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Pivot Vs. Iterating (These Words Are Not Synonyms)


We used to pivot so much at Sterling & Stone that Ross’s infamous exclamation served as a verbal eye roll around the studio. Enough so that Niamh and I often hesitated whenever we were about to announce a change in direction, no matter how slight that shift might be, because we expected that word to show up jokingly in the chat.

Until we defined that difference for our team.

It has been years since we pivoted, despite constant iteration. Yes, there was a time when we were “making blinds in Manila” (a phrase coined by Johnny to mean getting involved in a potentially-profitable business that is well outside the scope of what you do). But ever since we turned our publishing company into an IP incubator with a publishing arm, Sterling & Stone’s course has been remarkably steady.

Pivoting can be positive or negative. Sometimes it’s a moment of realization that the path you’re on is not where you need to be, so a bold leap in a new direction is required. In those instances, it’s a strategic choice made at the crossroads. But other times it’s less a strategic shift and more like a knee-jerk reaction, driven by the thrill of change rather than its necessity.

Pivots and Iterations 
Instagram’s pivot from being a check-in app to a photo-sharing app propelled them into immense success. Slack started as an internal communication tool for a gaming company, but when their project failed, “Glitch” pivoted to focus on the communication tool that is now a ubiquitous platform for team collaboration (and part of our studio backbone). Nintendo has my favorite pivot of all time: before becoming a video gaming behemoth, the company produced handmade playing cards and experimented with various businesses like taxis and love hotels.

Google continuously iterated its search algorithm. It wasn’t changing direction, but refining its path to offer better search results. Apple has continuously improved its iOS software, introducing features and refinements with every new version. And the one that made the most difference to my life: Netflix’s shift from DVD rentals to streaming. Far from a pivot, this change was an evolution of its core service to better meet consumer demands and technological advancements.

Iterating is always about refinement — it’s less about changing directions and more about smoothing the path you’re already on. It’s a commitment to putting evolution ahead of revolution, with a series of small, impactful changes that subtly adjust the route without veering off a chosen track.

Recognizing when to pivot and when to iterate is critical.

Standing at the Crossroads
These words share a lineage, but not a destiny. They help us navigate the seas of change with wisdom rather than whim, marking the difference between strategic foresight and mere reaction.

When standing at the crossroads it’s essential to pause and reflect: Are we facing a moment that demands a bold new direction, or are there aspects of our current path that simply need refining? 

This introspection can reveal much about our current strategies and the adjustments they might require. Being adaptable, embracing both the grand leaps and the subtle shifts, is core to being a resilient entrepreneur or storyteller.

Our ability to adapt is what turns challenges into opportunities and setbacks into stepping stones.