The Pivot Point – Overcoming Failure and Knowing When to Pull a U Turn


People often find themselves so firmly married to an idea, goal, or plan, that even when it continuously doesn’t work out as expected, their tunnel vision doesn’t allow them to recognize that their failure in one thing might just be the catalyst that opens the door to something better. While I don’t believe in giving up easily – I do believe that for every defeat there is a new beginning, and those who can resonate with that principle and act accordingly constitute the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t. So when your business or idea is failing, how do you recognize when / if it’s time to adjust, pivot, or shift directions entirely without feeling like you’re “giving up”?

First of all, we should learn to correctly interpret the true meaning of “failure” and “pivoting” in relation to entrepreneurship. I think mantras such as “never give up” and “don’t fear failure” are often thrown around quite loosely in the entrepreneurial world, and, as a result, can easily be taken out of context without truly understanding how they apply in real life.

With so much emphasis constantly being placed on not being afraid of failure, many new and inexperienced entrepreneurs can fall into the trap of becoming so comfortable with failing that they keep going down the wrong road even when something just flat out doesn’t work.

It’s important to be aware of the fact that real progress isn’t made by your ability to just overcome failure and hit repeat, but by your ability to process actions and outcomes and how they relate in respect to accomplishing your goals. It’s not enough to try something and say it didn’t work so you’re just going to try again and again and again until you succeed, because chances are, you’ll just end up running in circles and never achieve anything with that kind of strategy.

Yes, the early stages of an entrepreneurial endeavor do require a stubborn willingness to follow through on your vision no matter what, but, this same trait that’s necessary to get you started could later end up blinding you to the need for adjustments and it’s important to be aware of that.

Realistically there’s been very few entrepreneurs who have “made it” without ever having had to make revisions to their original plans. If you’re not familiar with the evolution of Instagram, you might be surprised to know that it actually started as a multifunctional iPhone app call Burbn which was largely based off of FourSquare and Mafia Wars. Nevertheless, founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger were dexterous enough to overcome failure, switch gears from their original idea, and develop it into what it is today – a multi-billion dollar photo sharing app.

Recognizing when you should pull a U-turn and what it means to “pivot” is key to achieving success as an entrepreneur. One of the most important and frequently overlooked characteristics of successful entrepreneurs is their ability to understand and apply the idea of pivoting when dealing with failure or making difficult decisions.

Pivoting is the art of recognizing that the pursuit of a specific idea, direction or product – in which you’ve invested significant time, money and energy – is no longer the correct path to follow. By saying you know what it means to pivot, you prove that at some level you have encountered a disconnect, and triumphed over it by altering something which has allowed you to move forward.

You’ll also need to become intentional about asking questions, become a good listener, and be open to constructive criticism from those around you. This is where having a mentor can be especially useful as they can offer a more experienced perspective that might help you to recognize things your inexperience has caused you to overlook. Although, mentor or not, if you aren’t seeing the results you want, you’ll need to become transparent enough to ask yourself and your team some tough questions to get to the bottom of what’s going wrong and how to effectively switch gears.

This can be more difficult, especially if it’s something you’re passionate about when emotions and ego’s can get in the way. Emotions like pride and fear can block your ability to see the situation for what it truly is vs. what you want it to be. However, you can overcome this by analyzing pros and cons to determine what it really is that’s effecting your lack of success.

In what areas is you business excelling? Where are you weakest? What’s your strategy for scaling to the next level? Are you or your team becoming lazy or stagnant in your growth because you’re too comfortable? Are you marketing to your to the right audience? Perhaps it’s just the product or business model itself that needs to be reevaluated.

Ultimately, you need to find out what factors are causing you to fall short of your goals and where you see opportunities to change and improve upon them. By asking questions like these and increasing your awareness of actions and reactions, you’ll allow yourself to better synchronize your next moves in a way that aligns with achieving your end goal.

At the end of the day, if you’re failing, you’ve just got to stop looking at it as failure and start looking at it as feedback. Successful entrepreneurs demonstrate a unique ability to perceive and overcome failure as a necessary pillar to growth and success.

In doing so, you’re more equipped to analyze and adapt your strategy in any situation without feeling stigmatized by a shortcoming, since you now understand that failing is only one interpretation of a situation rather than a literal translation of your ability to execute and succeed.

In order to understand what does work, you certainly have to go through a trial and error period so you can establish what doesn’t, learn from it, grow from it, and then change course to make sure your direction is always moving forward.

One of my favorite quotes from Andy Frisella is, “I never loose, I only win or I learn.” As an entrepreneur, the ingenuity required to propel you in the direction of success will only be truly leveraged if you’re able to apply this concept, focus on the ideas above, and recognize the pivot point.

Shannon is the co-founder of Girl Powered Network, an organization that connects and empowers young women pursuing entrepreneurship. She has also established a 2nd business with her brother, Third Vista, which is a multi-service creative agency focused on helping brands and individuals produce engaging campaigns to successfully tell their story online, offline, and through various social platforms. She lives in Miami, Florida, and as someone who is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and businesses, Shannon spends her time focusing on how she can be an asset in helping others grow to reach their highest potential and achieve even greater success.