The art and science of ‘Pivoting’ to develop your brilliant idea

When to change direction - the art and science of pivoting

When testing a new idea, and working through the Proof of Concept phase it is important to keep an open mind. Be ready to apply the mindset of ‘Test and Learn’ and ‘Fail Fast’ on any elements of your idea where your original assumptions prove unfounded or incorrect.

Being willing and ready to adjust course, to allow new facts or events to influence your planned outcome is a positive and pragmatic approach. This willingness to adjust course is know in the start up and innovation domain as ‘Pivoting’.

Done with the right level of objective analysis and thought can result in a better and more appropriate solution. A better solution which takes into account new evidence to direct a stronger solution.

The term pivot conjures up a graceful and controlled move. In such a way as an experienced dancer or martial arts expert may respond to unfolding events. An elegant pivot through a combination of heightened awareness, anticipation and skill.

New constraints or opportunities may emerge through the life of the prototyping/Proof of Concept phase which are necessary to react to achieve your overall vision and stated purpose.

Once you start sharing and testing your idea or concept you will be inviting feedback from all directions. Some of this feedback will be immensely valuable. However, there will be some feedback which is not. You should categorise this type of feedback as ‘white noise’.

My brother in law, Stuart, is an experienced sailor and I have enjoyed a couple of extended trips on his yacht. Before sailing each day Stuart would plot a course to our destination and would then hand over control to me to navigate us through all the visible, and hidden obstacles.

I would need to keep a close watch on many dynamic elements. The depth of the water, the wind direction, major obstacles, like other yachts or sea vessels, as well as potential obstacles, like plastic bottle which could signify a hidden line attached to a lobster pot.

The skill here was to know when to ‘pivot’ from the set direction and when to hold firm to the course. Trying to absorb and react correctly to all these constantly changing conditions and events was both exhilarating and mentally exhausting.

If I changed direction every time a potential obstacle emerged we would never have reached our destination. However if I didn’t correctly anticipate and react to the right events I could snare the yacht’s propellor on a fishing line or crashed into a submerged sandbank.

Running a Proof of Concept may not present as many real life risks as sailing. However, there will be times when you may be overwhelmed with different and sometimes conflicting information and have to make an informed decision on how best to proceed.

Like sailing, determining when to pivot and when to hold your course through the life of your Proof of Concept depends on three core elements.

Having good instrumentation which is fit for purpose
Anticipating some of the potential obstacles or opportunities in advance and determine how to respond to them
Seeking expert help and guidance at the critical moments.

Having good instrumentation which is fit for purpose
When defining your measures of success, it is important to determine how you will actually measure the different elements you have identified. When sailing I relied on sophisticated navigation equipment which told me in real time the wind speed and direction, the water depth and of course the direction of travel.

In addition to these critical instruments I also used my eyes and ears to identify and navigate around potential hazards. Whilst it is unlikely you will need this level of sophistication to measure the key elements of your idea through the Proof of Concept phase, you will need to consider and put in place appropriate measures which can track progress and report back real, or potential obstacles which may cause you to pivot.

Having good instrumentation which is fit for purpose
It is a good practice to think in advance what events or information could cause you to change direction, and to be very clear in your mind what would constitute as positive feedback and what may simply be ‘white noise’ – and therefore should be ignored.

When sailing with Stuart he would alway discuss the route for the coming day and identify the potential obstacles we could encounter – explaining how I should best react.

Seeking expert help and guidance at the critical moments
Having the ability to call on someone with more relevant experience than you, a trusted mentor can be an immensely valuable asset in the early testing and evaluation phase.

Whilst Stuart let me sail his yacht for a significant amount of time, he was always close by and ready to offer his expert advice and support, and where needed, swift and timely intervention.

When sailing, he retained ultimate responsibility for all actions on board his yacht, including mine, and recognised that our personal safety, as well as avoiding accidental damage, was a constant priority.

Whilst it may not be appropriate or possible to have such close watch and guidance during the testing of your idea, it should be possible to find someone who has relevant experience to have periodic involvement in your Proof of Concept