I originally wrote this as a piece for Huffington Post, which you can find here.
Startups face no shortage of uncertainty, and nothing creates more uncertainty than going through a pivot. A pivot can be a soul-wrenching, sleepless, and hair-pulling ordeal that can leave you feeling like the whole startup thing was never worth it. That is, if you let it. But if you have the right attitude, a pivot can be a period of intense personal and professional growth – a unique learning experience that can help you grow in wisdom and fortitude.
I’ve gone through a pivot before. And I’m in the middle of another. Here’s what I’ve learned that has helped me turn the experience into a positive one.
You May Not Realize How Close You Are to Success
There are more unknowns during a pivot than at any other time in your company’s history. And as humans, we’re wired to view periods of uncertainty with fear. But a lack of certainty doesn’t mean your chances of success are any less. It only means that you know less about what the future holds. In fact, your chances of successes may be greater than ever; you just have no way of knowing. You have two choices: let uncertain breed fear or embrace uncertainty, knowing that the only thing that’s guaranteed to cause failure is a negative attitude.
Failure and Rejection Are Part of Business
Much of business is outside your control: politics, the economy, your competition, even the weather. Oh, and your business is run by people, all of whom are just as fallible as you are. If business was easy, then companies would last forever, earnings would always go up in a straight line, and everyone and their brother would be running a company. So don’t get down on yourself when things don’t go as expected. That’s how the game works.
This Won’t Be The Last Time You Deal With Challenge
Sooner or later, any company will face its share of challenges. If you become the kind of person who flees every time things get tough, then you’re not going to get far in business. No one wants to work for someone with thin skin, and they don’t want to invest in one.
Training yourself to deal with and push through challenges is one of the best things you can do to develop your character. Pushing through a difficult pivot is great opportunity to develop your perseverance: one of the most important characteristics of any entrepreneur.
You’ll Learn More About Yourself
Plato is often given credit for saying, “Above all else, know yourself.” Well, now’s your chance. The pressure-cooker environment of a pivot is a surefire way to highlight your shortcomings. Think of a stressful pivot as an “accelerated self-awareness opportunity” (how’s that for a euphemism?) in which you’ll learn more about yourself in a few months than you normally might several years. Take extra time during this period to reflect on this. Or better yet, ask others for feedback. It won’t be a comfortable exercise, but it’s necessary if you want to become better.
One of the hardest lessons for me was learning that I wasn’t as amicable as I thought I was. My EQ simply wasn’t up to par with my IQ. Thankfully, I had some people close to me who helped me recognize that (without bruising my ego too much), and it’s an area I’ve worked on regularly since then. Had we not gone through a pivot, it’s unlikely I would have had as many meaningful conversations. After all, when things are going well, most of us are less interested in seeing where we need to improve.
A Pivot Might Be The Perfect Reason to Learn Something New
Chances are that you don’t know everything you need to know in order to pull off a pivot. Maybe the new direction you want to head in will require you to learn something entirely new, or simply improve at something you’re merely OK at. Either way, there’s no better time to focus on your skillset.
It Will Help You Determine Your Company’s Culture
You might think that surviving a pivot is the only thing that matters right now. But I would argue that how you survive it is just as important. If you can show your team that you have a good process for handling change, they’ll be much more likely to rally behind you when you go through it again. (Hint: you probably will). But if you’re only able to survive a pivot by forcing your team through it, don’t expect them to hang around the next time things get tough.
When we pivoted a few years ago, our team shrunk from well over twenty to just a few. That blow to morale alone could have been fatal. To keep that from happening, we focused on strengthening our relationships, relying on each other, and celebrating early successes. We planted the seeds of a good culture, and a few years later we were awarded a No. 1 spot in the “Best Places to Work in Kentucky” list.
Nothing Worthwhile Is Easy
Think of the things you’ve already accomplished that you’re most proud of. Were they challenging or easy? The feats that we look back on with a deep sense of satisfaction are those that pushed us to be better people. Building your business will be no different. You won’t be proud of giving up, but you can always be proud of giving it your best shot.
For further sources of motivation during your pivot, here are a few books I’d recommend:
- The Obstacle Is the Way, by Ryan Holiday
- A Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth
- Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight
Have you gone through a pivot yourself? If so, what’s helped you keep yourself and your team motivated? Let me know if the comments.