July 3, 2015

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Five): Pivoting on the Path to Paradise

rhodesWhen we start down the Path to Paradise, we lay our “Life Capital” on the line: we stake what we’ve been and done and have on a dream, a vision of what could be. It’s a bold, risky, scary venture. We’ll run into big time challenges, and to meet them we’ll need to stay light on our feet, be adaptable, flexible, resourceful. And we’ll need to do that without compromising, rationalizing, or otherwise losing the essence of what we’re after.

How do we do all that? By learning to pivot.

Pivoting is a term borrowed from the entrepreneurial world, where the idea is to create continuous feedback loops that monitor market response to innovation. You want to know what works in real time, and you want to find out before you blow through your startup capital.

Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, describes pivoting this way in his blog, Startup Lessons Learned:

In a lean startup, instead of being organized around traditional functional departments, we use a cross-functional problem team and solution team. Each has its own iterative process: customer development and agile development respectively. And the two teams are joined together into a company-wide feedback loop that allows the whole company to be built to learn. This combination allows startups to increase their odds of success by having more major iterations before they run out of resources. It increases the runway without additional cash.

Increasing iterations is a good thing – unless we’re going in a circle. The hardest part of entrepreneurship is to develop the judgment to know when it’s time to change direction and when it’s time to stay the course. That’s why so many lean startup practices are focused on learning to tell the difference between progress and wasted effort. One such practice is to pivot from one vision to the next.

So how do you know it’s time to change direction? And how do you pick a new direction? These are challenging questions, among the hardest that an early startup team will have to grapple with. Some startups fail because the founders can’t have this conversation – they either blow up when they try, or they fail to change because they are afraid of conflict. Both are lethal outcomes.

I want to introduce the concept of the pivot, the idea that successful startups change directions but stay grounded in what they’ve learned. They keep one foot in the past and place one foot in a new possible future. Over time, this pivoting may lead them far afield from their original vision, but if you look carefully, you’ll be able to detect common threads that link each iteration.

Pivoting is disorienting because when you do it, it’s hard to tell if you’re still moving toward your vision or if you’re giving up on it. The key to “learning to tell the difference between progress and wasted effort” is to stay in touch with those “common threads that link each iteration.” In enlightenment terms, that means staying anchored in the purest distillation of what you’re really after, and allowing the rest to fall out as it will.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.


  1. […] post not long ago? And what’s the difference between conceding defeat/failure and the practice of pivoting I’ve been talking about? And how DO you move from denial to acceptance without giving […]

  2. […] post not long ago? And what’s the difference between conceding defeat/failure and the practice of pivoting I’ve been talking about? And how DO you move from denial to acceptance without giving […]

  3. […] Pivoting and nimbleness are key entrepreneurial concepts, and Loyola takes them to heart:  i.e., students can benefit from the kind of narrow mylaw.com focus they’ll be able to give their business clients of choice. And the best part is, they’ll learn without suffering the brain-numbing stresses of law school. […]

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