What exactly do people mean when they talk about “life pivots”? Let’s explore the origins and meaning of the term first. Then we’ll look at some real-world examples of people who have turned things around with an effectively executed pivot.
What Is a Pivot?
The term “pivot” in the business/career/life coaching sense has its roots in basketball. To move around the court with the ball, you must keep dribbling. Once you grab the ball with both hands, you have two steps maximum before you must plant your feet.
Once planted, of course, defenders have a much easier time getting in your way. Until you pivot, that is.
In this basketball scenario, you must keep one foot planted. But your other foot can move. You can pivot on your planted “pivot foot”, giving you access to the rest of the court. You open up your field of view and your opportunities by orienting yourself in a new—but related—position.
So it is in life or business. If you’re feeling stuck, you may need to pivot. Reorient your life in a different—but related—direction where you see a better chance for success.
We’re going to look at two types of pivots: the career pivot and the company pivot.
The Career Pivot
The traditional career path of joining a company at the entry-level and working your way up is, for many, a thing of the past. Today’s businesswoman must take active ownership of her career for maximum advancement. Often that means staying within a career track but moving from company to company to step up the ladder. That’s not a career pivot.
A career pivot is when you move from one career path to a completely different one. It’s moving from sales into HR, or from accounting to academia.
Samuel Adams is a great historical example. He was a founding father, a preeminent voice in American politics. But that’s only once he found his calling. Before that, he failed at law, business and (irony alert) beer-making.
Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) had a successful career doing meaningful work in nuclear energy policy. Not until she left that behind did she become a beloved household name, though.
The Company Pivot
Companies as a whole can pivot, too. Take Starbucks. Love their coffee or not, could you imagine a world where you couldn’t actually buy brewed coffee or espresso drinks at Starbucks?
When the now-ubiquitous chain opened in Seattle, you couldn’t. It was a place to buy quality coffee beans and equipment, and that’s it. Hindsight tells us that there would’ve been no path to the kind of global success the company enjoys today if it hadn’t pivoted into the café model.
Many have transformed their careers—or even entire businesses—by a well-timed pivot. If you’re feeling stuck, don’t be afraid to broaden your horizons. There may well be something better just outside your current field of view.