Go Left When Everyone Goes Right.
How to Become a Better Product Manager.
By Stefan Bala, Project Manager, Cognizant Softvision
How many times have you heard or read articles like, “10 ‘Dumb’ Ideas That Were Actually Brilliant” or “30 Products So Dumb They Might Be Brilliant”?
So it seems, at times, that for brilliance to surface you need to tap into the denser side of your brain. If you’re still not convinced, let’s discuss the inventors of the bicycle. They were considered to be “dumb,” as many believed the two-wheeled contraption to be simply a passing trend. Newspaper editorials stated that “As a fad cycling is dead, and few individuals now ride for all the good they claim to see in the pastime when it was fashion.”
As Wascha put it, “We have a precious gift when we’re starting off. You don’t know anything. You’re not encumbered by knowledge, you’re not encumbered by inertia. And the best product managers I’ve worked with have had this capacity to be dumb, to always look at a situation through the eyes of the customer… I wish I spent a lot being dumb, and if you spend a lot time being dumb you will have a great career as a Product Manager.”
So, go ahead, be dumb. But, make sure you’re not the same dumb person. It’s important to get out of your comfort zone.
Make yourself uncomfortable on purpose. Being uncomfortable means that you are in a situation where things are unpredictable and unfamiliar. Being uncomfortable is a normal and healthy part of life that can’t be avoided. When faced with something new or different, most people experience some degree of discomfort at first but they usually adapt to the situation after getting used to it.
Of course, embracing discomfort is not easy, but if you want to grow both personally and professionally, it’s a necessary process.3 Take it step by step. First, simply get to know how things outside the norm make you feel. Knowing your triggers is half the battle, then you can choose to face those challenges rather than avoiding them.
Discomfort = progress
Think of the mind as a muscle that tightens up over time unless it is worked on. Your personal growth depends on challenging your mind, and getting out of your comfort zone from time to time challenges your mental skills. In fact, mentally challenging tasks have a huge impact on the health of your brain. It’s even been shown that mentally active people are constantly building networks of connections between their brain cells, which scientists call “cognitive reserve.” Continuing to learn new things builds and maintains these connections. Be open to new experiences that cause you to see the world and do things differently.
So, go ahead, challenge your mind . As Jerry Dunn, “America’s Marathon Man,” once said, “Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits.” Push yourself to learn tasks that may not come naturally. Most things seem impossible until they are done. Allow yourself to do things you wouldn’t normally do, or think outside your usual box. Pursuing actions or embracing thoughts when you really would rather not is, in fact, the best time to do so as it builds character and creates new perspectives.
Master discomfort and master almost anything
Learning to be comfortable with discomfort is not an easy task, but it’s worthwhile. When you’re comfortable with discomfort, you can master pretty much anything.2 You could learn a new product management skill, make it through physically grueling events, explore new things, and face your fears.
Practicing discomfort is not a “one and done” activity, however. It’s important to be repetitive with your practice, but with varying activities. Eventually, you expand your comfort zone. Think about a child, who was once uncomfortable riding a bike without training wheels, now rides confidently throughout their neighborhood on two wheels.
It’s natural for us to seek comfort, and many of us go out of our way to avoid discomfort. But the rewards are well worth it. Push yourself beyond your boundaries, go left when everyone else goes right, and you will soon find that you are improving in many areas of your life — both personally and professionally.
Becoming a better product manager
Just as a bottle of wine gets better with age, greatness comes with experience. Mastering product management is a consequence of following some basics that should be part of every product manager’s playbook. First, play “dumb” and act as if you know nothing– everything should revolve around the question, “why?”. Ask it as many times as you need until you get a satisfying answer in order to get clarity on the clients’ business needs.
Secondly, there’s an old saying that perfectly applies to both designers and product managers: “don’t fall in love with the solution, fall in love with the problem.” Without deep research, user interviews, or analyzing data to make an informed decision you cannot possibly understand the clients’ problem. Remember, always challenge yourself.
Last but not least, define your metrics, choose your North Star, refine only if something major is changing on the market. It’s OK if you want to go left when everyone goes right. And sure, sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but at least you need to ensure you’re on the right track.
Sources of Inspiration: