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 navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well are realists and make the necessary adjustments to pivot to translate their dreams into realities.

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. A well-known example is Netflix, which started as a door-to-door DVD rental service but as technology changed the company pivoted to providing digital streaming of movies and, eventually, original programming.

In 1971, Starbucks was launched as a business selling espresso makers and coffee beans. However, in 1983 after a visit to Italy, CEO Howard Schultz decided to actually brew the Starbucks coffee beans in a European-style coffee house. Starbucks had found its business destiny and now the world-famous chain boasts 31,256 stores worldwide. Two other well-known examples of companies that pivoted are Instagram and Wrigley Gum.

Instagram is the most widely used photo app for iPhone, but many do not know its origins. Instagram began as Burbn, a check-in app that included gaming elements from Mafia Wars, and a photo element as well. The creators worried Burbn had too much clutter and potential actions and would never gain traction. So, they took a risk and stripped all the features but one: photos. They rebuilt a version of the app that focused solely on photography—it was clean and simple, and clearly it paid off.

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.

How often do you adjust the sail to pivot and go in a completely different direction? One strategy to adjust the sail is to be a multiplier. Leaders who navigate the chaos understand the difference between a multiplier and a diminisher. In Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, 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?’

Individuals pivot just as much as organizations. As PayScale noted in 2019 “The era of staying with one organization from graduation to retirement is over. The evidence suggests people change jobs quite often. Workers born between 1957 and 1964, for example, held an average of 11.9 jobs between the ages of 18 to 50, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And, younger workers seem even more keen to switch jobs frequently. When the global staffing firm Robert Half polled professionals of all ages with college degrees, they found that 64 percent think that changing roles every few years can be beneficial. Respondents named a higher salary as the biggest potential perk.

Choosing a career pivot solely on money, however, can have drawbacks. “If you keep jumping for money but don’t explore your passions, you’re going to end up dissatisfied,” said J.T O’Donnell, founder, and CEO of Work It Daily. “Eventually, you’re going to hit a plateau where you’ll be overpriced for the market, but you won’t have built a track record of results throughout your career, so no one’s going to want you.”

How often do you pivot?