Learning to pivot: Essential for living

By Melissa Miller

A few months ago, MennoMedia’s executive director Russ Eanes recommended that the management team read The Lean Start-up: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business by Eric Ries.


I picked up the book with its mouthful of a subtitle, and was readily drawn in by Ries’ engaging story-telling style, and the lessons he offers to organizations wanting to succeed in challenging times.

I’m not an entrepreneur, nor am I in business. My workplace in a rural prairie congregation is not a hotbed of radicalism, though the farmers in my church are resilient innovators, and I learn a great deal from them. I’ve learned quite a bit from Ries as well.

(More information about his sharp-eyed and hopeful strategies can be found at www.theleanstartup.com )

One of Ries’ key points is the necessity of making pivots. From Ries, “A pivot requires that we keep one foot rooted in what we’ve learned so far, while making a fundamental change in strategy…” Furthermore, the decision about whether to pivot (or to persevere) “stands out above all others as the most difficult, the most time-consuming, and the biggest source of waste for most start-ups…” As MennoMedia, other church agencies, or even a business address the challenges of fulfilling their mandates in lean financial times, pivoting is one option to keep before us.

I carried this concept to the most recent board meeting of MennoMedia, asking people to reflect on an experience of pivoting – in business, or in a church setting, or in a personal or relational way. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing people’s stories, and could readily see a thread weaving among them. The need to pivot seems to be universal. Who of us hasn’t come to a fork in the road or a dead end or a restless space and realized it’s time to pivot, to change direction, to set out on a new path, or to take a risk without a guarantee of success.

I learned the term “pivot” in high school gym classes, playing basketball. Though I’m not an athlete, I have always loved the term and the possibilities it represents. If you’re rusty on what pivot means in basketball, enjoy this review:

I particularly like the way a pivot requires keeping one foot firmly planted, while simultaneously shifting and moving and checking out the options to keep moving the ball forward. If we’re pivoting, speaking metaphorically, we need to know what our pivot foot is planted on. That’s as important as the capacity to turn, scan and assess new directions. Let’s plant MennoMedia’s pivot foot on its mission statement: We seek to engage and shape church and society with resources for living Christian faith from an Anabaptist perspective.

What new directions MennoMedia should be exploring?


Melissa Miller
Board chair