The Buzzword du Jour Is “Pivot”

It is popular during a time when people have too much time to think that they create unintentional cultural change. We have always seen the ability to be nimble in business to be a positive thing. A standard personal trait used by candidates for employment is to prove that they are flexible. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we began to hear how companies were pivoting from manufacturing automobile parts to help meet a critical supply of ventilators. Others have pivoted to redirect their efforts to produce surgical masks, gowns, hand sanitizers, and other necessary commodities. Now there’s no stopping the trend from pivoting everything! Forbes reports that restaurants have to employ a “Pandemic Driven Pivot” to stay in business. The New York Times tells small business, “It’s all about the pivot.” Even in Hollywood, Variety is reporting how the TV and movie industry has to pivot because of “Pandemic and Protests.”

When a word becomes jargon, it loses its meaning. Is pivot one of those?

The Positive Side: To a company facing financial disaster for any reason, the ability to alter course may be the only way to survive. It’s important to understand that this is a crucial business decision to create profit and not some philanthropic gesture to be hawked by marketing. “We are with you” is an empty phrase and is not pivoting. The throngs of the suddenly-unemployed need to have an inventory of genuinely transferrable skills to prove an ability to change. Typing “I am flexible” on a resume doesn’t make it unique unless there is evidence that it is true. Overcoming cynical response parroting buzzword use is, well, pivotal. Prove that you know how to pivot!

The Negative Side: In physics, a pivot is a point of rotation. Such action is critical to how mechanisms, including the human body, perform. However, rotation is not advancing. It is merely going in circles. Using only existing knowledge and well-beaten paths do not add to the human experience. Implying that a pivot has happened doesn’t mean that someone is taking a new course through the storm. A forced change of direction indicates a reaction and not being proactive in resolving problems. A temporary change of direction suggests that there is an expectation of returning to the old way of doing things. Show that your pivot is positive! 

Maybe pivot is not the best word to use in these unnatural times. We will probably pivot until we find out that we need an entirely new direction. How will we know? Pivots require maintenance. If you are continually oiling your rusty pivot, then maybe it should have been made out of sturdier material in the first place. Perhaps a better catch-phrase for the times would be “Nimbility.” Nimbleness implies that a current direction has met an obstacle, we have examined all underlying factors affecting the problem, alternatives are available to consider, and logical decisions influence the outcome positively.