Is It Time to Pivot?

How do you know if or when it’s time to pivot your business? This is one of the questions entrepreneurs and business leaders ask when their revenue begins to plateau. It’s easy to run from one thing to another, but that’s usually more counterproductive than we realize.

I remember dealing with a client whose business was plateauing. He wanted to create an online course to boost his revenues. My advice to him was, “You don’t need to create a course.” Though this man was clear about his message, understood his audience, and was already recognized as a leader, I couldn’t encourage him to create a course. Why? A course was too much of a stretch for him. Having worked as a one-on-one coach, he needed to move slowly toward creating a course. The first thing he needed to do was to identify his adjacent possibilities.

What are adjacent possibilities?

Adjacent possibilities are found when we deliver familiar elements in new ways. Sometimes we expect people to make huge mental leaps and accept our most creative ideas. But our brains aren’t wired that way. We naturally resist change and anything that requires us to learn something new. I call it the “lazy brain syndrome.” We see it all the time when we choose habit over adventure. We choose a familiar meal over something we’ve never tried. We sit in the same place at church, shop the store in the same pattern, or move through the day the way we always do it. Our habitual actions protect us from the one thing our brains fear the most—working hard to learn something new.

You might not think learning something new is a problem for you. You might be right. But, if you look closely, you’ll see evidence of the lazy brain syndrome. You might think of yourself as creative and innovative, but others might define you as stale and habitual. How can that be? Our brains have a way of convincing us that merely thinking about something or proclaiming it makes it true. I think I’m spontaneous and unpredictable, but I have to admit I do a lot of things habitually. I believe I read a lot, but my “reading” often looks a lot like scanning articles. You might be much the same. I know people who assert their innovative thinking and ability to change directions quickly. However, things today look a lot like things five or ten years ago. They don’t really change anything; they just talk about it a lot.

Three areas in which pivoting is valuable

If you are ready to admit you suffer from the lazy brain syndrome, then there’s hope. If you don’t think the lazy brain syndrome affects you, there’s not much need in you continuing to read. So, for those of us who have lazy brains (yes, I suffer from the lazy brain syndrome), here are three areas in which a slight pivot can open new doors of opportunity.

COMMUNITY: This is all about your audience. Maybe you’ve been dealing with a specific group of people for a long time. Your message isn’t anything new to them. Your products are familiar. You’ve grown stagnant within this group. You can keep pushing people to buy stuff (and probably drive them away) or you can shift your concentration slightly. Change your target demographic or target profession. Go to places where a different group gathers. Pivot your community and grow your business.

CONTENT: This is all about what you share. When was your last great idea developed? Are you continuing to push the same ideas that got you to where you are or are you developing new ideas? Be honest. I am very familiar with people who believe they are developing new ideas but they are really repackaging old ideas. Their businesses are flat-lined. What would happen if Apple or Starbucks or Google or Amazon stopped developing new ideas? Those businesses all understand the importance of authentic innovation as opposed to therapeutic innovation. They pivot regularly. Authentic innovation is actually doing something new. Therapeutic innovation is thinking about doing something new but never doing it so you feel better about being stuck.

CONTEXT: This is all about where you share. Is your message one-dimensional? Are you relying on one method of delivery? Maybe you have a blog or a podcast, but not both. You might lead live training, but you don’t teach online. You might be a keynote speaker, but have never transitioned into leading conferences. You get the point. A slight shift in where you share your message can open doors for you. Contact conference organizers in your niche and see what you need to do to lead a workshop. Look into starting a podcast (it’s much easier than you think). Consider delivering your message as an ebook, traditional book, or series of videos. If doing what you’ve always done hasn’t delivered the results you want, then do something different.

But I can’t pivot!

As you read the three paragraphs above, you probably heard the resistance in your head. There are tons of reasons you can’t do this or that. I heard that resistance as I typed. My lazy brain doesn’t want me to learn how to do anything new. It wants to chill for a while and let habit drive my life. Habit wants to take me where I’ve already been on roads I’ve already traveled. If I’m not intentional about embracing adjacent possibilities, habit will rule my life.

It’s time to stop thinking and talking about being innovative; it’s time to do something new. I once worked for a company that publicly declared itself to be innovative but privately held to its traditions. People who had worked there a long time were more interested in their pensions than in innovative thinking. New ideas were discussed to the point where action was required. Lazy brains revolted. Ideas were shelved. Market share diminished. Many of those people who wanted their pensions got the opportunity to find new jobs. The downtown headquarters became a ghost town. It was sold to developers and recently imploded. The company consolidated it’s operation into a small office a fraction of the size of its original headquarters. Thousands of employees became a few hundred. Relevance in society evaporated. Innovation lost out to tradition. Lazy brains won. The leaders claimed they were taking the company in a new direction. That new direction was downward.

Consider your adjacent possibilities and then do something new. Don’t talk about it; do it. Don’t convince yourself you’re innovative; prove it. Stand up to your lazy brain or be OK reliving the past.

Do you need help determining how and when to pivot? Check out my coaching packages.