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The Power of the Pivot

By EMEditor | 14 February 20 05:02pm | Business News

In business, a pivot describes the process whereby a company radically changes its direction, its product, often its name, and starts doing something completely different to what it did before. 

Companies pivot for one reason only. What they’re doing isn’t working. They’re faced with two paths, keep doing it, and fail, or stop doing it, and do something else instead.

Successful pivots include Twitter; which started as Odeo, a platform for discovering podcasts. When Apple moved into that space with iTunes they knew they were finished. The employees were given two weeks to come up with a new idea. 

That’s a very startup thing to do. Realise you’re in the wrong space, accept you can’t succeed in that space, and open up the opportunity to everyone to come up with a better idea. A company is not the product it produces, it’s the people it produces it with. What remained from Odeo? The people, some office furniture, some computers. Not much else really. A total remake, on the hoof, in a company that was making zero revenue on a steep burn rate. Basically, it was do or die. And they did.

YouTube is another legendary pivot. It began life as a dating site, where members could upload videos of themselves talking about what they wanted in a partner. It gained no traction, and pivoted into a platform where people could upload videos of anything. This was such a clean pivot all it really required was a removal of borders. But it fundamentally and completely changed what the platform was for. They didn’t even need to change the name. A perfect pivot.

There’s many more examples, Nokia has pivoted multiple times, it began as a paper mill in 1865, it will probably pivot again when it works out what it should be next. Nintendo has done the same, in its time, playing cards, vacuum cleaners, instant rice, a taxi company and a chain of love hotels are among its previous endeavours.

Pivots are usually required for survival. Pivot or die. Many try, not all succeed. There’s a lot of  ‘survivor bias in life, we don’t get to see the failures because they didn’t survive. Only the successful variants get to carry on. In stable times most businesses survive by gradual evolution and adaptation to the ecosystem. These are not stable times, the foundations of entire industries have been rocked, and still are being, retail, hospitality, media, finance, all facing the chaos of highly dynamic digital disruption. 

The sectors will survive, ultimately in a much changed form, but individual companies within those sectors will fail in their masses. But some will pivot, and in doing so, become the new solutions. The High Street retailers need to pivot, small adjustments will only prolong their demise, and not by much. The car industry is going to pivot, from its birthright of fossil fuel into a new era of electric vehicles. It takes courage to pivot, because it’s a step into a new unknown. But it must be done when there’s no viable alternative. It’s not just businesses who pivot. Individuals can also be radically transformed. Our great Cathedral, Saint Pauls, surviving even the Blitz, is a monument to a man originally called Saul of Tarsus, a violent persecutor of the first followers of Jesus. He pivoted so completely he became a co-founder of the Christian faith, and we call him a Saint.

Looking at where we are, as a species, humanity needs a similar pivot, a radical change of identity, of direction, of purpose.

An exciting time of change, we know our burn rate, we know we don’t have long left, we know we can’t carry on as we have been, we know we have to change. Small adjustments will only prolong the hardship and reduce the time available for what is required. 

I believe we will look back, in 30 years from now, and hardly recognise ourselves. We have the opportunity to pivot to paradise. Let us open our eyes.


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