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How often do you pivot?


Today is April 15 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you pivot?” Successful American writer William A. Ward noted “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; and the realist adjusts the sail.” Those leveraging their mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos are often realists and make the necessary adjustments to pivot to translate their dreams into realities. Pivoting is difficult though, and often born out of necessity. For example, research into the world of business start-ups provides an illustration. For entrepreneurs and other engaged with a start-up or new business, changing direction is common. As Professor Amar Bhide at Columbia University has shown, 70% of all successful new businesses end up with a strategy different from the one they initially pursued. Examples of companies that started down one path but then made a pivot based on any number of factors include Netflix, Starbucks, Instagram, and Wrigley Chewing Gum.


Netflix was founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph in Scotts Valley, California. Netflix initially both sold and rented DVDs by mail, but the sales were eliminated within a year to focus on the DVD rental business. In 2007, Netflix introduced streaming media and video on demand. The company expanded to Canada in 2010, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean. Netflix entered the content production industry in 2013, debuting its first series House of Cards. In January 2016, it expanded to an additional 130 countries and then operated in 190 countries. As of December 31, 2021, Netflix had over 221.8 million subscribers worldwide.


Starbucks was founded in 1971 by Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker at Seattle's Pike Place Market. In 1984, the original owners of Starbucks, led by Jerry Baldwin, purchased Peet's Coffee. By 1986, the company operated six stores in Seattle and had only just begun to sell espresso coffee. In 1987, the original owners sold the Starbucks chain to former director of marketing Howard Schultz, who rebranded his Il Giornale coffee outlets as Starbucks and quickly began to expand the company opening its first locations outside of Seattle in Waterfront Station in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Chicago, Illinois later that same year. As of November 2021, the company had 33,833 stores in 80 countries, 15,444 of which were located in the United States. Out of Starbucks' U.S.-based stores, over 8,900 are company-operated, while the remainder are licensed.


Instagram had its origins in San Francisco when Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger built Burbn, an HTML 5 check-in service, into a product that allowed users to do many things: check into locations, make plans (future check-ins), earn points for hanging out with friends, post pictures, and much more. They soon learned, however, that Burbn contained too many features and the users did not want a complicated product. They decided to focus on one specific feature, photo-sharing. The development of Burbn led to creation of Instagram. A month after launching, Instagram had grown to 1 million users. A year later, Instagram hit more than 10 million users. In 2010, Systrom co‑founded the photo-sharing and, later, video-sharing social networking service Instagram with Mike Krieger in San Francisco, California. In April 2012, Instagram, along with 13 employees, was sold to Facebook for US$1 billion in cash and stock.


Wrigley did not always sell gum. In fact, William Wrigley Jr. stumbled on the value of gum while giving it away for free. Mr. Wrigley Jr. moved to Chicago in the 1890’s and took up work as a soap and baking powder salesman. He got the idea of offering free chewing gum with his purchases, and the gum proved to be more popular than his actual product. Wrigley went on to manufacture his own chewing gum brands, Juicy Fruit, Spearmint and eventually Doublemint.


Research and explanations into why and how organizations pivot is found in Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter where, Liz Wiseman distinguishes between multipliers and diminishers. “Multipliers ask the questions that challenge the fundamental assumptions in an organization and disrupt the prevailing logic.” Such disruption often provides the catalyst the organization needs to pivot. Multipliers place a priority on leveraging and growing the intelligence of others. Diminishers, on the other hand, fail to ask questions and have a strong need to demonstrate that they are the smartest person in the room. Diminishers are stuck in the past, cling to cognitive inertia, and are thus, unable to pivot. If you are a leader or manager, or hope to be one day, you should consider asking yourself: ‘do I want to be a multiplier or a diminisher?’

  • How often do you think about the origins of companies you use on a regular basis?

  • How often have you had to pivot in your life?

  • Are you more of a multiplier or a diminisher?

  • What skills, traits, or characteristics could you leverage in order to pivot in either your professional or personal life?

  • Have you ever helped anyone pivot in their life?

  • Is there someone or something preventing you from pivoting in your current life situation?