I’ve been watching some of the talks from the excellent Authors@Google series (where Google employees hear from authors on a wide variety of topics) and one that has really made me think is a talk by Eric Ries (@ericries) who is the author of the forthcoming book ‘The Lean Startup‘. I’ll review the book as soon as it is published, but there are some strong messages coming across loud and clear in the talk. The video is an hour long and well worth a watch. Although the book focuses on startups, there is much to be learned for many organisations.

 

If you can’t see the embedded video above, please click here to see it.

 

Ries defines a startup as ‘a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty’ and argues that it could generally be done a lot more effectively. As he unpacks this, it is clear that the thinking can be applied to organisations of all sizes as well as startups.

 

There is one aspect of The Lean Startup that I want to focus on in particular; the pivot. This is apparently old thinking in startup circles, but was new to me. The concept of the pivot arises from the fact that startups are harder than typical New Product Development as you don’t know exactly who the customer is, or what they want (just like The unclear path). So, as a startup develops, the pivot is a change of direction (firmly grounded in everything that has been learned) that moves you towards success.

Ries develops the following points:

  • It can take a number of pivots before finding success.
  • Reducing the time between pivots allows for more pivots and increases the odds of success before money runs out.
  • Focusing on the learning required in order to pivot can drastically reduce the time between pivots (by developing the minimum viable product); each iteration is simply testing a hypothesis.

 

We know that lots of projects fail and I see a lot of change programmes and reorganisations that seem to be constant, without delivering the expected impact. Perhaps Lean Startup thinking is what we need in these situations; to run a series of really intense initiatives which will produce just enough learning to pivot and drive towards the successful outcome.

 

As soon as the book is available, I will definitely be reading it and posting a fuller review but (on the basis of the presentation) it looks great.

 

What is your experience of startups and pivoting?

7 Comments
  1. I’m a huge proponent of the Lean Startup movement.

    Sometimes find it hard to believe that decades of internet startup entrepreneurs have worked on developing products under conditions of extreme uncertainty using a Taylorist mass production methodology, top-to-bottom, waterfall-style.

    Indeed, the pivot is arguably the most important concept to get your head around when applying lean startup thinking, but to me, understanding its significance actually starts with its very fundamental question:

    How do you know that what you’re doing actually matters?

    Once you ask yourself that question – the question of what constitutes progress in a startup – there is no turning back. If you spend enough time thinking about this, you’ll inevitably arrive at the concepts of the pivot, the minimum viable product, and innovation accounting.

    If you don’t know what customers want, there’s no way you want to spend months or even years to find out. The desire to reduce the time between pivots naturally arises from the understanding that the first iterations of a new product will inevitably suck. Failing fast is the core idea here. Only when a product and its market are perfectly known does it make sense to deviate from the Lean Startup approach.

    I’m currently writing a short introductory series on the Lean Startup which you might want to check out:
    http://www.deviantbits.com/blog/the-lean-startup-in-a-nutshell-i-foundations.html

    • David, thanks for the comment; It is interesting to reflect how many startups could have turned out differently if they had applied this thinking! Your introductory series looks like a good, comprehensive summary.

  2. As soon as I read your post this morning and read the pivot concept something clicked for me. I can see it being an important concept in developing my business. It is something which I have been doing but giving it a name will give it more clarity. Thanks Ian.

    Joe

    • Thanks for the comment Joe.

      I agree about the clarity that giving it a name brings; The challenge to find the quickest, easiest route to get the learning for the next pivot is a neat way of looking at it and I like the idea of doing it quickly so you have time to get a few pivots and get to the really great business idea. I’ve pre-ordered the Lean Startup for Kindle so it will just appear on the day of publication and it is one I’m looking forward to reading quickly!

      I was at a Corridor Connections event on business model innovation last week and they recounted the story of Google which, to my surprise had a lot of pivots along the way!

      • There are a few more in this article http://mashable.com/2011/07/08/startups-change-direction/ . You might even have heard of a couple 😉

        I read it recently but just realised its about pivots now on re-visiting it!

        Enjoy.

        Joe

        • Joe, thanks for the mashable article – interesting to see how many of the biggies have applied the pivoting concept whether they knew it at the time or not!