Pivot Your Creative Process & Business

Pivot Your Creative Process & Business

Business June 11, 2013 / By Jeffrey Davis
Pivot Your Creative Process & Business

To get unstuck in how you create a thing or a business to create things, learn how to pivot.

To get unstuck in how you create things or a business to create things, learn how to pivot. Learning how to pivot in the early 21st century can help us creative-minded people accelerate how we create things - and it can help business-minded people work with more meaning.

At least according to Bruce Nussbaum.

Bruce Nussbaum has been tracking these opportunities and trends for several years. Former managing assistant for Business Week, Nussbaum is also professor of innovation and design at Parsons School of Design and author of the new book Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Innovate.

Nussbaum notes how in Silicon Valley to pivot refers to the agile ability to shift from one idea to the next in the early stages of a start-up. He notes how founder Kevin Systrom originally had a location-finder app idea called Burbn. It flopped in popularity - all except for one part of the app that allowed people to capture photos of where they were. So Systrom and his partners pivoted and built Instagram - a story I retell in The Surprising Way to Boost Your Creative Genius, by the way.

But Nussbaum extends from the Silicon Valley usage to refer to a larger trend that many of us have been tracking for a few years: In short, how to scale what you create differently. "Pivoting is the scaling of creativity," Nussbaum says, "that's essential to creating new products, new models for business and nonprofit organizations, and even entire industries. How and when to Pivot are the key strategic questions every entrepreneur, leader, or aspiring creator should be asking today."

In this sense, you focus not just on creativity but on creating things. 

I'll elaborate on Nussbaum's use of pivot but also add my own variations.

Pivot your field focus. For the creative-minded, creative-acting person, to pivot in this sense involves shifting your focus from one discipline or field to another while executing an idea or making something. For instance, Nussbaum notes that the designers of the original iMacs wondered how they could change the way we experience computers other than as clunky gray boxes. Enter the jelly bean. iMac designers toured jelly bean-making factories to study precisely what went into making these colorful, lovable, and simply designed candies guaranteed to make most people smile.

Pivot from creating things to creating a start-up. When you think about scaling your how you create things, you don't have to think in terms of a large business or of someday going public on Wall Street. It means right scale - scaled enough that you and your business can innovate quickly enough to keep up with inevitable changes in demand and industry competition. This ability to pivot helps homegrown ventures like The Woodstock Writer’s Festival or the Woodstock Film Festival in my artsy neighborhood flourish. 

Pivot from producing products to creating meaningful experiences. The smartest start-ups and businesses focus on creating meaningful experiences with whatever they make - whether it is a book, event, app, or gadget. Nussbaum calls this quality “aura,” drawing from Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In this seminal essay, the German thinker describes how unique works of art have an almost indescribable quality that, I would say, captivates and moves us. He called it “aura.”

Nussbaum speaks specifically of certain objects' and products' emotional hold on us. 

Now creative-minded people starting businesses are creating products “embedded with meaning,” to use Nussbaum’s phrase.

Here’s what I would call the paradox of pivoting: On one hand, artists and authors feel that business is alien to them, and on the other hand, business people feel that making meaningful art is alien to them. I meet, talk, and work with such creative people and business people every week. Both sides of creative commerce have something the other wants and needs.

I spoke with an artist recently at a meet-up in the Hudson Valley I instigated. He like many artists thinks that what he's trying to sell are canvases and sculptures. But then what he spoke to me about got to the very essence of what he is really selling. He said that when he's engaged with the natural world, he feels connected to something divine and when he's immersed in his studio he feels that too. "I want to give people that experience somehow."

Bingo, I said. That experience is what he's selling.

Artists don't make paintings. Authors don't make books. Designers don't make logos. They make meaning. They make meaningful experiences happen. 

As reluctant as some authors, artists, theatre directors, actors, and teachers are to think in business terms, they are the very ones that start-up businesses are in turn learning from.

Not only do artists and authors need to learn from business people how to develop their elevator speeches and make money from their work.

Business people also need to learn from artists and authors how to think differently about what they make and how and to experience the meaning of life that sometimes only artists and authors can offer.

All creativity and no business might lead to a poor musician. But all business and no meaningful experience and engagement also might lead to a superficial society.

Create Your Pivot Circles & Networks
Nussbaum suggests you hook up with local networks and create pivot circles. I've founded HV:CREATE as a zag from the typical "networking" meet-up. The heart of HV:CREATE is genuine conversation. An open exchange of ideas related to creativity, work, life, and money.

HV:CREATE is not primarily a business network meet-up. It’s not a place where people come primarily to sell their wares and workshops - although there is designated room for that.

It’s a place where people are invited to exchange genuine ideas, experiences, and resources related to what it means to be a creative human being in the early 21st century.

Here are some ideas for what you might encourage in your own pivot circles and networks:

Think about how you want people to feel or to be moved from experiencing your creation.

Pose your idea across different fields. Talk to someone in a field completely different from yours and get their take on how they would approach making your idea real to bring about that feeling.

Create an impromptu pivot circle. With 3-4 of you, talk about each of your ideas or projects, and support each other by pointing one another to other resources to execute and fund the project.

Ask good questions about each other’s process of execution. Ask someone you meet how she or he actually executed a successful project or idea. Who else was involved? How did the person get organized? What funding was necessary?

This space is part of what we're creating at Your Brave New Story, as well. A 4-day author's intensive for thought leaders, teachers, and writers ready to stand up and shape the story they and their book must tell.

We'll be pivoting ideas while both testing out proven strategies for shaping captivating books.

We'll also lay out ways that authors can pivot from creating a book to creating a brand and business that support the book - rather than expecting the book to support the author.

This is a big shift in many writers' and authors' thinking, but the early-21st century engagement economy affords unprecedented opportunities.

We all should find this pivoting challenging. Why? Because we don’t like to appear vulnerable. We equate exuberant confidence and charisma with success. But that over-confidence is an old story of commerce and creativity. 

A new story, a more brave story in my thinking, is when we creatives can be both audacious and vulnerable.

The new story of commerce and creativity is that now we creatives are being called upon to be resourceful, collaborative, vulnerable, and flexible.

And that's an astonishing story.

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