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Rebecca Ryan, APF
Rebecca Ryan, APF

There was a lot of good energy coming into 2021 fueled by a new year, new vaccines, and high hopes for an end to quarantine. I read a lot about the need to pivot.

{clears throat}

Let's slow-think this.

"Pivot" means making a sharp turn from one direction to another.

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In my pro basketball days (that's me in the photo above with the red circle around my head), I was a master pivoter. On offense, I would pivot to throw my opponent off-balance and create opportunities for myself or teammates to score. Pivoting on offense was part of a well-practiced and intentional set of plays designed to win ballgames.

When you hear "pivot" today, do you get the sense that leaders have a playbook, know where they're headed, or have a vision of what "winning" looks like?

I don't.

At WASTECON (best conference name ever!) I asked:

Is your team more focused on the sidewalk (near-term) or the horizon (longer-term)?

Twenty-to-one (roughly), attendees said "Sidewalk." That mirrors nearly every conversation I've had since the start of the year.

No one knows where they're going. They're just trying to muddle through. Or worse, they're trying to get "back" to a broken future.

These are not the conditions in which to pivot. If you pivot while looking down at the sidewalk you may lose your balance or hurt yourself.

2021 is not the year to pivot. We've already made the pivot.

Covid forced us to pivot from schools and offices to homes and Zoom. It forced us to categorize workers who were "essential" and set women back three decades. George Floyd forced us to pivot. Divisive national politics are forcing a pivot. And the Pandemic Wall is making us pivot: to reach deeper than we ever have for resources we never realized.

We have lost so much and there's no going back. We have already pivoted.

So if 2021 is not the year to "pivot", what are we going to do?

I'm drawing inspiration from the ox. In the Chinese calendar, 2021 is the Year of the Ox. Oxen are known for their persistent, powerful (even stubborn) forward movement. Oxen don't pivot. 2021 is a year to outline our vision for a better future and then develop a new rhythm of steady, persistent progress towards that vision.

What does this mean for you, change-makers?

  • If you lead an institution or department, it means getting crystal clear on why you exist. What current human need do you fill? And in the new conditions, what does excellence look like?
  • It means you'll have to once-and-for-all let go of some things that just don't work anymore so you can create space for ideas, experiments, processes, or people that are better suited to the times. If you're a long-time leader or experienced manager, maybe this is the moment that you step out of the limelight and become a mentor to the next rising stars.
  • It means you'll have to take some risks and run some experiments. "Let's try it and see what happens" will be the motto for pilot projects and innovation teams, measuring as they go.
  • It means you'll start working with different people in new configurations to leverage cognitive diversity and tackle new and better questions.

My friends, we've already made the pivot. We've turned away from What Was. Now it's time to build new scaffolding for What Can Be.

Let's do this.

P.S. This post was edited from a January 2021 e-newsletter. You can be the first to read these posts and learn about the Futures Friday lineup by subscribing below.


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Rebecca Ryan, APF
Rebecca Ryan, APF

Rebecca Ryan captains the ship. Trained as a futurist and an economist, Rebecca helps clients see what's coming - as a keynote speaker, a Futures Lab facilitator, an author of books, blogs and articles, a client advisor, and the founder of Futurist Camp. Check out her blog or contact Lisa Loniello for more information.

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