Most product managers want to get better, and learn new skills. Skills such as running meetings, conducting better customer interviews, influencing others, writing better requirements, and so on and so forth.
Unfortunately trying to merely “learn” skills often ends up causing more pain than its worth.
It’s because of this little understood concept called the confidence-competence loop.
Why mastering beats learning?
What this loop implies is that the more confidence we have over a skill, the more quickly we can get get better in it. And the more competent we are in a skill, the more confident we are about it.
This means learning looks like somewhat like this.
This also means that if you just try to just learn new skills rather than truly aim to master them, you are forever stuck in the flat part of the curve. But if you set the intention and put the effort into mastering skills, you can move swiftly to the part of the curve where you are improving your skills by leaps and bounds.
I am permanently stuck in this part of the curve for golf 🏌 😉
How to master skills?
Mastering skills might seem like something mysterious so far. Let me break down how to go about mastering skills.
There are seven steps:
- Define what good looks like
- Be explicit what you are mastering right now
- Schedule your learning and practice time
- Find the best source to learn from
- Measure your effort and results
- Socialize your learning
- Teach these skills
1. Define what good looks like
For most people, learning is something that sounds good in theory. But because they do not have a clear goal, they are unable to align their goals towards better learning. But more importantly, they are not inspired to push through the initial part of the curve where you need that energy and effort to start getting good.
Let’s take an example of productivity. Most people want to get more productive.
One of my students at the Intentional Product Manager instead set a goal to stop working on weekends while accomplishing as much as they do right now.
The definition of good was measurable, and provided immediate benefits to them.
Mastering productivity skills suddenly got a lot more inspiring.
2. Be explicit what you are mastering right now
Most of us want to get better at a lot of things. Too many, in fact. But you must be clear on what you are working on improving right now. This means two things:
- Have a shortlist of skills that you are working on mastering right now (no more than five)
- Have a backlog of skills you want to get better at, but don’t have the time or energy right now
As you reach your desired goals of mastery, check off skills you are looking to get better and bring in others.
Keep your shortlist front and center. I review my shortlist every morning. It energizes me. But it also forces me to examine which activities I am doing where I can already try to apply and then master these skills.
3. Schedule your learning and practice time
If you are looking to improve how you do customer interviews, I must see a few things in your calendar.
- Times when you are going to do customer interviews
- When you are going to reflect on how you did
- When you are going to prepare for the next interview
Don’t get stuck in the wishlist trap. Things must be on your schedule for you to get better at them.
In addition to the calendar, you can use habit stacking to get better. What is habit stacking? It’s simply tying new practices and habits, in addition to the habits you already have.
Want to master meditation? Schedule it before you drink your morning coffee (I do!).
4. Find the best source to learn from
A lot of people — when they want to learn something — Google it.
And they click on the first few articles.
Now Google is great (that’s why I work there 😃). But sometimes it does not automatically just find the best sources for you to learn from.
It pays to invest in the right sources; the right books, the right teachers, the right mentors, when you are going to spend the most precious resource you have: your time!
Don’t just do what Google finds for you first. Invest the time to find the right sources.
The best way: ask someone who is good at the skill and ask them what sources they would recommend.
5. Measure your effort and results
You can’t manage what you can’t measure
— Peter Drucker
Yes, you have heard this before.
But there is another aspect to it.
Most people measure results. But your results suck early on in the learning curve.
I also measure results. But early on in a skill, I measure things 100% under my control.
When I was trying to get better at writing, I measured how many articles I wrote every week. Or how many times I revised an article.
Not how many likes and claps and tweets and retweets and comments I got. Because if I had done that, I would have gotten discouraged so much sooner.
6. Socialize your learning
When you are learning new skills, it helps to socialize them. And there are two ways to socialize.
One is to ask people to keep you accountable. To check in on you, but also to encourage you in your learning journey. Masterminds are great for this! And that is why my group coaching program has such a strong peer sharing and learning component.
Second is to compete against other people! Competing against others forces you to skip the bullshit and the lame excuses, and get down to the real work that will make you better.
The ultimate way to get better at something is to teach it. To teach something, you have to be actually good at it. Teaching forces you to truly examine how you do something, synthesize what’s truly important, and forces you to get better. It uncovers gaps in your understanding. And it forces you to separate the essential from the incidental.
Teaching is the best!
When you set out to truly master skills, the effect on confidence goes well beyond better skill.
A habit of skill mastery is crucial for your confidence in your life, not just in those skills.
That’s why I see so many Product Managers who are focused on learning basic skills become confident in their job, even skills they might not be mastering right now.
So go on. Create your shortlist of skills you really want to master. Then follow the outline and start mastery.
Before you go
Learning is one way to build confidence as a Product Manager. Join my FREE masterclass “Six ways to maximize your confidence as a Product Manager” to learn the other five ways.
Recommend or share this if you found it useful. It gives me 🔋 to write knowing people find value in it.