To really understand pivots in personal life, we first have to define and understand what pivots in business are or, to be even more exact, what they are in the startup world. In the lean startup methodology, “pivot” is defined as a fundamental change in a business strategy. The idea of a pivot is changing the direction of your startup while staying grounded in your vision and learned facts. It’s very important to understand that a pivot doesn’t only mean a change or a shift to a new business idea, but a systematic change in strategy while deeply considering all the facts that you’ve learned along the way, especially those about markets, and keeping your business vision as a compass.
When leading a startup, the most important question in this context is when you should make a pivot. A little complicated scientific answer is that you should make a pivot when each additional experiment you do leads to less progress. That basically means that you hit a local maximum. If you aren’t satisfied with the local maximum, you have to pivot to find a new, higher maximum; the highest possible maximum is called the global maximum and if you manage to hit that, you usually become one of the market leaders.
Even if you don’t hit the global maximum, you can probably be satisfied with one of the local maximums. There are many companies that aren’t global market leaders and are doing just fine. If you’re making enough money and you enjoy the kind of business you have, the local maximum is okay.
Nevertheless, there is one more angle to consider as a phenomenon of creative capitalism. In many cases, there’s no normal distribution on the market, but a distribution based on the Pareto principle where a few players take the majority of the rewards. In the past decade, we’ve been able to see an even more tense concentration. It’s basically that 10 % or even fewer players take 90 % or even more rewards. You can see that kind of concentration in almost every industry, from technology to arts and sports. That’s why your ambition must be to hit the global maximum. You will see later why this concept is important for pivots in personal life.
However, there’s a situation much worse than not hitting a global maximum that can happen in the business world and is actually often even worse than going bankrupt (as the other extreme to hitting a global maximum). It’s called becoming a zombie company. A zombie company is a company that finds itself in a situation where there’s no death, no growth, no progress and no moving ahead. It’s consuming an enormous amount of resources and is a terrible drain on human energy. A zombie company is a company stuck in the land of the living death, a company stuck in some very low local maximum that’s far from the company’s vision, but the founders don’t want to pivot because of fear, ego or whichever reason.
To be fair, it’s not easy to pivot in business or in personal life. It means that you were wrong and it hurts. It means that you have to make a change and we all genetically hate changes. But being agile and lean is about being wrong before you are right.
Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions.
To continue, there must be several factors fulfilled to make a successful pivot in business. You need to stay faithful and passionate about your vision. You need to have a deep understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve with your business idea, especially based on past validated learning. You need to know your wrong assumptions, actual falsifiable hypotheses and, on the other hand, you of course need new metrics and targets. Last but not least, you also need resources, energy and passion to make a pivot.
There are ten potential pivots you can make as a startup:
- Zoom-in pivot
- Zoom-out pivot
- Customer segment pivot
- Customer need pivot
- Platform pivot
- Business architecture pivot
- Value capture pivot
- Engine of growth pivot
- Channel pivot
- Technology pivot
Most successful startups today pivoted a few times (Dropbox, Groupon, AirBnB etc.) before finding the right product/market fit. They started with the initial idea, created a vision, built several minimum viable products, and then gathered feedback from the market. They made a pivot in their business strategy (or several of them) with superior market insights while keeping the vision and staying passionate about it. They pivoted all the way to product/market fit and customer validation. Afterwards, they started scaling their business. Pivoting in personal life is basically no different.
Pivots in personal life
Much like there’s almost no startup today that didn’t make a pivot or two or even dozens (if founders were passionate enough) before really succeeding, so you have to make pivots in different areas of your personal life sooner or later. Making a pivot in your personal life is basically no different from making a pivot in business. In personal life, you often don’t even have a choice and are forced to make a pivot (your partner breaks up with you, you get fired etc.).
To go back to basics: a pivot in personal life is a fundamental change in your life strategy. You change your direction in life, but you still keep the same life vision and you consider the facts you learned about yourself and your environment. The time for a pivot in personal life comes when you hit the local maximum and aren’t satisfied with the result. You try harder to improve and in different ways, but none of the experiments and new ideas lead to any progress. You feel like you’re emotionally stuck.
Basically the solution (that in reality isn’t easy at all) is to make pivots as many times as necessary until you find the perfectly right fit for you. That’s how you get unstuck. The only downside of an action like this is that it gets worse before it gets better. You must go through a before finding fit apathy.
Potential pivots in your personal life
Few people in this world are lucky enough to find their perfect fit right away. They marry and live happily ever after with their first love. They practice a sport that’s written in their genes from a very young age or whatever. Even when that happens, it’s usually only in one or, if you’re super lucky, in a few areas of life. But to live a happy and successful life, you must manage and juggle several areas of life, so nobody is spared changes in life. The point I am trying to make is that all of us have to make a pivot in our personal lives sooner or later.
Here are some major potential pivots you can make (or are forced to make) in your personal life:
- Your mindset, beliefs and values
- Your spouse
- How often you see your family
- Relationships with your kids, if you have them, and how you bring them up (but that is the one you should not fu*k up in the first place)
- Your social circles and friends
- The type of sports you do regularly and your diet
- Your career and industry
- Revenue sources and investment strategy
- Formal education and skill development
- Your sex life
- Country and home and other environments you operate in
- The technology you use
- Religion etc.
The important thing is that you try to make a pivot as scientifically as possible, with the purpose of getting to your perfect fit as fast as possible. That means that no matter how hard a pivot is, you consider what you’ve learned about yourself and your environment. Before making a pivot and starting to look for a new fit, you should carefully analyze all the learned facts. You must be very well aware of how you know yourself better and what you want and you must have superior insights into your environment and what your wrong assumptions were. Every pivot should be a conscious and proactive change in your life strategy.
Your life strategy – read this blog post to get many new ideas for potential pivots in personal life.
How do you know it’s time to pivot in personal life?
There’s a very easy exercise that can be an indicator of whether you should maybe do a pivot in your personal life. The exercise is also a very good way to start with self-reflection. The idea is to make a life-satisfaction chart and assess all the chosen areas of life. All you have to do is first draw a scale from 1 to 10 horizontally, and vertically list the key areas of life or the areas you’ve chosen to assess. You assess every area or category of life from 1 to 10. Below, you can find an example of the chart.
Made-up case as an example, Part I
In the second step, you take another look at all areas you assessed with 4, 5, 6 or 7. These are the areas where you’re averagely satisfied, are indecisive about or for which you haven’t taken enough time to make a sound assessment. Not knowing where you are and what you want does no good. The truth is that life areas either work or they don’t, you’re either satisfied or you aren’t, there are no middle paths.
Remember the Pareto principle and concentration I mentioned in the beginning. It applies to this very well. Averages don’t help you in managing life much, same as markets don’t acknowledge average. You want to really excel in as many areas of life as possible. You want to be in the top 20 % (shape, for example) to reap all 80 % of the rewards (energy, good looks, positive self-image, stamina etc.). Your ambition must be to hit your global maximum and nothing less.
You can’t be in good and bad shape at the same time. You can’t follow an average diet and the perfect diet for you specifically at the same time. You can’t have money problems and be happy with your financial situation. You can’t be depressed and positive at the same time. The idea is that you deserve the best in all areas of life.
You either rock or you suck in different areas of life. Therefore, assess life areas again, but now by using only the numbers 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10. Take more time to really think about the areas you’re satisfied with and the ones you aren’t. Dedicate a few minutes to every area of life, analyze it extensively and then do a realistic evaluation. Listen to your inner voice and facts, but also pay attention to your emotions when deciding on the number to assign to a specific area of life.
Also be careful about cognitive distortions when making an assessment of your life areas. If you’re a perfectionist and aren’t satisfied with anything and have impossible standards, it may look like all your areas of life are miserable. If you put 1 – 3 to most of the areas of life, change your perspective. Rate how much you’ve improved since last year. It may help you to see progress in your life and get a more realistic evaluation compared to your impossible standards. In the same way, your assessment should be adjusted to your starting point in life and the fact that you compete with yourself, not others.
In the last step, highlight every 1, 2 and 3 with red, and every 8, 9 and 10 with green. Now you have a clearer picture of the areas of life you should potentially make a pivot in and make priorities for personal improvement.
The second, superior way to make a pivot is to go immediately from observation to action. You constantly gather feedback from yourself (body, emotions and mind) and your environment (social circles), and adjust your life strategy accordingly. That means that you’re really lean and agile.
Made-up case as an example, Part II
Making a pivot
If you’re very unsatisfied with a certain area of your life, things will probably only get worse with time. Problems only grow if you ignore them. You really can get stuck in the land of the living dead, being completely unhappy and miserable, it doesn’t only happen in horror movies. The sad thing is that in most cases, being miserable in one area of life negatively influences all other areas. Being a zombie is a terrible drain on your life energy, with no personal growth, no end to the agony, consuming your emotional, mental and physical resources without moving ahead. You’re stuck and it sucks.
To make a successful pivot in personal life, several factors must be present, same as in a startup company. You need to be passionate about the pivot, there must be a strong and deep desire to make a change in your life. You need metrics and targets, what you really want. You need to have a strong vision that fuels your passion or vice versa. You must be able to answer your why really passionately. You need to really know yourself and your environment based on your previous actions and you have to be aware of what you have done wrong, what your wrong assumptions were. There must be validated learning and you have to see your current situation as only a temporary state – that you’re wrong before you’re right and that you’ll find a new fit for you. It’s the same like being broke is a temporary financial situation, but being poor is a state of mind.
Let’s say you decided to make a pivot in your career– you decided to change your job or even industry. First you must have the passion to make a change, no matter how miserable your situation is. You can’t change things with a victim mindset and by feeling sorry for yourself. Then you need a deep understanding of the problem – yourself and your environment. Do you work at a company and your values mismatch, are industry trends going down, maybe your attitude and competences aren’t sufficient or there’s a complex combination of factors.
Based on your past actions and happenings in your environment, you have to know what you’ve learned. Maybe you’ve realized that working in a startup company is not for you. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe your assumption was that it’s going to be cool and exciting, but you were dead wrong. Maybe you learned that you need a more stable environment – in a corporation or an NGO. Good. Now you need a new set of assumptions, metrics and targets. You need a list of companies you want to work in, you need an outstanding CV, maybe develop some of your competences etc.
It’s just an example. There can be a thousand reasons why you’re unhappy in your career, and you have to know what it is in order to make a successful pivot. Just changing your job won’t do it. You have to do it more systematically and scientifically, by analytically considering all the facts.
Much like there are several different types of pivots you can make in business, so there are different types of pivots you can make in personal life:
- A zoom-in pivot would mean dedicating yourself more to something or approaching it from a different angle. Maybe you take more time for your kids or sports, and cancel some other activities and commitments in your life on the other hand.
- A zoom-out pivot would mean doing exactly the opposite, for example including new social circles in your life and disinvesting from some other relationships and activities. Here’s another example for both pivots: focusing more on one type of investments (technology stocks) would be a zoom-in pivot, diversifying your personal portfolio would be a zoom-out pivot.
- A relationship pivot would mean changing your spouse or business partner or any other important relationship in your life that you can change. This pivot also includes changing your diet or a sport you do. If you believe it or not, you also have some kind of relationship attitude towards food and your body.
- A personal need pivot could mean starting to dedicate your time to something new that’s important to you, but that you were neglecting or weren’t even aware you needed until you had an epiphany. It could be hobbies, social causes, travel, sexual needs or whatever. Another fact is that by growing up and getting old, our needs change and so we have to pivot.
- A life architecture pivot could mean a change in your beliefs and values, be it setting new priorities or changing religions, political or any other beliefs.
- A platform pivot could mean changing your country, the industry you work in, your home or any other of your environemnts.
- An engine of personal growth pivot would mean changing the things you read and listen to, your role-models and everything else that has an influence on your personal growth and who you ideally want to become.
- A value-capture pivot would mean changing your mindset, going from employed to self-employed or from employed to entrepreneur or investor.
- A technology pivot could be changing the hardware and software you’re using, or developing new technological skills. Maybe you could start using or discard different social networks and so on.
There are definitely many other pivots you can make in life, the ones listed above are just ideas and examples so you can get a clearer picture of what a pivot really means. What’s important, one more time, is that you consider the learned facts before making a pivot. If you decide to pivot to another spouse, make sure you know what you liked and what the deal-breakers of your relationship were. Doing a change without any validated learning is not a pivot, but just a shift or a change. Without doing it systematically, it may take decades before you really find your fit or you may even never will.
The emotional challenges of a pivot
The hardest part of any pivot is usually of an emotional nature. First of all, when you’re in the position to make a pivot, you probably had great expectations for something, you were sure of something beautiful that would have happened in your life, but it went rough. It’s not easy when your dreams collapse. The second thing that hurts, besides the painful gap between expectations and reality, is that you were wrong. Ego gets damaged when you’re wrong. It’s not easy to be wrong. Last but not least, if there are relationships involved, which there usually are, there’s additional pain from a breakup that’s always present, no matter how tough you are. Pain, pain and pain.
No matter how painful the situation, there’s a positive side to it and usually you only see that positive side with time. Time heals emotional pain and when the pain goes away, you have to take a few things out of that pain. You have to become aware of what you learned about yourself, what you really want, how the world and the environment you operate in work. You’re always wrong before you’re right. The idea of several pivots is to really find your perfect fit so you can be happy and shine bright like a diamond. If it’s time for a pivot, you aren’t sticking to the right thing or its expiration date has come. Nothing in life lasts forever, everything changes, and that’s why you have to stay lean and agile.
Pivot or persevere, that is the question?
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