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Stop waiting to be so innovative — take small steps instead

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When you hit a pivot point or plateau in your career or business, there comes a moment where any decision is better than no decision.

“I once heard the writer Wells Tower talk about an Alaskan channel where moose, trying to cross, become baffled by the fog and keep changing directions until they drown. It was a parable about writing — and life. Even after my moment of truth at my friend’s wedding, I kept waffling about law school, until I saw that the important thing was not to drown.” David Busis, New York Times Modern Love Essay

As I conducted research for my new book, PIVOT: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, I came across a category of people for whom money and financial gains—accruing a high net worth—are not their primary motivators in life. Financial security is important, but not everything. This group aims more for high net growth and impact instead, and will happily bootstrap a business or make a lateral move if it will keep them learning, growing and making a difference. I call them impacters for short. 

Impacters are hungry to make a difference in others’ lives. They long to be innovative, to come up with new ideas and build movements around them. However, one of the most common pitfalls impacters face when pivoting involves stretching too far outside of their existing base of strengths, interests, and experience. 

If you try to turn, or pivot, too sharply from where you are now, you’ll end up in your panic zone—a state of paralysis where nothing gets done. The ideal range for change for impacters is in the stretch zone: challenged, excited, and with a healthy dose of adrenaline propelling them forward. 

I was having coffee with my friend Owen and we were both mulling over our career options; his about what type of work to take on (if any) and mine on what type of business model would sustain me. He was debating going to back to computer programming for hedge funds, a line of work that paid well but led to burnout and was uninspiring to him. His other option, after having turned down a few other consulting gigs, was to move to Las Vegas and pursue his passions for music and writing, while doing computer programming on the side. Meanwhile I was contemplating what kind of business opportunities would provide steady cash flow, add value to my community, but not be the same old oversaturated online content that bored me to tears. 

“Maybe we both need to stop trying to be so innovative,” he said. “Stop waiting until we have the big earth-shattering idea and instead just start with something we know is boring, then build from there.”  

He had a point. And likewise, it was easy for me to look from the outside and tell him, “At a certain point, just pick something! If being in New York hasn’t brought you any closer to a decision, maybe you need to change your environment, take on a consulting gig—something, anything, to get more momentum and more data. At a certain point standing still is no longer productive."

Pot, meet kettle! I was doing the same thing. In spinning in my mind for so long about my next business move, the one thing I was not doing was testing any small, scrappy ideas with my community. Rather than wait until I had all the resources to build a killer brand or create a new software project, I needed to start the way I always did: with a jury-rigged but useful set of “homemade” tools. If I could create something that was worth $30 a month to ten or 100 people, there was no reason I could not grow that over time to be a $100 value for 1,000 people or even 10,000. 

So, in early 2014 I launched a beta version of my private Momentum community, and am now heading into the second year as I build the plane while flying it by listening deeply and asking for frequent input from the people who matter most: the real-life (not just hypothetical) members who are paying to be there. 

One of the biggest keys to pivoting effectively is running small experiments based on your strengths. A strong experiment will help you test three things: do you enjoy this new area? Can you become an expert at it? Is there room to expand in the market?

If I had waited until I had the perfect solution in place, I would still be spinning my wheels. Even though my programs aren’t perfect (when will they ever be?!), at least the wheels are heading in the right direction, picking up speed as we go.

So how about you: what one next step can you take or small experiment can you run this week? 

Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, published on 8 Sept by Portfolio Penguin (£14.99).

Jenny  Blake

By Jenny Blake

Jenny spent over five years working at Google, where she was co-creator of Google’s Career Guru Program. She has gone on to become an author, career and business strategist and international speaker who helps people organise their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love.

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