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In Our Cynical Age, No One Fails Anymore -- Everybody 'Pivots' ( 131

An anonymous reader shares a report: The "pivot" has assumed a peculiar place in our common lexicon. A word once used to describe a guard angling for position on the basketball court is now in wide circulation in politics and business. That's especially the case in Silicon Valley, where pivoting has become the new failure, a concept to describe a haphazard, practically madcap form of iterative development. With its sheen of management-speak, pivoting is well suited to our moment. And like any act of public relations, pivoting is also a performance. A key part of the act is acknowledging that you are doing it while trying to recast the effort as something larger, more sophisticated, highly planned. The pivot, though it arises from desperation, is nevertheless supposed to appear methodical. The word seems to have first gained currency in Silicon Valley through the efforts of Eric Ries, author of "The Lean Startup." Ries defines pivoting as "a change in strategy without a change in vision." Many successful start-ups now claim a pivot as their origin story. Slack began its life as a video-game company before realizing that its actual value might lie in a chat app the company used to communicate internally. The company is now considered to be worth at least $5 billion, putting it among the most successful pivoters of all time. (Other web staples -- YouTube, Groupon, Instagram -- began life in vastly different iterations before pivoting into their current forms.) There's a promise of technocratic efficiency with pivoting, that all you require is a good business plan, and perhaps another injection of venture capital, and you can transform yourself overnight.
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In Our Cynical Age, No One Fails Anymore -- Everybody 'Pivots'

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  • Sounds like they're a successful company if one of their products didn't pan out but a different venture of theirs did. Did they still pivot and not fail if they just went bankrupt?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What do you think about an organization like moz://a?

      At first they didn't have much success. Mozilla Suite didn't see much use.

      But then they got lucky with Firefox. It actually managed to get approximately 35% of the browser market at its peak. This allowed them to sign some lucrative deals with Google, and then Yahoo.

      However, since then we've seen Firefox's market share drop off severely. The latest stats [] put it at maybe 5%, if we're feeling generous. They have essentially no mobile presence.

      We haven't see

      • Your choice of language made it abundantly clear that you have a beef with Mozilla for whatever reason. It completely overshadowed whatever point you were trying to make.

        Look at Mozilla sitting over there eating crackers like it owns the

      • Now we see them wasting resources on their Rust programming language, and the Servo browser engine they're writing in Rust. Neither of these projects is making any impressive progress.

        So, Mr Subjective, tell us how you really feel about Perl 6.

        Rust won first place for "most loved programming language" in the Stack Overflow Developer Survey in 2016 and 2017.

        I propose the Lavish Praise programming language.

        It stands for "LISP admittedly very impressive shit hot", although "perhaps Rust augments industrial sy

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Exactly. A company isn't in business to push a particular product, they're in business to make money.

      Many companies don't recognize that and fail.

      The only reason for a company to continue to manufacture and market a product is because that's the highest return they can get from their current assets... if that stops being the case, they should figure out an alternate way to generate revenue---perhaps even liquidating the assets and reinvesting into other businesses (kinda like what Berkshire did).

    • by galabar ( 518411 )
      Yes. Don't the examples seem to refute the premise?
    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Failure is a bad word. Failure isn't a bad thing. Fail, fail, fail again, and you'll end up finding something to succeed with. You just have to keep at it.
      • If a person keeps at it, they can start 5 business ventures. The businesses each fail if they go bankrupt; they don't fail if they find some marketable product.

        It's like going out to hunt deer and getting a moose. ... close enough; hunt successful. If you come back with nothing (or a rabbit) YOU FAIL.

  • How are you supposed to use the word "fail" in a PowerPoint to peddle VCs money???
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 29, 2017 @02:32PM (#55105303)
    We used to just call that 'reinventing ourselves'
  • agile development (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mbkennel ( 97636 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2017 @02:34PM (#55105319)
    I am pivoting the plan. Pray, I do not pivot it further. You know it would be unfortunate if I had to leave a McKinsey garrison here.
    • I am pivoting the plan. Pray, I do not pivot it further.

      Why not? That's how you find out the best plan for you in linear programming, after all.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You know it would be unfortunate if I had to leave a McKinsey garrison here.

      Finally, an entire army of onsite customer representatives!

  • Epic Pivot (Score:5, Funny)

    by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2017 @02:39PM (#55105351)

    This article is an Epic Pivot.

    • Nailed it. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 29, 2017 @03:20PM (#55105643)

      There is a strange notion that direct admission of failure is virtuous, and people who are quick to do this are reliable and successful.

      In reality...people respond to spin. Spindoctoring is a necessary skill in many endeavors. Saying the word "failure" can drive investors or clients away, whereas saying the exact same thing in nicer-sounding words can retain access to funding that is needed to succeed.

      Generally speaking, the more successful a person is, the better at spindoctoring they are. This has nothing to do with cynicism, and everything to do with how people respond to language.

      That's all.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Generally speaking, the more successful a person is, the better at spindoctoring they are. This has nothing to do with cynicism, and everything to do with how people respond to language.

        This is really only true in "soft disciplines" or in areas where the ability to lie to people is seen as a virtue -- basically politics and business.

        In the real world of people who work on objective criteria ... failed is a perfectly valid term and accurately conveys meaning... 'the experiment failed because ' ... 'the appar

      • Back in WWII, the Britiish General (later Field Marshal) Montgomery fought the Second Battle of El Alamein. He attacked the Germans, and the attack went nowhere. He switched plans, attacked in a different place (pivoted in this meaning of the term), and succeeded. Winning that battle got him a lot of fame.

        As far as spin goes, Montgomery said afterwards that everything had gone according to plan, and kept saying that about further battles. This meant that, when a subordinate was in a Montgomery operat

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          and in direct contrast, in 1916 & 1917, Haig at the Somme and a year later at Passendaele (spelling varies) didn't pivot - both battles were kept on well past any point of diminishing returns and both in atrocious conditions and both grinding attrition against a dug-in enemy.

        • Yeah, but he took it 'a bridge too far.'

          I'm not even remotely sorry for that. In fact, I'm kinda proud of it.

  • folks not accepting responsibility for negative outcomes is hardly new. OTOH 'pivot' doesn't always mean that. It also means "X didn't work out so let's go do Y". Apple 'pivoted' from a general PC manufacturer to a boutique electronics company and it worked out pretty well for them. Meanwhile Blockbuster dug their heels in and we can see how well that turned out.
    • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2017 @03:25PM (#55105673)

      Pet peeve: Blockbuster did not dig in their heels. They spent hundreds of millions trying to build a streaming service in 1998/1999, prior to Netflix. Their contractor turned out to be be running a giant scam (not just on Blockbuster, it was a multi-billion dollar scam), and took their money and market position and blew it.

      Look, there are plenty of examples of companies failing to anticipate the future, there's no reason to conflate that with the ones that fail to correctly implement what they can see.

  • That's an Epic Pivot for you.

    Nah, it sounds wrong.

  • ...when a company's founder started out with a miner's safety lamp that gave a region its name, pivot to making steam locomotives, and pivot again to building entire railways, before pivoting to making munitions, before being bought out by another of the founding family's companies and building diesel electric locomotives.

    Robert Stephenson & Co. also never failed.

    • Sounds more like he used the money from one business that is slowing down and moved to a new better business with higher profit dollars. The more you earn the more you can do. It is why the 1% don't think twice about bankruptcy as it still leaves them with millions in assets to rebuild with.

  • . . . and so have my businesses. Early and often. I think the reason I have had success is that I know the difference between success and failure, and learn from the latter to get the former.

    Still not sure about this "pivoting," though.

    • As my first engineering lead (a fatalistic Russian Jew who escaped over the Iron Curtain), used to say: you only learn from failure, never success. Success can be dumb luck but failure is all you.
      • by dtmos ( 447842 ) *

        Indeed. Truer words were never spoken. One may think, but one never actually knows, how close one is to failure until it actually occurs. Failures are, therefore, the only events from which one can learn.

      • by plopez ( 54068 )

        That's a fundamental theorem in Information Theory

  • You probably don't award anyone but shareholders for success.

    if you learn from your failures, you will be much better off in the long term.

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2017 @02:54PM (#55105477) Homepage

    Look, it is not true that no one fails. Tons of people fail. ISIS has failed. Radio Shack has failed. Sears has failed.

    But once someone fails, we stop talking about them (with the possible exception of politicians.) So you stop thinking about them.

    That only leaves the successful people. By definition, they did not fail, no matter how badly a previous project went. They overcame their failure and went on to success, usually by taking what they learned and trying something different.

    This is the exact same the thing that every one else has done. ALL THE TIME. The company "3M" failed to create a super strong adhesive for use in the aerospace industry, so they took what they did create and "pivoted" into post it notes.

    George Washington failed almost all his battles, but took what he learned and pivoted into a sneak attack at Valley Forge. Coca Cola failed at "New Coke" but pivoted back into success.

    This is not a new thing, it is just a new word for something that everyone has been doing for thousands of years.

    And a fool that is wining about successful people overcoming their mistakes instead of 'admitting' they failed.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      George Washington failed almost all his battles, but took what he learned and pivoted into a sneak attack at Valley Forge.

      It's more like he wore the British out, not outright failed. They were away from home in a strange land, and he just kept moving them around and around. US soldiers would rotate in and out, go back home to rest up and come back. He discovered attrition was our advantage. Most his battles were more or less break-evens, but the Brits didn't want to keep playing the break-even game.

    • new coke was just marketing for the switch to corn syrup, a change they never reversed
    • While pivoting is not really new, it now happens more often (sometimes multiple times for the same company) and it no longer unusual for a pivot to have little at all to do with the original idea.

      If it costs years and tens of millions of dollars to reach product, you don't generally see dramatic pivots. But when you can reach product in months with handful of employees and no capital equipment, the team becomes the most valuable asset. Preserve that in you pivot and you really haven't lost much. That's

  • A rose by any other name would smell as fail.
  • This is what happens when everyone that is given a participation trophy grows up. They try and change the use of language to remove the concept of failure.

    There are many, many, many, times I failed. I tried to learn something from those failures, usually afterwards, with lots of retrospection, regret, and alcohol, but they were still complete and utter disasters. To call them a "pivot" is silly, even though they all involved major changes after the chips fell. This is both personally, and in terms of decisi

  • Going down in flames from conducting business as usual is something people want to avoid. For this reason, they radically modify their strategy to succeed. Such adaptations are now classified as "pivots" but it's just an attempt to optimize your actions to achieve your goals (which may also change). This isn't new for businesses, it's just become more public due to the volatile nature of places like Silicon Valley.

  • Failure sounds so final. "You failed at that." "Fail? My first plan didn't work out, I learned a lot and used that knowledge to do this other thing well."
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So, I remember 25+ years ago a manager using pivot to mostly mean "place in your implementation plan where you could still have some flexibility in what you were doing but doesn't need to be decided now", with the "pivot points" being the point at which you assessed your options and decided which way to proceed.

    As much as the assholes in business, and especially in Silly-coin valley, can make certain terms trite and overused ... I'm pretty sure this was being used in engineering parlance at least 30 years a

    • I'm pretty sure this was being used in engineering parlance at least 30 years ago to describe "this or that" choices in a process that didn't need to be made yet.

      It's meant an actual physical turning doohickey for a long time. Cannon which could traverse through a decent arc, as opposed to in a fairly fixed direction, were called pivot guns, for example.

    • by Bongo ( 13261 )

      Presumably someone somewhere is making some profit off of marketing a "new insight", one which has been made to sound appealing by using an aura of sport and battle, ie. the player who can in the moment perform some deeply insightful and skilled manoeuvre, etc.

      Maybe the article is publicity to try to sell someone's book or something, or some PR firm's new service.
      All part of the economy that's devoted to imaginary products and imaginary usefulness.

  • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2017 @03:27PM (#55105689)
    in ballroom dancing (foxtrot, waltz). Though I knew need to keep knees flexed, maintain consistent connection with dance partner along with "step into her and go around, she steps into me and go around" instead a twirl-twirl. The key item I learned when she goes around, I need to think of going forward on the left (but not really), and this was the big breakthrough for me. Unfortunately had to wait 17% into the 21st century to really get the feel.
  • > that all you require is a good business plan, and perhaps another injection of venture capital, and you can transform yourself overnight.

    No, you need customers, only things you need. If there is none or not enough in what you're doing, aim differently to reach them.

    • Don't tell that to the sub-prime Leverage Mortgage Debt Bundlers, who made off with billions when they crashed the world in 2007.
      • No, they had customers. That's why they made billions. They just weren't the customers you might have hoped for.

        • No, they had victims, as in people sold one thing in lieu of the offered item.
          They were SOLD mortgages, what they GOT was paper diluted to negative value by merge and slice.
          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            Those are still customers. It was an abusive relationship - like what one might get as an Oracle customer. Victims? Absolutely. Still, customers - even if victimized.

            Yeah, I just checked the dictionary. I'm pretty sure they were still considered customers.

            • No, when you are exploited without another option (monopoly) you are not a consenting customer
              I take it you know nothing of Contract theory, obviously
  • Basketball? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Quirkz ( 1206400 ) <> on Tuesday August 29, 2017 @03:33PM (#55105735) Homepage

    Seriously, you're citing basketball as the origin of this term?

    A word 400 years old, coming from French, that means to rotate or change direction, now has become owned by a sport?

    • by burhop ( 2883223 )

      Seriously, you're citing basketball as the origin of this term?

      A word 400 years old, coming from French, that means to rotate or change direction, now has become owned by a sport?

      It was a slam dunk for the author. He had the home court advantage given it was written in NYC.

    • Seriously, you're citing basketball as the origin of this term?

      Yeah, if that isn't a sign of the miserable death of Slashdot as we knew it, I'm not sure what is.

    • I had a numerics instructor from India once who was talking about solving systems of linear equations (simple stuff, early in the class), and he referred to the technique of "pee-woting". Took a moment to realize that what he was saying was "pivoting".

  • if (speaker.phraseSpoken.contains("pivot")) {

  • "When you fall down, quick, pick up something and hold it aloft shouting "EUREKA!" and pretend you MEANT to fall down"
    Thanks Greg. I've gotten away with more mistakes that way.
  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Tuesday August 29, 2017 @04:33PM (#55106075)
    If you want to read about someone pivoting from failure to failure, read "Steve Jobs & The NeXT Big Thing" [] by Randall Stross. I hated reading the first half of this book because of the author's axe grinding against Steve Jobs, as the narrative in other books are always sympathetic to Steve Jobs. The other half of the book is where Steve Jobs pivots from all the mistakes that would end up reducing NeXT from a computer company to a software company. This book stops several years before Apple buys out NeXT and Pixar became successful. For that story, and my favorite Steve Jobs book, you need to read "The Second Coming of Steve Jobs" [] by Alan Deutschman.
  • It's now going to be a cute little Pivot Porpoise.

  • This is 100% BS Survival Bias []. You don't hear about the 90% who failed because they've failed. They've failed to even show you that they've failed.

    Every time you see a store close down and newer one getting in (ex: a new Walmart), there's a high chance it is because the old one failed. It could be financial, commercial, management, competition or other cause of failure, but we will never know. This is especially when no one likes to talk about failure.

    News like "nytimes" and the media don't show it because

  • While this is an excellent example of silicon valley BS-speak that really means something else, it reminds me a lot of the right-wing code words we hear so often these days: "law and order," "unity," "freedom," etc. We all know what these words really mean, when spoken by certain people.

    But, these phrases were all chosen for the honor of being used to cover up dumbness for a reason - because they do represent good ideas, when they are used genuinely and not as some flimsy sheep's clothing for something else

  • Q1: What do you do when your business plan is failing, but you have an excellent group of motivated people working for you?

    A1: Try another plan.

    Q2: What happens when that plan starts to fail?

    A2: See Answer 1.

    Happens all the time, at least to a well-led company.

Adapt. Enjoy. Survive.