We’ve all hit a wall at some point. You could be doing everything right, but still don’t get that promotion. You might lose your job regardless of your efforts. You may run up against a competitor you can’t beat. But what feels like a roadblock could be your first step toward self-growth.
When you can’t go forward, the only option to move is backward. When entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran talked about starting her real estate firm on the TV show “Shark Tank,” she said: “By anyone’s standard I was a success. But I knew I was going bankrupt. And you know what I did — I went out and took a full-time job while I worked my business. There is nothing wrong with stepping back before you go forward.”
This happens constantly in the corporate world. Companies hit a wall, step back, reassess, and then move on. We can look at Tractor Supply as an example. Founded in 1938, Tractor Supply sells tractor parts to six million farms in the United States. But as tractors became more reliable, the demand for replacement parts declined from 6 million to 3 million in the 1960s.
The company struggled. During a 12-year period, they were acquired twice, and both hired and fired five different presidents. After a significant number of store closures, and enormously declining revenues, the company was bought by internal company executives.
The new owners took a good look at the data, and they discovered that while the number of commercial farmers was decreasing, hobby farming was growing. The company pivoted away from supplying tractor parts for general farm and ranch supplies. Former CEO Joe Scarlett said, “One of our key goals was to become the pet supply store for people who own horses.” Today, Tractor Supply is a successful chain for home improvement, agriculture, lawn, and garden care, and is three times larger than its next five competitors.
Tractor Supply is not alone in this. Startups and scale-ups pivot their strategies quite often. Amar Bhidé, a Tufts University professor, discovered that 70% of all successful new businesses end up with a different strategy than the one with which they originally started. They all went through a similar process: step back, reassess, and pivot to a new strategy.
So, when you get stuck in your personal growth, look at how these companies dealt with stagnation. Ask yourself why you have stopped growing. What does the data tell you? And what areas might provide new growth opportunities? Are there areas you might have overlooked? Take a deep breath — and take a step back.
When we stand too close to the wall, it fills our line of sight and prevents us from getting a good view of our surroundings. You can only see the thing right in front of you. It’s only when you zoom out can you clearly see what the object or situation really is. Until you zoom out, it is nearly impossible to identify what you are looking at.
Many people struggle with stepping back because of the consequences. For some, stepping back is the same as admitting that they have failed. Others believe they are tougher than the wall and try to smash their way through. And others simply want to ignore the reality of their situation and continue on the same path until they run out of energy. Have you ever said to a recruiter: “I need this move to be a step up” or “I can’t take a lower salary”?
This type of rigid attitude can be disastrous. Willingness and flexibility to pivot can greatly enhance your chances of success.
This article is an excerpt from my book. Interested in reading more?