The Only Basketball Move I Know

At 5’1” I was never chosen for a basketball team.  As such, I am as atrocious on an easy layup as I am on a fade away jump.  I am so bad at basketball, that I my season ticket holdings may be what accounts for the Timberwolves performance since their induction into the league.

But there is one basketball move that I have executed over and over in my career that always leads to success: the pivot.

In basketball, the pivot is a great move to gain relief from defensive pressure or to change the offensive dynamic.  The player keeps one foot planted on the floor while moving the other to either shoot, dribble or pass in a new direction.  As long as one foot remains planted, the player can spin to take in the competitive landscape and then move the ball to the next best position on the floor.

Businesses looking to change their value proposition, customer base, marketing voice or other key element would do well to learn how to pivot.  (Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO – are you listening?)  Your customers, your vendors and your employees will move with you if your change is a pivot.  Show them that you are starting from your legacy heritage but making a change that moves into the next chapter.  A wholesale conversion is very unlikely to succeed.

Here are some examples:

Subway’s message of “Eat Fresh” allows them to pivot to the place of healthy options and become the supporting company for everyone from Jared (look at all that weight he lost at Subway!) to Apollo Ono (It must be good for you – he’s an Olympic athlete!)  Could they succeed if tomorrow they became the home of a decadent 3-layer burger?  Absolutely not.  But, boy, would it be easy for them to pivot into frozen yogurt….

American Eagle Outfitters once stood for flannel, denim and Timberland boots (before they were urban hip) and had a heritage with blue-collar shoppers who wanted Pendleton looks without the price.  They moved from that to their current teen-focused apparel by pivoting to denim, flannel and hoodies with everyday working man materials and teenage body cuts.  Had they strayed too far (say, creating a luxe brand of high-end fabrics and styles) they would have failed.

Back to you, Reed.  Netflix was the brand for people too smart and too busy to wander through Blockbuster staring at rows of empty DVD cases.  Log in, add titles to your queue, take a look at the titles the recommendation algorithm suggested, then just wait at the mailbox.  First and foremost, Netflix was super easy.  So easy, that longtime subscribers were willing to pay a monthly fee even on those months when they didn’t watch many movies.  Enter Qwikster and Netflix didn’t just pivot – but actually told its customers it was changing everything: the pricing structure, the login, the delivery plan, the name.  Maybe each of those things individually was a good move – but package them all together and customers didn’t know who Netflix was anymore.  Exit 810,000 customers (and counting) over one quarter.

Who did it well?  I don’t know.  How about Apple: Computer, pivot: iTunes, pivot: IPod, pivot: iPhone, pivot: iPad, pivot: iView??

I am a proponent of change.  No thriving organism exists that can’t change and adapt.  But the ones who succeed are the ones who pivot, take a step, pivot, take a step and change the outcome of the game.

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