Business

History’s 8 Most Important Un-Pivots

Silicon Valley has a new buzzword with plenty of historical relevance.

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A new Silicon Valley buzzword was born yesterday, when Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said he would revive his disappointing social app, Jelly.

“For anyone who remembers Jelly, yes, we took a break but we’re back 100%,” he wrote. “Silicon Valley types might call this an ‘un-pivot.’”

Some important context: “pivot,” in tech startup circles, is a well-known code word for abandoning a failed project in favor of something new. This is a fairly common practice, and lots of things we love, like Twitter and Slack, started life as something completely different before a pivot to something better.

Stone, when he saw that people weren’t using Jelly, pivoted away from the app to work on another app called Super.

An “un-pivot” — returning to that which was pivoted away from — is relatively unusual in tech, which is probably why Stone felt the need to coin a word for it.

But while “un-pivots” aren’t the norm in tech, they have played a central role in some of the most important developments in human history. Here’s a few of the great historic un-pivots that Stone and Jelly can perhaps take inspiration from.

3. 1920: During Prohibition, the U.S. pivots into national sobriety, then unpivots back to national drunkenness 13 excruciating years later.

In one of the most foolish political decisions of all time, the United States Senate passed an amendment banning the sale of alcoholic beverages. Franklin Roosevelt, looking to disrupt our long national nightmare of experiencing life without the aide of beer, pivoted us back to turnt in 1933.

4. 48 B.C.: Ancient Rome, after several centuries as a republic, un-pivoted back to a dictatorship.

Julius Caesar un-pivoted the Roman Republic by becoming “dictator in perpetuity.” His disruptive vision got him killed, but the groundwork for the Roman Empire had been set.

5. 2003: In one of the worst television arcs of all time, Rachel pivots to Joey, enraging the nation, before getting back with Ross.

It was hard to watch for us all. Luckily, Rachel un-pivoted her way to Ross again before a mass boycott of NBC ensued.

6. 14th century: The Italian Renaissance represented the beginning of a great un-pivot back to Classical art forms.

 

The sculpture of Ancient Greece was pretty rad. Then, art was less realistic in the Middle Ages. Finally, in a breathtaking un-pivot, Renaissance humanists rediscovered ancient techniques and ideas.

7. 1559: Elizabeth I un-pivoted England back to Protestantism.

In a profound un-pivot, the queen re-established a Protestant church in England, returning to the religion of the period before the reign of her Catholic half-sister Mary I.

8. 1994: Michael Jordan inexplicably pivots to a minor league baseball career. The inevitable, magnificent un-pivot soon followed.

Eugene Garcia / AFP / Getty Images

After spending a really weird year playing minor league ball for the Chicago White Sox, Michael Jordan unpivoted all that and went back to the NBA, finally. God.

9. 1804: Napoleon un-pivoted France by becoming emperor.

The French Revolution had been a pivot away from monarchy, but those dreams ended when Napoleon engineered a masterful un-pivot.

10. Circa 33 A.D.: Jesus dies, then unpivots back to life.

Bullish on atoning for the sins of the world, Jesus then became the ultimate founder.

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William Alden is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. Alden covers the technology industry.
Contact William Alden at will.alden@buzzfeed.com.
Deputy Editorial Director, BuzzFeed San Francisco
Contact Jessica Misener at jessica.misener@buzzfeed.com.
 
 

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