• Kate Ainscough

When is a pivot really a panic and what is a beer bus ?

During the pandemic we have seen some spectacularly successful business pivots. These have ranged from my local pub pivoting to the ‘Beer Bus’; buying surplus beer stock from other pubs during lockdown and serving hand pulled beers from the back of the van around the village, making us all smile in the process. We have seen entertainment giant Disney make a massive pivot from selling its channels, movies and TV shows through cable networks and distributors to launching Disney+ and streaming content direct to customers. Brewdog have pivoted from making beer to hand sanitisers. Even Freestyle Innovation has made a channel pivot and we are now delivering all our workshop content via Miro and Zoom rather than face to face.

But when coaching innovation teams, the word pivot can be really overused; some teams are actually panicking and not pivoting. For example, I arrived at a client’s office one day to find a really dejected innovation team who were adamant there idea was rubbish and they must pivot immediately. Further investigation revealed they had no success trying to encourage sign-ups for their new service idea by giving away leaflets in a busy shopping centre. Their immediate presumption was their idea was flawed and they must pivot to something else, when actually what they had learnt was that the channel they had used for testing was just not appropriate. They were panicking not pivoting!

What Exactly is a Pivot?

A pivot is driven by learning and is a change in direction, but crucially only when the data tells you to. Feedback from one customer or the eye-roll from a Senior Exec are not reasons to pivot. It maybe that several experiments are needed to demonstrate that a pivot is required. Eric Reis, author of Lean Start Up defines the pivot as ‘a change in strategy without a change in vision’.

A pivot can occur at many different levels in your innovation journey. A helpful framework is the Pivot Pyramid Framework developed by Selcuk Atli. A pivot can happen at any level in the pyramid. For example, if we think about the ‘Beer Bus’, it didn’t pivot on Customers but it did pivot on problem, i.e. the pub is closed and solution - the pub comes to you. The key thing to remember when using the pivot pyramid is that changes you make at the bottom will impact your decisions above.

But the changes you make at the top don’t necessarily require you to change things below. For example, if you pivot on your ’Problem’, you will need to change or re-evaluate your product, technology and marketing channels. On the other hand, if you changed your technology stack, your customers may not notice any changes in your product. Similarly, experimenting with a new marketing channel may not require any changes in product or technology.

As we continue to deal with the pandemic we will continue to see businesses pivot and those that are successful will be those who pivot quickly and can recognise the difference between a pivot and a panic. For the record, the pub is back open doing really well and the Beer Bus is just a distant happy memory…