Most of us have heard that people won’t be working one job for their whole life. In fact if you’ve been doing the same thing for more than 2 – 5 years employers are starting to wonder what’s wrong with you.
Where a 180 in a career focus was once seen as a black mark against you, now it’s expected to read a resume that includes programming, copy writing, coaching, and maybe even driving for Uber.
And yet there are still some hold outs for the old status quo.
Calling such career aspirations a crisis, shaming and blaming people for wanting to prioritize meaningful work in a volatile economy by saying they are “entitle” or “too picky,” means we are missing a huge opportunity to celebrate and support those who seek to make a greater contribution to their workplaces, society, and the lives of everyone around them.
Navigating this subtle pull back to the old normal versus finding what is the best thing for us to focus on is what author Jenny Blake hopes her book Pivot will do.
In this book I will share a framework to help you manage this process with focus, fulfillment, and — dare I say — fun.
She writes the books with a few assumptions that you should note as you read.
Job security has become an antiquated idea, a luxury mot people today do not enjoy, whether they are aware of it or not.
I define career pivot as doubling down on what is working to make a purposeful shift in a new, related direction.
Once you have accepted those 2 assumptions you can move on to Blake’s 4 main stages in a career pivot.
- Plant – figure out where you are
- Scan – see what is around you that’s interesting
- Pilot – try out small things to see how they work
- Launch – go with the stuff that worked and you liked
Note I say 4 main stages. That’s because she presents it as 4 stages at the beginning and then sneaks in a stage 5 at the end.
We’ll get to exactly what stage five is later. For now let’s make sure we understand what the 4 main stages are in a career pivot according to Blake.
Pivot Stage One: Plant
The primary goal of the Plant stage is grounding. Rather than aimlessly searching “out there” or building from scratch, the most successful pivots start from a strong foundation of your core values, a clear understanding of your strengths and interests, and a compelling vision of the future.
To start any career transition, you need to have an idea of where you’re going. Not only does Blake give us some questions to ask ourselves as we try to figure out where we should be going, she gives us some solid warnings.
One common mistake I see among people tackling a big decision is jumping straight into the how. This is a surefire way to send yourself into panic mode.
In the first stage you’re not supposed to focus on how you’ll achieve these dreams you have, just write them down and dream them. Don’t get caught up in execution yet. She’ll cover execution in a later stage.
You have enormous creative brainpower, so feed the outcome you seek, not the one you fear.
This is similar to the Cherokee proverb. You have two wolves fighting inside you. One is all about anger, envy, and arrogance. The other is on the side of joy, love, and hope. The Cherokee teacher tells his student to feed the wolf that he wants to win.
There is enough in the world that is trying to tear us down. Don’t feed it for yourself. Feed the parts of yourself that you want to see more of.
Pivot Stage Two: Scan
The scan stage requires that you look at both — new opportunities anchored in your existing strengths and ways you might expand beyond your comfort zone, revealing blind spots or hidden pockets of potential.
According to Blake (and I agree here with the premise) a successful pivot almost never comes out of left field. You won’t stop your training for sumo wrestling because you have a passion to become a professional ballet dancer. Maybe a strongman (woman), but not a ballet dancer.
The mistake that most people make here is that they do their scanning all on their own. They don’t network or find mentors. They sit comfortably in their home behind the computer screen and look around trying to figure it out.
If you follow Blake’s advice while you’re trying to figure out your path, you’ll get involved with people. People who can help you figure out what aligns with the purpose you defined in Stage 1.
Stage Three: Pilot
For our purposes, the primary goal of the Pilot phase is ignition and validation: Generating ideas, testing those ideas, then taking small, smart risks to eventually inform bigger decisions about what’s next.
How easy is it to say that you’ve got a new purpose and even a bit of a plan to achieve it and then do nothing. The reason we do that is because it’s easy to have an idea, and hard to execute.
Stage Three is the strongest of all the book. It presents us with many ways to try out small parts of our idea without simply jumping out of the work we’re doing hoping that something will catch us.
It also prepares us for starts, and stops and false starts and failures.
Prepare to be wrong during the Pilot process. At times it make feel like you have taken two steps forward, immediately followed by two steps back.
You’ve likely heard Thomas Edison’s thoughts on failure.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas Edison
This is a hard concept to embody for most. Many institutions bring us up to believe that failing is terrible. Remember when you brought home a ‘poor’ report card. No one was happy you found ways that didn’t work they were angry you failed. If you want to get through the Pilot stage, you need to cast off that baggage and be willing to try out things that won’t work.
Another great reminder from Blake in the Pilot Stage is that you need to play to your strengths.
Choosing an experiment that is not anchored in your strengths, past experiences, or desired future state is likely to send you on a wild-goose chase.
Because Seth Godin blogs short and pithy every day doesn’t mean you should be doing that. Sure try it out, but if it doesn’t work for your audience stop it. More importantly, if you feel like a fraud while executing some sure fire way to gain traction, every one can tell that your heart isn’t in it. It’s not working for you because you don’t believe it can.
Stage Four: Launch
Whether moving teams within a company, changing companies, starting a business, or shifting or shuttering one, launches involve a healthy dose of faith, smart risks, and adrenaline.
Stage Four is where you take the Pilot’s that worked, and start building on them. Her biggest push in this section is the Pivot Hexagon, which falls flat and we’ll talk about why when I discuss my problems with the book.
She does acknowledge fear and risks here. Far to many self help authors make it seem like their ideas are sure fire ways to become the best self you always wanted to be. While we may see the flaw in that intellectually, it’s still easy to fall in to the trap while we’re invested in reading their latest solve everything book.
One of the last reminders Blake gives us is about authenticity.
You can either go emotionally broke running around trying to please everyone, or you can spend your time creating, being authentic to your own needs and desires, then serving others from that full place.
I appreciate this at the end because she’s telling us that maybe we don’t need to follow everything she says. Maybe we need to see what works for us as we go forward, just like putting her ideas through the Pilot stage and sticking with what is good.
Stage Five: Lead
Stage Five is her sneaky extra stage. If you’re in love with her Pivot stages and see it’s value but manage people you can’t help but wonder how to let people pivot but stay in the company. I mean they’re good people so you want to keep them.
When people express how they would like to grow within your organization, do you provide support, guidance, and internal programs to encourage those goals? Or do you and your managers turn a deaf ear?
While there are some decent suggestions here, it’s still a fairly weak section. I don’t believe that you could really lead people in a pivot simply by reading her book and then implementing Stage Five. At the end I’ll recommend a much better book if you want to start coaching your employees.
Some problems with Pivot by Jenny Blake
Now that we understand Blake’s Pivot framework, I should tell you that I think the premise of the book is great, but it’s execution is poor to middling. That probably came across in the examination of the book above but lets look at some specific examples where I see that the book falls down.
She starts out by defining a pivot as:
A pivot is a change you make of your own volition when you have reached a point in your career when you are ready for increased challenge and impact.
This is contrasted with the end of the book where she tells us about her own pivot. In short she was in her ‘pivot year’ and things got desperate.
My money had run out. In order to stay in New York City, I had wiped out the last of my savings to get the apartment in which I was asking these questions. My rent doubled overnight, but my business income did not.
She follows that up by telling us how she was on the phone about to empty her 401(k) in her worst case scenario of becoming a business owner in her pivot.
She finishes up by saying that she ‘finally’ started following the systems defined in the book and that’s what dug her out of the hole she built for herself.
It seems to me that instead of following the systems here she actually started working. She started focusing on execution instead of hoping the benevolent god of the business owner would smile on her. She didn’t choose to finally make things work so much as she was forced to do the work she should have done in the first place.
I balk at her claim that the systems in her book are really what helped her, and by extension will help you, because I don’t think that much of it holds up to scrutiny.
The prime example of this is her Pivot Hexagon. Just before introducing the hexagon to us, she describes what the Project Management Triangle is. One can only assume that she brings up the well known Project Management Triangle because she wants to put her hexagon on the same footing but it doesn’t stand even close.
Her 6 items on the points of the hexagon are:
- Time Flexibility
Now look at these. Security in Blake’s words is about minimizing security and risk. Freedom is about financial freedom and the ability to choose your own work. After that she says other nice things to define 3 – 6 but they amount to repeats of her first two points.
Money is about a steady cashflow, which is #1 Security.
Time Flexibility is about the flexibility to choose how to spend your day, or #2 Freedom.
Structure is about routine, predictability. That duplicates #3 Time Freedom since you can build in as much or little of that as you need if you can dictate your schedule and since we know Time Freedom goes back to #2 Freedom…we’ve double repeated ourselves.
Adventure is about excitement, travel, creativity…which you get if you have #1 Security and #2 Freedom. You can build in as much adventure as you want.
After repeating herself 4 times, but getting slightly more specific so she has a hexagon she argues that the hexagon she just presented isn’t even the one you might use. Remember this hexagon was originally brought up after the Project Management Triangle to help us think that her hexagon is as immutable as the triangle. But she doesn’t believe that:
If any of the hexagon values I listed to not resonate, swap them out for your most important decision criteria.
This is the perfect example of the ‘hippy dippy’ feelings through out the book. It’s as if she thinks there is a benevolent business god and if you’re just earnest enough you’ll make it through. It made me think of Linus and The Great Pumpkin who was also an invented mythical figure that visited you if you were earnest enough.
I actually don’t have a problem with the idea that we need to define our most important decision criteria and then filter our ideas through those criteria to see which idea fits best with where we want to be. I disagree strongly with her subtle push that the Pivot Hexagon and the Project Management Triangle are on equal footing.
One doesn’t change, one is a bunch of feelings you have and changes as you see fit.
I found throughout the book ideas were presented like this. Facts, but not. Rules, but if you want something different then go for it. It’s as if Blake was told to write a ‘serious’ book of rules by a publisher but her natural writing doesn’t lend itself to that type of book.
A second example of Blake’s seeming disbelief in her own book is that she spends almost a 20% of it telling us why we should believe in it. It’s as if she’s trying to convince herself that the book is a good book to write but she had to read the beginning each time and build more arguments up for why you too should believe.
Solid books where the author stands fully behind their premise write the reason for the book once, maybe twice and then start telling us about their main points. If you need to spend more than 5% maybe 10% of the book convincing us that we should buy in to your idea, you don’t believe it either. At least you don’t believe it stands on it’s own. It clearly needs 10 layers of scaffolding and a 24 hour maintenance crew to keep it standing.
No I don’t recommend you read this book. If you’re looking for a great resource to work on Stage 1: Plant, look to Jeff Goins great book The Art of Work (my review) or Start with WHY. They both do a much better job at helping you find a purpose.
If you’re looking for help through Stage 2: Scan, check out The Big Leap (my review) and The Art of Work. The Big Leap, in particular, will help stop you from getting stuck on things you’re simply good at. There is another stage above good.
If you’re a manager and you want to bring some of these ideas to your team then read The Coaching Habit (my review). It’s going to do a much better job at showing you how to coach your team and keep them on track with their overall goals.
Yup I think your time will be better served reading 6 different books instead of Pivot. At least if you want to successfully pivot. If you want to read about some implied mythical benevolent business god, read Pivot.
photo by: clement127