To pivot in an earthquake

To pivot – a term recently popularized in the startup economy – is to change course around a stationary point from which the angles and trajectories are guided. Before the startup ecosystem borrowed the idea, and after physics, a sports motif was sandwiched in between, such as in basketball for instance, where a player rotates from a pivot foot to find free space, to fake out a defender, or shape a new course of action.

In all of these examples, the idea of the pivot is predicated on two elements, only one of which is the new direction. The other, arguably the more essential, is the stationary point that is the root and base which makes the pivot possible. In enterprise, this is a core technology, a differentiator or essential skill, from which new possibilities emerge. As in sports, this center is a necessary springboard of support and leverage.

Now, if this central base is shaky or planted on unstable ground, the resulting motion is not a pivot, technically, but (in basketball) a travel (resulting in a penalty and turnover). In the enterprise, the change of course may be a broken line, a reset, a whole new profile that may or may not bear semblance to the previous. In other words, the thing that made the business what it was, good or bad, is cast aside and entirely refashioned.

A pivot is often prescribed in business, where flexibility and nimbleness are advantageous, particularly when new markets or new trends are visible. What matters in these cases is the efficiency of execution as much as the directional vision. If either of these two are botched, the pivot, good or bad, may not even be a pivot. It may well still work out, randomly or by good fortune, but not necessarily by planning, unless the plan itself was based on chaos theory.

In the environment we’re in, to pivot with success may be a challenge because the pivot foot, and also the potential new directions, are being knocked around by an unstable ground that makes the planting virtually impossible. And as we have little visibility into what comes on the other side of this, when the ground has stabilized, it’s hard to know what the area one lands upon will look like, or what one’s place in the area will be.

The better course, perhaps – although it’s difficult to know and to pursue the ideal path when the ground is violently shaking – is to stay liquid and keep all options open. If that is at all possible. One day this turbulence will end.

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