Why Books Like These

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that my first list is weird and difficult to map to what a product manager actually does. Both are fair points, and I want to give more context before delving into my second list (coming soon!).

Yes, that list is weird, insofar as it’s not the “average” set of books recommended for a PM. But, therein lies the point. “Weird” is simply off the shelf deviation from the norm, with a dash of negative connotation. If you only read all of the books commonly recommended by everyone, you are, by definition, average. So, my lists are certainly not that. However, the task of deciding whether they are above or below average is left as an exercise for the reader.

Yes, at first blush, these books are difficult to map to “the job” of a product manager. Captain Ahab never prototyped an onboarding flow. Absurdism is not an alternative to agile methodology. And, as far as I know, DLPFC does not yet refer to an analytics product. But, let’s return to the subject at hand: “the job” of a product manager.

A running joke among PMs that is equal parts feeble and cumbersome is the idea that their job is indescribable, or at best, “it depends”. That, not unlike Prometheus, they’ve been unceremoniously chained to an existence they must suffer through yet not fully understand, only to be regenerated by payroll every two weeks. However, there is a modicum of truth within the melodrama. Different teams in different companies at different stages of their lifecycles in different industries all demand distinctly different kinds of product managers. In 8 years of being a PM, I’ve never run an A/B test and that fact alone would preclude me from being hired for a substantial number of PM roles. Yet, for the range of everything all PMs do, there is one common thread among all of them: humans. Every PM is tasked with making decisions about what humans want, how humans desire, how humans think, how humans feel, the list goes on ad infinitum. If you don’t believe me, start counting down the seconds until the next time you say “users will want to…”, “here, someone will probably…”, “people will like this because…”.

So, if there is one thing that is universally valuable to all PMs, it’s a deep understanding of the human condition. Psychology, anthropology, philosophy and the like are obvious candidates for stepping in that direction. But, great works of fiction are just the same. There’s something tremendously powerful in understanding why great stories are great, what makes them compelling, and simply understanding the finer points of the craft of storytelling. It shouldn’t have taken 460 words to get this point across, but reading great stories is the best way to learn great storytelling.

So, that’s why I read what I read, and why I think it’s valuable. Hopefully it helps you too. (List number two coming soon)