Pivots, Veers, and Omniscience

Jason Freedman posted about companies that change direction to exploit assets they’ve created in different ways. A company pivots if it has made a drastic change that renders it almost unrecognizable from its original conception (Groupon is a common example, they started out in online fundraising and switched to group coupons only as a last resort.) A company veers if it has made a less dramatic change.

Jason’s argument was that in many cases it may be better to veer than to pivot because huge unprincipled changes in a company’s vision may be disastrous and overly dependent upon luck.  You see similar things in natural evolution; most large mutations to organisms are really bad, and so, by and large, natural evolution proceeds by small incremental change.

Of course, drastic changes can happen slowly over the course of natural evolution; a modern species will superficially not resemble its ancient ancestors. Many tiny pivots, an accumulation of adaptations to local environment, have so changed an organism that it’s core purpose seems no longer the same as its ancestors. For example, I hope that no one confuses me with my great^100000 grandfather, the flat-worm.

Pivoting, veering, or in general, a shift of any kind in core purpose of a company, is admitting that we are not omniscient. The core idea of a company, formulated idealistically in advance, may not reflect the ever-changing needs of users, and thus must adapt when implemented. Core assets designed for one purpose may be exapted to other contexts, and our preconceptions of what customers want or need often turn out to be misinformed.

I’ve recently launched a side project, and based on the luke-warm response I’ve received so far, it seems as if veering or pivoting will be in my near-future as well. One hopes for a grand reception for a new project, and is disappointed when it is received with indifference. Yet, this is how most sites implemented in isolation from users (as mine was) begin, because an entrepreneur’s internal model of what would excite people, or what people needed is often wrong.

The niche I thought I was filling (sensical price comparisons for supplements) either doesn’t exist, or I’ve formulated it in the wrong way, or my implementation is way off-base. I need to re-examine what I’ve done, seek sharp criticism, and see if there is anything salvageable. Perhaps there is a way to slightly veer to more favorable winds.

I’m not omniscient, but hopefully I can be smart enough to listen and adapt what I’ve created to what people actually want or care about.

The lesson behind veering and pivoting is that stubbornly following your initial plan, when that is clearly not working or is misinformed, is a fool’s errand. Veering is about embracing serendipity and the unique opportunities that result from the assets you’ve built, and following where those things naturally lead, even if it means letting go of where you initially thought you were going. No one is omniscient.

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