“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake
the world as in being able to remake ourselves.” – Mahatma Gandhi
If there is one thing we can be assured of in business – and life – it is that things might change. Strike that. It is that things will change.
One day, a potential big client shows up – hooray! That budding prospect then becomes an existing client for a few years. Great. And then, for whatever reason, that once-promising new client is a sad-to-see-you-go old client. Boo hoo.
That’s why what Gandhi says above applies perfectly. Our greatness is not in our ability to remake the world – clients come and clients go, change happens – but in our ability to remake ourselves such that we can better deal with inevitable change.
So, change is headed your way. The question is: how will you deal with it?
Fortunately, business people far smarter than I have given this topic a lot of thought. What do they say, what is it you are supposed to do and what is the best way to handle the inevitable change that will affect your business?
One word: Pivot.
You maybe have heard of that word in a business context before. It was first utilized in the great Eric Ries book, The Lean Startup. Ries uses it to discuss a strategy whereby, when a new startup faces an unexpected change, event, or fork in the road. What should they do?
It’s just like in basketball. In basketball, an offensive player at some point will stop and hold the ball. An opponent will then come at him. The offensive player may then pivot away from the defensive player into a new spot. If another defensive player comes at him there, he will pivot again to another new spot. Instead of getting flustered or frozen by the oncoming, unexpected defensive player, the shrewd offensive player simply pivots away from the problem into a (hopefully) safer spot.
In business, this is the same idea. What Ries and other business people have realized is that the pivot is the best, quickest, most economical way to deal with the unexpected. But what does that mean exactly? It means, ‘This isn’t working, try that.’ Or, ‘That isn’t working, try the other.’ Don’t fall for the analysis paralysis trap. Instead, notice the upcoming change and quickly pivot to a new, better course correction.
Here are some famous examples:
For 100 years, Nintendo made playing cards in Japan. In 1959, they struck a marketing deal with Disney, but then, a few years later, our friend Change knocked and the bottom fell out of the playing card business. Noticing the success their partner was having with toys and animation, Nintendo pivoted to that area.
Starbucks started out in 1971 selling only espresso machines and coffee beans. Later, Chief Marketing Director, Howard Shultz, went on a buying trip to Milan and saw people sipping espresso drinks at cafes throughout the city. Convinced that this change would soon come to America, he compelled Starbucks to accept this necessary pivot. How? By buying the company.
The point is, change can be big or brief. Pivots can be large or little. The trick to handling the inevitability of change is to notice it, to remake ourselves – as Gandhi suggests – and not get frozen by it. Finally, make the bold choice to pivot, and head in a new direction that harnesses change in your favor.
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success.© Steven D. Strauss.
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