John Jantsch: Hey, this episode of the Duct Tape marketing agency Podcast is brought to you by Rev.com. We do all of our transcriptions here on the Duct Tape marketing agency Podcast using Rev.com, and I’m going to give you a special offer in just a bit.
John Jantsch: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape marketing agency Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Jenny Blake. She is a former Career Development Program Manager at Google, and she is also the author of What To Do When You Need To Move Out of Your Parents’ Basement … No, that’s not it, we’ll get back to that one. The book we’re going to talk about today is Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One. Jenny, thanks for joining me.
Jenny Blake: John, thank you for having me. I wish I wrote What To Do When You Move Out Of Your Parents’ Basement, that sounds like a great title.
John Jantsch: I was talking one time about something to do with some sort of newish technology, and some, I’m guessing 25ish-year-old, said, “You’re old, what do you know about that?” So I had to write back to him and say, “Come up out of your parents’ basement before they take away your Atari,” or something like that, I can’t remember. Some snipey remark.
Jenny Blake: Oh my goodness. That, and the alternate title for Pivot is How To Not End Up In a Van Down By the River.
John Jantsch: So before we get into your latest book, what does a Career Development Program Manager do at Google?
Jenny Blake: I was there for five and a half years, and halfway into my time there … During that five years, the company grew from 6,000 to 36,000 employees, and one major issue became retention. You’ve hired all these smart recent grads from Ivy League schools, how do you then keep them once you get them there? That was becoming an issue where these people were hitting plateaus one or two years into their time at the company.
Jenny Blake: And so, under the People Operations Department, they created a Career Development team, and I had been doing side projects related to this. So my biggest project was launching a global drop-in coaching program. But in general, our charge was creating programs that would help people learn and grow within the company and map their next move within the company, so they didn’t feel that their only option was to leave.
John Jantsch: Yeah, it’s funny, I imagine in an organization of that size, which by the way I’ve never even come close to working in, there probably is a whole lot of career moving that happens internally. In fact, probably the day you show up you start thinking about your next move internally.
Jenny Blake: Yeah, and internal mobility is not always an easy nut to crack. At one point, there was a sentiment that it’s easier to get hired here in the first place than it is to move to another team, because there are a lot of variables that have to happen internally. Even just the visibility of what roles are open, and how do I grow into them, and how do I have those conversations with my manager. Because it can be kind of scary to bring this stuff up.
John Jantsch: Yeah, not to mention the politics too, which … We won’t go down a rabbit hole here, but I’m sure there’s plenty of that too, of people who unfortunately don’t want to see people grow beyond where they are today in some cases. But again, like I said, we won’t go down that rabbit hole.
John Jantsch: The term pivot is used quite often today in startups, in fact it’s sort of a joke that you’re expected to come out with your product, and then you realize nobody wants it, and so you now are this kind of company. So you pivot. How are you applying that now to careers?
Jenny Blake: At first, I started to ask, “How can people be as agile as startups?” And then quickly, as I got to writing … And also I wanted a term that was judgment-neutral and gender-neutral when it came to career change. Because previously we’ve just called them a mid-life crisis or a quarter-life crisis, there was no word for this thing that’s now happening every few years, where we’re all asking what’s next much more often than in the past.
Jenny Blake: I recognized that what’s different from the business context of the word pivot is that when startups talk about pivoting, it’s because plan A failed. The original direction didn’t work, and now, as you said, they have to pivot the business. But in our career, pivot is the new normal. It’s not just plan B, that we screwed something up, we hit pivot points all the time.
Jenny Blake: Sometimes we choose to pivot, sometimes we get pivoted, and truly now more than ever, change is the only constant. So I wrote this book to create a method to more efficiently answer the question, “What’s next?”, given that we’re going to be doing it much more often.
John Jantsch: Yeah, and again, you’re not saying it’s a generational thing necessarily, but I see that in my kids that are in their 20s. The balance and scales of what’s important seems to have changed in a way. It was at one time very important that you had this stable job, that it had a title, that obviously it had the money and the perks and things.
John Jantsch: And I see a lot of folks in their under-30s that the idea of, “I want to be really happy, I want freedom, I want to be able to do the things I want to do,” is sort of coming up higher in the decision making factor. Which maybe has some of them saying, “I’m going to change completely what I’m doing because I’m not happy.”
Jenny Blake: Yes, and on the flip side there are 10,000 people turning 65 every day for the next 15 years, and many of them don’t have any plans to stop working altogether, or just go golf for the next 30 years. So you have millennials who saw many of their parents get laid off, or re-orged, or be very unhappy when the recession hit in 2008, and so they kind of stepped back and said, “What am I doing climbing this ladder that I don’t know if I want to be on?” And then again, all the way to boomers who are saying, “I love what I do.”
Jenny Blake: I’m sure for you John, you’ve pivoted your business many times, and I don’t know how you think about retirement, but I just think for so many of us we’re like, “No, I love what I do. I don’t have any plan to cut it off cold turkey just because I turn a certain age.”
John Jantsch: Yeah, and my listeners know I’m 56, so I’m getting up there where some people start thinking about that. And I’ve certainly changed what I do, I take a lot more time to go play and things of that nature. But yeah, the idea that I’m going to just stop? Maybe never. I’ll probably be writing books in my 70s and 80s.
Jenny Blake: That’s how I feel too, and of course we can say it’d be nice if finances were an option at that point, we’re not having to work incredibly hard just to survive. But this creative output … My friend, Neil Pasricha, maybe you know him, he wrote in The Happiness Equation about the Japanese term ikigai, the reason you wake up every day, and working on creative pursuits.
Jenny Blake: So when I talk about pivoting, it is age and stage agnostic. It’s that we’re all constantly wondering what’s next, and that’s not a problem, that’s not a personal shortcoming the way that I think we’ve sometimes viewed it in the past.
John Jantsch: You answered a question I was going to ask, who’s this book for, so you’re really saying it’s for anybody who’s still thinking about what they’re doing that is making a living. A lot of times people don’t even realize they’re unhappy, and they’re just going along, they’re not looking for the next thing. Do people typically have a pivot moment, or event, that kind of says, “I have to change”?
Jenny Blake: It can happen so many ways, I call them pivot points, when you finally realize, “I’m at a pivot point.” For some who maybe have been ignoring the signals, your body starts to push back, and maybe they get sick more often. My friend was getting panic attacks every time she got off the subway on her way to work, that was a clear sign she was at a pivot point.
Jenny Blake: Like you said, for others it’s more subtle, it’s a more subtle boredom or dissatisfaction. Some people are very proactive, they’re just looking for what’s next. And then sometimes we get pivoted. There are layoffs, or a re-org, or we lose our biggest client.
Jenny Blake: So all of these are moments where we can say, “What’s working, how do I double down on that? And what’s next?” I think when we get better at pivot as a mindset, and the method itself, the pivot points are less sharp, they’re less shocking, that we don’t see them coming and we feel blindsided. And that’s when it is a crisis.
John Jantsch: And I think probably one of the biggest challenges for people, even if they know they need to make that pivot, it feels like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff. Maybe you have to quit a job, I don’t know what I’m going to do next. All those things kind of hold people on. I talk to lots of people that are kind of sort of thinking about wondering if they could start a business. But they just can’t jump because, maybe sometimes they’re afraid, but other times there are practical realities about the commitments they have.
Jenny Blake: Yes, I have a whole chapter in the book on pivot finances. Because money is a very real constraint on pivoting, and I would never pretend otherwise. We also, my editor and I, were very, very purposeful in not using language like leap or jump.
Jenny Blake: Actually, by running small career experiments, I call them pilots in the book, and by doubling down on what’s working, people can methodically work toward their next move. And eventually, I call it a launch, eventually there may be a launch moment of quitting your job and starting the business. But by running small experiments, you do reduce risk along the way before you make that final launch decision.
John Jantsch: I have concluded over the years, in interviewing hundreds and hundreds of people, that one of the greatest secrets to success is self-awareness. So this whole idea of doing what makes you happy, I contend that most people don’t know that, and don’t know what that looks like, and consequently don’t know how to find it. Do you have the magic potion?
Jenny Blake: I think that people are clearer than they give themselves credit for. A lot of times when I ask someone, “What do you want, what makes you most excited?”, they first might say, “I don’t know,” and then if I say, “Just guess, what does your gut say?” They always say things, they have so many things to say. So I think sometimes it’s actually just a fear of saying it out loud that holds us back from saying it.
Jenny Blake: So just giving space to admit and explore what success might be, and what might bring you joy, even if you don’t know how to get there yet, that’s really important, separating out the vision piece from the how, the whole how as I call it in the book.
Jenny Blake: And John, I’m actually curious, because we talked offline and a few questions ago you brought up getting pivoted. You and I were talking about when September 11th happened. I’m really curious how you responded in that moment with your business, because there’s a great example where you did not choose that event, none of us would in any scenario ever, and yet it affected so many people, it sparked so many pivots. So I’m actually curious to hear about yours in your business.
John Jantsch: At that point, I was still on the path of what I would call a traditional marketing agency consulting agency. We had a handful of employees, and a handful of accounts that we did pretty much whatever they said they’d paid us to do. And as you mentioned, 9/11 came along, and I think this happened in a lot of places, it’s not a direct correlation. I think it was partly a lot of things. Change maybe needed to happen, and that was a catalyst.
John Jantsch: But we lost our two biggest clients, partly because of what was going on in their business that was related to some of the downturn in the economy that happened, but again, is probably too complex to try to even figure out. The bottom line was we were sitting there now staring at 60% revenue loss or something overnight.
John Jantsch: I had already been working on this idea of Duct Tape marketing agency, this idea of working exclusively with small businesses where I could create a system and say, “Here’s what I’m going to do, here’s what you’re going to do, here are the results we hope to get, here’s what it costs.” And so, to your point about pivot, in a lot of ways I was dragging my feet on that, but when we lost our clients, I said, “That’s what I’m meant to do, so I’m going to go do it.”
John Jantsch: It did actually involve, in many ways, tearing my business back down to me, and starting from scratch for the most part. But I can sell anything, so I knew that wasn’t really going to be an issue. It certainly was a pretty dramatic pivot, but it was one that I actually knew I needed to do anyway, and I really just needed the push.
Jenny Blake: It’s so interesting how, yes, these moments like losing two of your biggest clients can turn out to be a blessing in disguise, even if at the time it’s the most stressful thing you could possibly experience.
John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape marketing agency Podcast is brought to you by Rev.com. They are so many ridiculously valuable reasons to order transcriptions. You can write entire blog posts, heck, you could write an entire book, by just speaking it and having Rev put together a transcript that you can then just bring on home. If you want to record a meeting so that you have notes, again, over and over, there are so many good reasons. If you just want to take notes when you’re listening to something, and you just want to record those notes. It’s amazing the reasons you can find for doing this.
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John Jantsch: So you do have, in the book … I actually think so many career advice books tell you what you should be doing, but don’t tell you how to do it. And I think you have a really great methodology for how to identify, how to get there, how to figure out what you do that might signal what’s next, like, as you mentioned, how to finance it.
John Jantsch: So talk a little bit about this kinda search for … Let’s say I’m just unhappy and know this isn’t what I was meant to do. How do I start breaking down the hypothesis, so to speak, for what I’m meant to do next?
Jenny Blake: The biggest mistake that I made when pivoting that kept me stuck for a lot longer than necessary, without, by the way, a paycheck to fund this stuck-ness, my bank account was going very quickly to zero, was I spent way too much time looking at what wasn’t working, what I didn’t want, and what I didn’t yet have.
Jenny Blake: My aha moment came to me, I sort of thought about this analogy of a basketball player. When they stop dribbling, one foot is firmly grounded in the floor, it’s very stable, and that’s what I call the plant foot, the plant stage. And then their pivot foot can scan for opportunity.
Jenny Blake: One of the most effective ways to get unstuck is first to look at what’s already working, what are my strengths, what are my interests, and again that question of what does success look like. Now you have bracketed the pivot with where you are now and where you want to end up. Then you can start scanning for options, people, skills, and opportunities that are compelling.
Jenny Blake: It’s when people are scanning … Most people when they think, “I’ve hit a pivot point,” they go straight to scanning what’s out there, and they fall into compare and despair and analysis paralysis, they feel they’re wasting time, and they are because it’s not rooted in anything, it’s not grounded in those plant components. Everything starts from that plant stage, and then you’re scanning.
Jenny Blake: And then a real key is the piloting, small experiments. Because we don’t know, we don’t know. I love metaphors, they just help me, so think about pilots. You have all these racehorses at the starting gate, and you don’t know which of your small career experiments are going to take off and emerge in the lead.
Jenny Blake: So career pilots, because that’s kind of a newer concept, to think about experiments in a career sense, in your business that could be piloting a new pricing structure. It could be piloting a new type of client. It could be taking a class. It could be launching a beta version of a program or workshop before you roll it out to your whole audience.
Jenny Blake: A pilot could be calling your previous clients, which I know, John, is something that you advocate, and asking, “What can I create for you? What do you want?” And then try something in a scrappy way before you pour six months of work and $5,000 into it.
John Jantsch: Yeah, and I think what’s really cool is, in this gig economy or world that we live in, there’s a whole lot of things you can freelance and do on the side even, to maybe finance some of what you’re doing, but probably more than anything else give you a sense of what that would be like. Because I know a lot of people get this idea of, “Here’s what I want to do,” and they jump into it, and then they go, “Oh, that wasn’t what I wanted to do, I’ve figured out now.” There’s so many ways you can test this, aren’t there?
Jenny Blake: Yeah, and I feel like even within the broader career umbrella, let’s say you and I are running businesses, we could still be piloting different income streams within that. Now, you’re the king of this, so I’m curious, what is one pilot or two that you could share, that you’ve got going in addition to the core elements of your business?
John Jantsch: Well, my point of view is that you’re constantly piloting. I learned long ago that if I locked myself in a room and worked on something for six months and then rolled it out and said tada, there was about a 90% chance that people are going to go, “That’s not what we want.”
John Jantsch: So our method for developing any new program or tool or course is to go to people that we know already understand the value we bring and say, “We’re kind of sort of thinking about doing this. What would that look like for you?” And then come back and say, “Here’s what it looks like based on your feedback. How much would you pay for that? Try this out.”
John Jantsch: Anytime we develop anything, it is really with our clients or with a market. And again, there are certainly people that have had tremendous successes creating stuff that people didn’t even know they needed. But I find the really safe route is to go to a market and let them kind of develop and create with you.
Jenny Blake: Yes, I love that too. And then it becomes such a co-creation. You’ve talked so much about that in your books too, it’s having one ear to the ground. That’s one of the things about the scanning stage, it’s not just about trying to guess and pull things out of the ether. It’s about listening and doing, in the design thinking community they call it empathy interviews, which is just getting to know, exactly as you just described, what people actually would love help with.
John Jantsch: And I really think, again, it’s like having these board meetings and planning strategy. You have to actually go out there in the real world and experience strategy, or experience what you’re planning, and then know that it’s going to evolve, rather than to simply throw a dart at a board and say here’s what I’m doing.
Jenny Blake: Yes, and I think any good experiment will test what I call the three Es. One, do I enjoy this potential new direction? Two, can I become an expert at it? And three, is there room in the market to expand? So sometimes a pilot will hit on two, but not the third. If I love underwater basket weaving, and I’m a pro, but nobody wants to buy those classes from me, it’s no good. So I think part of it is just continuing to see what’s really going to catch on all those fronts.
John Jantsch: Is there a risk … I see a lot of folks at organizations that have been there two years and it’s like, “What’s wrong with you? You’re going to get stuck.” Is there a risk of too much of that thinking, to the point where people are just constantly looking elsewhere rather than maybe upping their game where they are?
Jenny Blake: Absolutely, that was something that I thought long and hard about with this book because I don’t advocate just changing willy-nilly, or pivoting, or job-hopping the second things get hard. I have a section where I talk about unrealized gains, and on the other end of the spectrum diminishing returns.
Jenny Blake: Unrealized gains are where you don’t stick with anything long enough to get any value. You’re leaving gains, whether it’s financial, reputation-based, or results-based gains. If I had left Google when I first entertained the thought two-and-a-half years in, it would have been a huge mistake because I wouldn’t have created this global coaching program that’s now mentioned on the cover of my book. I got a lot of experience capital from staying.
John Jantsch: Plus a bunch of stock options.
Jenny Blake: Yeah, a few. Not enough so that I didn’t have to worry about my next pivot in two years. But I know, I wish I had started pre-IPO, maybe I wouldn’t even be on this podcast, I would just be on a beach in Tahiti.
John Jantsch: No, we just would be talking about something different. But you’d want to be here for sure.
Jenny Blake: True, true. So I think that a part of it is also recognizing that we can pivot within our current role. Whether that’s within your own business or you’re working for someone else, pivoting is not always these drastic shifts, it’s just a method to work your way into what’s next.
John Jantsch: So what are some kind of quick, you can make them either dos or don’ts, whichever way you want to go, some quick things for people that either sabotage their ability to pivot or keep the ground fertile at all times.
Jenny Blake: Yeah, one of the biggest pitfalls, again, is not looking at what’s already working. Another pitfall is trying to stretch too far. There’s the comfort zone, stretch zone, but then sometimes people will have a move that sends them into their panic zone where they’re just paralyzed and not taking any action at all. That’s a sign that your experiment is too big, or your turn is too sharp. If we look at the pilot on an angle from where you are now, it’s too sharp. So I’d say those are the biggest mistakes.
Jenny Blake: And then another mistake is taking a pivot personally. We talked about this a little bit at the start, but seeing a career plateau as a problem, or a personal shortcoming, when actually it’s fine. Maybe some of your listeners know about the S-curve, which often we refer to in terms of innovation cycles. There’s this natural tapering that happens, and then you start over.
Jenny Blake: I’m sure even everyone who’s self-employed, you’re in a growth spurt, and then it tapers because of your success, not because of anything you did wrong. You just hit these natural plateaus.
John Jantsch: Yeah, in some ways it’s probably important to continue to look for things that excite you, if nothing else, because if you’re going to put in the work, why not enjoy it?
Jenny Blake: Yeah, absolutely.
John Jantsch: So where can people find out more about Pivot and the pivot method?
Jenny Blake: The website is pivotmethod.com, and then they can also listen to the Pivot Podcast, anywhere you subscribe to casts. John Jantsch has been a guest on my show, so that will be coming out soon. I’m on Twitter @jenny_blake.
John Jantsch: And of course, the book can be gotten wherever people get their books.
Jenny Blake: Yes.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Well, Jenny, thanks so much for stopping by today, and hopefully we’ll see you soon out there on the road.
Jenny Blake: John, thank you so much for having me, and a big thanks to everybody for listening.