Sunday, June 26, 2011

Take Back The Pivot

I did an ignite talk at the World's Best Meetup Group on Wednesday night. It was insanely fun and I love the NYC lean community. Here are a few slides and the gist of what I shared...

"Pivots" are everywhere and that's a problem. Misuse/overuse of the term threatens to turn this extraordinarily valuable concept into meaningless buzzword.

While there are bang up definitions out there (see @dbinetti 's here), pivots for me are about adopting a mindset that failure is the most likely outcome of any new initiative. It's about knowing that my initial idea for any creative venture is probably wrong and doing it anyway, with the belief that the right path will emerge.

This mindset may be common in the valley, but it is a new way of working in NYC (and part of why NY tech is booming right now).

When we expect failure, we can design it into how we work. 
If we begin by asking ourselves, "What would we do differently if we assumed you we'd fail?," we'd be more focused on the things that matter. The alternative is to cling to an idea for as long as possible out of fear of being proven wrong. 

Over the years I've learned that 95% of new creative initiatives do, in fact, fail. With disciplined customer development the failure rate can drop to 90%.

That's a 2x success rate. If I could double odds of winning in Vegas, I'd probably get booted from every casino. That's great, except one little problem.... 

The most likely outcome is still failure.

So with a 90% failure rate, the real upside comes from getting in multiple trials. We could jump from venture to venture but that simply ups the trials without meaningfully improving success rates. Instead I believe that we can leverage the learning from each failure to up the odds of the next one. That is the power of the pivot...
And even then the most likely outcome is failure... but I'll take 1 in 4 odds over 1 in 10 any day.

Pivots change the mindset. And that makes a huge difference. When we as a community talk about pivots, we share stories of failure and lessons learned. We get smarter, more flexible, and ultimately more successful.

So, yes, pivot is an overused word. But its an underused concept and I say we change that. I say we overuse the concept and take back the pivot. The NYC Lean Startup Meetup started that ball rolling the other night. 


Anonymous said...

Great article, and you are so right, the word is in danger of being a buzzword. Hopefully, like you said, we can stop using it and act!

Stuart Eccles said...

I think @ericries descriptions in his new book do a lot to clarify the word pivot so hopefully that will help when it is released.

Do you have any examples you think of its misuse?

Rafi Dudekula said...

Awesome post! Building on this post I wrote one on Iterative approach to making startups successful.

Unknown said...

Great post.

How do you go about deciding when you should pivot and when you should continue to iterate around an existing direction? One of the hardest questions to answer is whether an idea has failed or whether success is just around the corner.

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