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If people try to tell you that pivoting is the new thing, that it’s the fresh Silicon Valley approach to business designed for today’s fast-paced digital world, don’t believe them.

Consider Fairfield University, a private school founded just outside of New York in Fairfield, Connecticut, by the Catholic Church – a 2,000-year-old organization.

In 1941, the society that runs the Jesuit school system had acquired two properties and were finishing renovations on them. One would become a university for college students and the other a preparatory school for younger boys, both on the site of what would become Fairfield University. The plan was to open the university first while renovations on the prep school were still underway.

But then, on Dec. 7, just before the university was scheduled to open, Pearl Harbor was bombed, pulling the United States and nearly all of its college-age men into war. Concerned that they would have a school with no students to fill it, the priests engineered a classic, Silicon Valley-style pivot. They moved the prep school (for younger boys) into the finished building and opened it first.

3 lessons to help you pivot

This quick thinking, adjusting to sudden changes in the market, may have saved the university from potential financial demise. Beyond proving that pivoting is not a recent Silicon Valley invention, that even a 2,000-year-old organization can do it, it also exhibits three critical lessons to keep in mind if you want to successfully pivot:

  • Have a purpose
  • Create optionality
  • Encourage proactivity

Have a purpose

Engineering a pivot and following through on it can be gut wrenching. But the team behind the Fairfield University pivot was driven by a purpose – to spread Jesuit education around the world. Even if you are driven by more earthly concerns, the truth holds that having a purpose in place can help you pivot more successfully. It gives your team the conviction to follow through.

Does your team have a similarly inspiring mission that will give them the stamina to follow through should the market demand a pivot from you?

Create optionality

The team behind Fairfield University had designed the school to serve two customer segments. This gave them optionality, which provided greater strategic degrees of freedom.

We are often told to build a business around one core customer profile (or “avatar” or “persona”). But if you are designing your business for only one customer, you lose the option to adjust if market dynamics shift.

Are you intentionally building optionality into your strategy? Do you have a plan B or C or D?

Encourage proactivity

The priests overseeing the Fairfield University build out could have debated and fretted. They could have sent the problem up to headquarters and waited for instruction. But instead, because they operated in a more decentralized manner, they acted quickly and proactively. Research shows that your ability to pivot depends heavily on the level of proactivity you allow and encourage in your people.

Do your organizational structures and culture encourage proactivity?


Are you ready for the pivot that unexpected changes in your market will inevitably demand? Don’t wait until it is time to pivot. Put in place what you need to have the flexibility when the time comes:

  • Install a purpose that will give people the resolve to follow through on the pivot
  • Engineer optionality into your strategy
  • Design organizational structures and a culture that encourage proactivity
“8Ps” of StrategyOpportunity
for Disruption
Recommended Leverage Points
Position- The farmers, individual and corporate, that you are targeting.

- The need of the agricultural industry that you seek to fill.
3- What technologies do you control that can help you tap into market
segments that you previously thought unreachable?

- What are the potential business alliances you could think about with key players in the segment to serve your customers with integrated solutions? (Serving customers with more integrated solutions example: serving farmers with fertilizers, crop protection and other).
Product- The products you offer, and the characteristics that affect their value to customers.

- The technology you develop for producing those products.
8- What moves are your organization taking to implement Big Data and analytics to your operations? What IoT and blockchain applications can you use?

- What tools and technology could you utilize or develop to improve food quality, traceability, and

- How can you develop a more sustainable production model to accommodate constraints on arable

- What is the future business model needed to serve new differentiated products to your customers?
Promotion- How you connect with farmers and consumers across a variety of locations and industries.
- How to make consumers, producers, and other stakeholders aware of your products and services.
8- How are you connecting your product with individual and corporate farms who could utilize it?
- How could you anticipate market and customer needs to make customers interested in accessing your differentiated products?
PriceHow consumers and other members of the agricultural supply chain pay for access to agricultural products.7- What elements of value comprise your pricing? How do each of those elements satisfy the varying needs of your customers?
Placement- How food products reach consumers. How the technologies, data, and services reach stakeholders in the supply chain.9- What new paths might exist for helping consumers access the food they desire?
- How are you adapting your operations and supply chain to accommodate consumers’ desire for proximity to the food they eat?
- How could you anticipate customer expectation to make products more
accessible to customers/agile supply chain?
- Have you considered urbanization as a part of your growth strategy?
- How your food satisfies the needs and desires of your customer.
- How the services you provide to agribusiness fulfill their needs.
9- Where does your food rate on a taste, appearance, and freshness
- Could the services you provide to companies and farms in the agriculture industry be expanded to meet more needs?
- What senses does your food affect besides hunger? How does your
customer extract value from your food in addition to consumption?
Processes- Guiding your food production operations in a manner cognizant of social pressure.8- How can you manage the supply chain differently to improve traceability and reduce waste?
- How can you innovate systems in production, processing, storing, shipping, retailing, etc.?
- What are new capabilities to increase sustainability (impact on the environment, or ESG) components?
People- The choices you make regarding hiring, organizing, and incentivizing your people and your culture.- How are you leveraging the agricultural experience of your staff bottom-up to achieve your vision?
- How do you anticipate new organizational capabilities needed to perform your future strategy (innovation, exponential technologies needed, agile customer relationship, innovative supply chain)?
- How do you manage your talents to assure suitable development with exposure in the agrifood main challenges/allowing a more sustainable view of the opportunities/cross-sectors?