How (Not) to Use Pivot
- On June 4, 2017
I grew up watching a lot of basketball, which is where I first heard the term pivot. The player who’s holding the ball keeps one foot anchored in one spot and uses it to turn—rather, pivot—in any direction, ultimately to get the ball in the basket.
Today, pivot is part of the national lexicon, first popularized by an entrepreneur who used it to mean that when something’s not working, a company needs to be agile enough to switch strategies—not throw its vision overboard, just modify its approach to get there. Think of the basketball player using his “pivot foot” to twist and turn, or dodge and duck, to get in a good position to shoot and score.
But through overuse—and misuse—pivot has become one of those worn-out, fuzzy-meaning buzzwords that gets spoofed on lists of words to stop using. It’s “half as long as ‘change direction,’ but twice as grating,” says Forbes. It’s “a lame way of saying ‘our original hypothesis proved incorrect, and we’re going to try something else before we run out of money,’” cracks a tech-world executive.
Here are a few ways I’ve seen pivot used lately—with fresher, more precise alternatives:
• The company had experienced tremendous success during its 15-year history, which made it harder to pivot toward new opportunities.
Identify or seize opportunities would be stronger and clearer.
• We ask the president and the president-elect not to pivot from longstanding Middle East Policy.
I prefer not to abandon, or disregard, longstanding policy.
• Pivots That Paid Off: Ten Companies That Found Big Success After a Major Transformation.
This headline sounds good—nice alliteration, good punch—but because pivot doesn’t really mean making wholesale change, you could argue it’s not accurate.
• I love people who are confident enough to say, “I was wrong.” The sooner you can do that, the sooner we can pivot and get on the right track.
I’d ditch pivot altogether. Get on the right track says it all.