“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run”

– Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

When your business isn’t working the way you want, ask yourself:

  1. Are you taking a structured approach to putting your business puzzle together?
  2. Is there something you’re changing a lot? Something you’re not changing at all?  Why?
  3. Have you got a clear stake in the ground so that changing other pieces of the puzzle don’t threaten your vision?  What are you willing to be flexible on?


noun piv·ot ˈpi-vət
: a pin or shaft on which a mechanical part turns
: the action of turning around a point : the action of pivoting
: a person or thing that is central or important to someone or something else

Building a business requires solving a puzzle:

  • Matching a product or service
  • That solves a problem
  • A certain set of people
  • Are willing to pay some amount of money to solve
  • And speaking to them
  • Where,
  • When, and
  • How they’ll understand
  • And be motivated to buy.

That’s a LOT of moving parts, right?  And that doesn’t even include our personal passion and inspiration about what we want to impact in the world.

One of the biggest challenges in figuring out how the pieces of that puzzle fit together for us in this time and place, is choosing what to hold constant at any given time and what to change in the search for the puzzle match.

This is a lot like science

When you have a hypothesis, you experiment to test its validity.  In order to do that, you must hold many factors constant and change only one at a time.  Otherwise you have no idea what is instrumental in the process – which component REALLY made the difference.  And that process of choosing what to hold constant and what to test is largely determined by the skill the experimenter has in the art of asking questions – the original setup of the hypothesis.

This same problem is at play in building a business or startup.  How do we choose what to hold constant?  And what to change?  And when do we make a big change – in startup talk that’s a pivot.  Pivot is appropriate because it implies that a lot is held constant, but there’s a shift, a turning around the central point of what’s constant.  (A pivot isn’t a whole new everything, that’s called moving on.)

Sometimes you pivot on the product, sometimes on the market, sometimes on the messaging, sometimes on the place.

When your business is stuck – sales aren’t growing, each one takes a lot of time, users aren’t signing up or bringing their friends – then you have to change something.

Here’s something to notice: usually the last thing we look at changing is the product or service.  We try to change everything else.  And sometimes a small change in the product can shift the whole picture.

While changing the product or service shouldn’t be your first action, remember that it’s always in the mix.  Instagram didn’t start out as a photo sharing app – far from it.  And there are lots of other examples.

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