Pivots and The Flat Earth Syndrome: When the Shortest Distance is Not a Straight Line

When I was learning math in school, teachers taught  a flat world based system (Euclidean), which is still taught today. Included in those lessons is the myth that the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line.

It’s the myth of the straight line, of predictability and stability surrounding a project business model, that most entrepreneurs try, and that approach is flat world to its core.

I have seen this work rarely, like a Steve Jobs reality distortion field.  More often you create a product that people love and grow a business around it over time.

It’s knowing how you will get through those early days, and when you will begin to see revenue, that determines your success.

Straight line people get stuck because life and business comes in curves, shifts, changes, and is constantly adapting to the needs of consumers, the competition, and your market.

Sometimes stuck in flat world thinking, they keep pushing for their straight line to work.

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A Curve Is Just the Limit of a Straight Line,

and Often a Shorter Distance

I see the same problem in many new entrepreneurs, who go in thinking that like math, business is a flat world where their actions will create revenue.

That myth interrupts many entrepreneurs, with an expectation that if they do A, they’ll get B.

Often they get C or D, with the inevitable pivot choice in front of them, maybe even above, below, to the right or the left.

  1. If you are frozen by choice, you live in flat world. You can’t see the choices, yet choices are always there.
  2. If you look at choice as an inevitability, you plan for it so you always have some alternative.
  3. This simple lesson is the one thing entrepreneurs struggle with because alternatives (to some) means lack of belief in your solution.

Belief involves something that does not exist; your solution proves itself to you, you don’t believe in the solution, you believe in what the solution proves to you…or you go find the next solution.

You’ve got a give a pivot some time to grow, but how long does it take before you know a pivot is not a pivot for your business? What if it is a mistake in direction?

Because once you break out of the straight line myth, you find many, many paths to the solution, not JUST your idea which is so limited – you are in the box, after all, and you created the business.

Let me a share a few ways to move beyond the straight line.

Question/Answer Exercise

Your startup has no money, lots of debt, and a product just moving into alpha development to be tested. How do you keep going for 3-6 months?

Straight line thinking will start your mind into list building. It’s easy to create all sorts of lists, logically justifying them as “this might work”, and spanning the breadth of what could be created.

You draw up so many markets/choices, and try to focus on 20-50 of them at a time, figuring that a few will hit.

Yet unlike a Vegas gaming board, your odds do not improve by the number of choices you put into the equation. Your efficiency decreases dramatically with each choice over 5, as you lose more and more focus.

Be careful of fake productivity, where you are genuinely busy yet accomplishing little to grow your business. You see this near the end of many businesses, who are trying to look busy.

Productive, not production, work involves finding revenue sources, or funding. You have to do either one, or both, to continue.

Curved World Solution: Write down your laundry list of solutions, whittle them down to 10, and pitch them to each other, or a few friends who understand your business.

Pick 3-5, the fewer the better. Focus on nothing but these for the next 30-90 days. You’ll see them, they will be often the most obvious, the least glamorous, and a step towards the solution.

As I shared with many of my own employees, when it works, be amazed. Don’t expect it to work, expect to watch what works and adapt.

Define how much revenue you need to pay the bills, create a little positive cash flow, and ultimately profit?

How quickly can you make the bill money? Focus on this along with your dream, because if you don’t pay and investors won’t pay – you either create income or your business turns into an expensive hobby.

Ask yourself…

Which markets exist, can be somewhat easily reached, and what level of commerce lies beneath them?

How much do people of this age buy?

For example, many assume that social media is dominated by younger Generations X and Y. As I wrote recently, Zynga’s games are dominated by a 48 year old American male as a typical customer.

If you are selling on Facebook, knowing this demographic is conducting commerce within Facebook is huge, that’s a pattern, a buying behavior in action, not theory.

Does your audience buy? How much traffic could you get if you owned the market, or just got 10% of it?

Start defining your markets based on:

  1. Who your customers know, like, and trust;
  2. Where they go for recommendations, ratings/reviews, or feedback;
  3. When and wat time of day and week they come online;
  4. Why they buy products related to yours.

That why is what you must define, determine, and adapt. And since it’s not a flat world to your customers, your business better not be a flat world for you.

I’m happy to answer any questions you might have, flat world or not…