On pivoting

Startup folks are fond of jargon. We can hardly go a sentence without mentioning terms like MVP, product-market fit, and burn rate.

But one particular startup term, the pivot, has surprisingly useful insights for how we should think about our work and careers.

Pivoting means changing direction or focus. The idea is simple: an early-stage startup founder’s primary job is to build something people want. To do this, they need to take many high-quality shots on goal. It's easy to become attached to the first idea. It’s tempting to believe that a perfectly imagined solution is ready to take the world by storm, but it's likely either half-baked or just plain bad.

The success of a startup is a function of the founding team's capacity to run effective experiments quickly. These experiments enable founders to gain knowledge and discern when to pivot, and the startup that learns the quickest wins its market.

Founders are encouraged to pivot if they think they’re not the right team to execute a particular idea or when their startup is not growing fast enough, and for good reason. There’s an opportunity cost: every moment spent on something that’s not working is a moment taken away from something else that could be productive.

This opportunity cost also exists in our work lives. Every minute spent in a job we’re dissatisfied with or on something that no longer helps us grow is a minute wasted. We should normalize experimenting and pivoting in our careers. Experiments help us learn and recognize when it's time to switch paths, and those who learn quickly are more likely to lead purposeful lives that reflect their values.