The Power of Pivoting in Teen Programs: “Failure” Is Just Another Data Point

Pivot

One of the buzzwords we use a lot in Cal Academy youth programs is "pivoting." To pivot is a necessary and even welcome part of the process of working with youth. "Pivoting" is a term borrowed from business, and in particular tech companies, to describe how a firm can rapidly shift strategy or even entire product lines based on initial findings or audience feedback. One oft-cited example is that Flickr was originally going to be an online gaming platform, with photo sharing as just one of the services provided within the game.

When we say "pivot" what we mean is being flexible and able to redirect our focus and resources if any number of outside factors change. Perhaps a planned game platform the teens were going to use to develop a game suddenly goes out of business. Or an exhibit that the youth were going to develop a social media campaign around is not delayed by six months. Or a planned speaker can not Skype in because there is a power outage where they are.

We try and model for our teens being positive and creative in the face of these situations. Whenever stuff goes "wrong" I like to remind our teens that this is a great opportunity for us to find a new solution to a problem, whether it's the internet being down or someone's work getting accidentally deleted. Often it's those creative solutions that the kids remember, when they recount to others what they did during the program.

We also try and make the connection to the scientific process, where there are no "failed" experiments, just unexpected findings. We can view a "failure" as a data point to help us to come up with a more effective strategy, or just to know what not to do in the future. So there is no real "failure" if it's something that we learn and grow from.

A lot of this sounds very Buddhist and philosophical. But trust me, when a hard drive dies and all of the work that your teens have been working on for the past semester is gone, it gets very, very real. 

BTW, pivoting on the dance floor is also pretty cool! Change direction, like a ballerina.

Ballet-spin-feet

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