When — not if — to pivot

In the business and manufacturing world that CW operates in, we have heard one particular coronavirus vocabulary word very frequently: pivot.
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Eastman Machine composites cutting during coronavirus

Though longer-term operational pivots will be seen in the coming months, many composites industry suppliers like Eastman Machine (Buffalo, N.Y., U.S.) have also experienced, or are continuing to experience, temporary pivots in manufacturing operations to produce needed medical and other supplies to aid coronavirus response efforts. Source | Eastman Machine

The coronavirus crisis we face has engendered its own language, comprising everyday words as well as not-so-common abbreviations. For example, over the last two-plus months (it’s May 13 as I write this), as the coronavirus has descended on us, words and phrases like “social distancing,” “Zoom,” “peak,” “SIP,” “virtual,” “community spread,” “PPE,” “curve,” “supply chain security,” “WFH,” and “remote learning” are now deployed so readily and frequently that we immediately and intuitively understand what each of them means.

Moreover, we can use this coronavirus vocabulary as a sort of shorthand to quickly convey ideas and concepts, and to do so in a way that might have seemed unimaginable just a few months ago. For instance, think back to late 2019 and imagine yourself in a conversation with a colleague or friend who says to you: “If we don’t practice good social distancing, community spread is highly likely. As a result, flattening the curve becomes nearly impossible, which puts tremendous pressure on PPE supply chain capacity.” Today, you know exactly what this statement means. In late 2019, not so much.

In the business and manufacturing world that CW operates in, we have heard one particular coronavirus vocabulary word very frequently: pivot. In fact, we have heard it so frequently that I don’t feel like I need to explain what it means. But, just in case: “Pivot” is used to describe a business or manufacturing operation that has been compelled to reorient itself in the market to meet new or expanding demand for products or services associated with response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Pivot is a useful word because it conveys both constancy (the pivot point) and the ability/willingness to adapt to a changing environment. It implies allegiance and fidelity to a core technology or operation, coupled with operational flexibility.

The only question is when we will pivot, not if we will pivot.

We hear “pivot” a lot in two contexts. In the first, a composites-related manufacturer that possesses some expertise primarily serves a market that has ground to a halt because of the pandemic; the company has pivoted to apply its expertise in another market that stands to benefit from that expertise. For example, an aerospace composites fabricator good at cutting and kitting carbon fiber fabrics starts cutting and kitting PPE supplies.

In the second context, a composites-related manufacturer is pressed to increase capacity to an existing market because the traditional supply chain to that market has been cut. For example, a domestic moldmaker sees orders increase as competitors in other countries become inaccessible because of pandemic-caused disruptions.

We are also seeing that it’s easier for small businesses to pivot than it is for large businesses to pivot. Which makes sense. A small business typically has just one or a few decision-makers and can more readily redeploy people, material and equipment as it pivots to the new opportunity.

The use of “pivot” also implies some choice — that in this unprecedented environment a composites business (whether supplier, fabricator or end-use customer) has the option of rethinking its place in the market and thus can either stay the course or pivot.

In truth, staying the course is not a viable option for survival. The pandemic’s long course, global reach and disruptive nature guarantee that there are no parts of our professional and personal lives that will not be affected. Further, a return to pre-pandemic life is now so distant in the future that it is hardly worth contemplating. Pivoting, therefore, is mandatory. The only question is when we will pivot, not if we will pivot.

Business leaders, companies and organizations that recognize this and work to pivot now will be best positioned for success now and in a post-pandemic world. And this is true not just for you, the CW reader, but for CW itself. We are also looking at how the composites manufacturing world is evolving and trying to position (pivot) ourselves to be a continuing and vital part of it. 

So, a big part of our job in the coming months will be to pivot in such a way that we can see your pivots. And we want to share those pivot strategies with our audience, because right now knowledge distributed to the entire composites industry will have a vast and compounding benefit — and is necessary to all of our success.

So, get pivoting. And let me know how it goes.


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