David Harkins

David Harkins

Dr. David L. Harkins is a social scientist researching the human experience in systems and culture. He is an experienced executive coach and consultant, passionate educator, and keynote speaker. Through his teachings, inspiration, and guidance, he helps individuals and organizations identify and connect with their potential to make a meaningful difference in their communities.

Always be Pivoting

Small businesses, as Tom Peters points out, are less innovative (Peters, 1994). Their successes get in the way of their need to change. They continue down the same path, day in and day out, operating on the idea that “if it’s not broke, why fix it?” All the while the market is diminishing, the competition is increasing market share, and the product is no longer serving the needs of the customer. It can be a slow and agonizing death for a small business. Too often, entrepreneurs do not realize the need to change or “Pivot” a facet of their business until it is too late, and this may be a factor in the high rate of small business failure.

For most entrepreneurs, a “Pivot” typically means a rethinking of the original business model. If what once worked is now failing, it seems time to move on to a different plan—a different way of generating money. It can be an anxious time, but it does not have to be a time of despair for an entrepreneur. Instead, it should be a time when the entrepreneur reexamines the business assets—both physical and human—to look more broadly for solutions to customer problems (Spoon, 2012).  The Pivot, then, creates an opportunity to refine and refocus the business on the customer needs, values, and expectations. It does not always mean the entrepreneur should blow the business up and start over.

The initial thinking behind the Pivot is that of forced entrepreneurial innovation and, as we have explored in a previous post, a key purpose of entrepreneurial innovation is to improve the delivery of a product or service to the customer—to improve customer satisfaction—then the outcome of innovation for the entrepreneur is an economic improvement. Why, then, would an entrepreneur not continually evaluate the venture for opportunities for “micro-Pivots” to the business and operations to keep the customer at the center of the business? Arguably, these micro-Pivots (i.e., continual innovation) may have cost factors associated with them; however, there should be offsetting new revenue over the long term (Shumpter, 1939). Each micro-Pivot should have a financial payoff. Regardless of the cost associated with any level of innovation, improving the relationship between the customer and the venture, or more specifically the customer and the product or service offered, will without question improve the economic viability of the business.

What once worked, will not always work. Entrepreneurs often forget this. That “passionate attachment” to the initial idea that gave birth to the business is too often insufficient to keep the company viable in the face of increasing competition (Peters, 1994). The skills and abilities required to get a business off the ground are not necessarily the same skills and abilities that are necessary to keep the business operating successfully. Many entrepreneurs do not have the capacity to transition from the start-up phase to ongoing successful operation–that is, a business that is continually profitable. For those who do, the key to that success may be as simple as “always be Pivoting.”

Take a good look at your business. What “micro-Pivot” might you make today that would improve your relationship with your customers? Are you willing to do it?



Peters, T. (1994). The Pursuit of Wow! Every Person’s Guide to Topsy-Turvy Times (1st ed.). New York: Vintage Books.

Shumpter, J. (1939). Business Cycles: A Theoretical, Historical and Statistical. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. Retrieved from http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/Schumpeter_joseph/business_cycles/schumpeter_business_cycles.pdf

Spoon, A. (2012, August 10). What ‘Pivot’ Really Means. Retrieved February 7, 2017, from inc.com: http://www.inc.com/alan-spoon/what-pivot-really-means.html

6 thoughts on “Always be Pivoting”

  1. I don’t know that it is fair to compare a company with 10 people to one with 1000 unless you are comparing the innovation that 100 small companies perform vs. 1 large one. A similar question can be raised about company with 1B in revenue vs. one with 1M. It would take 1000 such companies to really compare innovation.

    And given the age of the book (1994) I’m not sure that in 2017 “big companies” are all that innovative except for a few tech darlings. Clearly as time goes on (with the exception of Amazon) most stop being so innovative.

    Intel “pivoted” due to paranoia, though I am not fear is that great of motivator.

    re: why not Micro-pivot? I think inertia is an issue but so are time limitations. As companies grow the leaders often get stuck with time constraints that have little to do with innovation. So anything even a micro or large pivot needs to squeeze out those other requirements.

    All your points are important. If the US stops being an incubator of innovative ideas they will arise somewhere else. We need to find the answers to these questions and make structural and educational changes so we enhance the potential for leaders to innovate.

  2. I’m not sure I’m comparing here. I am suggesting that all companies, regardless of size, can benefit from those “micro-pivots.” I don’t really think size is relevant in the application of the Pivot. After nearly a lifetime working with and in small business leaders, as well as being an entrepreneur myself, I do believe that small businesses leaders are reluctant to change when the business seems to be working. It is not until a disruptive force hits the business that they are willing to change, and usually, it’s too late.

    Note that The Pursuit of WOW! is really just a book of provocative ideas and thought starters. It’s a jumble of information that can be picked up at any time (and I have since 1994) and be useful. Because it does not deal with any one topic, such as technology of the time, I am not sure the fact that it was written in 1994 should make it irrelevant to the topic of innovation.

    I do agree that the US needs to have a stronger educational model for entrepreneurship and some more expansive incubator opportunities. This is part of the reason I am participating in the M.E. Program–to have the formal “credentials” to teach entrepreneurship and innovation.

  3. David, I had a conversation with my SME about Pivoting (now I have a name for it). When the economic decline began in 2008-2009. he reexamined not only his menu, but keeping lunch as an option. it was no longer profitable and lunch order-to-table-time was too long for people on a normal lunch hour. So what he did was offer a set of simpler meals like spaghetti and lasagna (ones that could be pre-cooked and heated) to the menu, which helped. But not enough. So he decided to open for dinner and weekends and close on Monday. In order to maintain his customer base for a price perspective, he offer half-sized meals which were less expensive than whole size orders at a time when other restaurant chains were not doing so (innovation). it was a hit!
    I believe that pivoting is part of good business by listening to the customers or the absence of them in your establishment. Broken in the eyes of the consumer looks different in the eyes of the owner. Client-centered services is the key!

  4. I would have to agree with you David. I don’t think size has anything to do with the capacity to “pivot.” Further to the point, i’ve watched as local establishments have pivoted from being just a bar to a bar and restaurant or even further into a music venue to great success. By the same token i’ve watched large companies that make products nearly omnipresent across the world taylor their products to the incessant fluctuations of the global market. As a small business owner and having started more than one business I’ve experienced micro-pivots of my own. I think people assume that changes have to be on the scale of a corporate merger in order to affect change. Additionally, change in a business with employees, can be largely dictated by the culture of the business and whether or not they have cultivated change-driven traits in their employees. Kriegel and Brandt dedicate a chapter to this in their book. The gist of the chapter is that, beyond the grand ideas of higher ups, not only do resources need to be able to meet the challenge but employees must be willing to back it, not only back it, but be enthusiastic about the prospects and challenges it represents. Being only a small business owner and having very few employees, if any, my dealings with change and innovation have to be self-motivated. I understand well the apprehension of change but I accept that it is necessary for success. Great post David.


  5. Wow. That’s a progressive entrepreneur. Too often those changes are slow coming and kill a business. It sounds as if he had a good handle on his customer base, his sales numbers, and his food costs. It would have been challenging to have made such successful changes had he not understood it all and the inter-relationships. Yes, customer-centered focus is the key!

  6. I would agree it’s hard to change when you’re working alone or have few employees. So often I have seen entrepreneurs in that situation give up and close versus look for another way to make it work. Sometimes the answer is close, but more often it’s more about changing the thinking around the business offering. Many entrepreneurs will not do that, but those who do, those who pivot, often find renewed energy and business success.

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