MY FRIEND Marie had a huge, inspiring vision.
Her dream was to save animals that were abused or unwanted or that had owners who were no longer able to care for them. She wanted her rescue to be world-renowned so that people would seek her out when an animal that she could help was in need.
Oh—and her vision was that they would be exotic animals from all over the world.
This dream is akin to wanting to operate an exotic zoo. The costs of the location alone could be staggering, never mind the medical care, food costs, licensing, insurance, and staff overhead. Marie wasn’t talking about putting out some extra bowls of kibble for the neighborhood strays. It was a dream on the scale of millions of dollars.
There are a couple of ways to tackle a big vision like this. The first is to go all in. Marie could build all of the enclosures and barns needed to accommodate hundreds of animals. She could staff the facility and buy all the equipment. She could arrange for feed suppliers, waste removal, transportation, and 24/7 monitoring.
That big-leap approach is a common dream for many pivoters, especially entrepreneurs, and one that’s reinforced as part of the bet- the-farm belief that’s so pervasive in our culture. “Just bet it all,” the saying says. “If you build it, they will come.”
The problem is that they don’t always come. And in Marie’s case, if they did come, they would be expensive, high-maintenance, hungry, and often sick or injured animals. Every one that showed up would cost her more money, not less. “Build it and they will come” would have been a recipe for bankruptcy. A big leap was almost certain to land her in big trouble.
So Marie decided to approach her pivot differently. Instead of adopting a bet-the-farm approach, she’d slowly build the farm, step- by-step, piece-by-piece, and animal-by-animal.
She started by choosing to live in a rural area of Southern California where the zoning would permit farm animals and other agricultural uses. There would be no expensive legal battles to fight, and property costs would be lower.
She bought a house and began to work on her plan to attract not hundreds of abused or injured exotic animals but just one or two soon-to-be-homeless animals. As she was putting her feelers out for animals in need, she developed a small “starter” parcel of her homestead. The barn plans would wait, but for now she put up fences and enclosures for a few animals when they arrived. Step-by-step, she built a small-scale facility. It wasn’t her full vision, but it matched the loving care she planned to give to the animals that were yet to materialize. It was aligned with Marie and her values.
Within months Marie received a phone call and took in her first unwanted animal, a cross between a zebra and a horse called a “zorse.” Before long she had several zorses. Then a “zonky.” Next came a camel and miniature donkeys. And more. So many more, in fact, that she needed to build additional enclosures and take on additional help. Soon people from all over the world began to call her for advice on caring for and healing abused exotic animals. Marie’s big dream reinvention was coming true one baby step at a time.
Had Marie gone with the “big leap,” she would have been broke before the first creature even arrived. Instead, she took the approach of creating and holding a massive vision for her new life, but she didn’t leap before she was prepared to do so; she built her vision in baby steps.
Pivoting in Baby Steps
The surest way to sabotage your reinvention plan is to think big and then leap further than you are prepared for. Breaking your pivot down into tiny, bite-sized pieces has a number of advantages:
- It’s less scary. Big leaps can be frightening. Though
- it might seem dashing and courageous in books and movies, betting your whole life on a business venture or a reinvention is daunting, to say the least. Small steps, however, don’t have to be scary at all.
- It’s cheaper. Pivots often require investment. It could be in the form of money, time, or energy, but there’s always something that has to be put in to get something back out. Baby steps tend to be cheaper than an all-out bet.
- It’s less risky. When you bet the farm, you’re taking a huge risk. Burning the ships means no going back. But one small step? Not such a big deal—there’s only so far you can fall.
- You will probably make fewer mistakes. Not only are small steps less risky, but you might make fewer missteps also. Each tiny step toward your dream gives you more clarity. You learn a little and see a little further. And that lets each successive step be just that little bit wiser. That’s something that can make a big difference over the course of many steps.
These aren’t minor matters; they are serious benefits. Not only do they make for a better pivot and dramatically increase your odds of success, the advantages stack up into one giant, critical piece of the pivot puzzle that you can’t do without: They enable you to start.
The danger with the big-leap strategy for pivoting is not that you might fail; it’s that you might never start. And that’s the biggest pivot pitfall of all. Big leaps are too scary, too complex. They force you into a state of constantly trying to get your ducks in a row instead of, as the marketing guru Seth Godin puts it, “actually doing something with your ducks.”
Never starting is the single greatest pivot killer. Taking baby steps is the solution.
PIVOT POINT: Never starting is the single greatest pivot killer. Taking baby steps is the solution.