannonballs.