The New Yorker asked this weekend, “If you could eliminate one word from the English language - for any reason - what would it be?” There are a lot of words I dislike — “yummy,” “chortle” and “Black Eyed Peas.” But I realized today that the word we should destroy is “pivot.”
Pivot, the noun, is a fine word. Or to pivot on one foot, like in ultimate frisbee, is also perfectly decent, along with a handful of other meanings of the word. They’re unfortunate collateral damage. Pivot should be obliterated because of the way it’s increasingly used by Silicon Valley, much the way you zap lower back tattoos into oblivion with a laser.
Do you remember the app Color? It received $41 million in funding and nobody quite understood why, indicating that we were in fact in the middle of a tech bubble. The app failed miserably. A few months later, the developers created a totally new thing that’s basically a livestreaming Facebook app. It’s also called Color. Meanwhile, creator Bill Nguyen shared with the Times an “ambitious plan to compete with Apple, Google and Facebook by tying together group messaging, recommendations and local search.” You might notice that none of these things have anything to do with photo sharing. Most of the tech press reported this as a “pivot.” If by “pivot” you mean completely abandoning its original business model, coming up with something else entirely, and then calling it the same thing. When you pivot in ultimate frisbee or basketball, you turn while one foot stays planted.
The only reason to use the word “pivot,” in its new Valley context, is to hide something with language — largely, to avoid talking about failure. Your app didn’t fail, you pivoted. Sorry, you failed. But failure is fine! Most experimentation is failure. Good things come out of failure. But you failed and now you are doing something else.
Here are some other “pivots”: Eeve pivots into Popset (I don’t know what either of these apps are); some grocery receipt app pivoted into an NFC sex app; YongoPal pivots to Wander (I don’t know what these are, either); oh, and some app that goes out of its way to say it didn’t pivot, because we all know by now what pivot really means.
But those examples aren’t even why I decided “pivot” needed to die. In a post describing Burbn’s “pivot” into Instagram — which actually hews to the real definition of pivot because photo-sharing was an aspect of the original micro-blogging service — Ben Horowitz notes, “Dalton later pivoted out of PicPlz and is now building an exciting new service called App.Net.” WHAT DOES MEAN? WHAT. DOES. THAT. MEAN.
I’m sorry, but “pivot” must be pivoted. Into oblivion.