The Use of the Term ‘Shit Umbrella’

Julie Zhuo
Jan 18, 2013 · 2 min read

I hear this analogy often enough that its popularity befuddles me. I wish my manager were more of a shit umbrella.

PMs should really be shit umbrellas.

Being a shit umbrella is way better than being a shit funnel.

Let's think about that image for a moment: a parasol that deflects pieces of excrement from the sky.

Not exactly a warm and fuzzy image, is it?

I mean, I get that that the phrase is meant to poke a little fun at the distractions that seem endless—the ceaseless avalanche of meeting requests and customer demands and executive decisions and personal opinions from Maximus who works in building 37. I understand that there's a certain comfort to feeling like there's somebody on the team (maybe you) who, in a gesture of noble sacrifice, throws herself to block the onslaught of Shit so that everybody else can focus on the hallowed art of Doing Good Work.

But come now. Where is the empathy? That meeting was not scheduled for the sole purpose of wasting your time. Executives do not sit at their desks stroking hairless cats, murmuring Yes, Percival, yes… We'll stun them with a decision so bad, so unfathomably awful they won't know what hit them! And poor Maximus is just trying to help, imagining himself as that guy on Les Mis who lends his smooth baritone as a voice for the simmering anger of the countless, nameless others (Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men…? except angry men in this case are your users/customers.)

Now, clearly, some things are a better use of your time than others. Some people’s opinions you'll weigh more heavily. You won't always agree with all the feedback you get, and progress won't always be like a puck sailing over smooth ice. The distractions you face may well last you seven lifetimes. (More TPS reports to write! Some other team is f-ing it up again! The boss wants the team to pivot and make the Instagram of Dropboxes! And now Maximus' buddy Augustus has also taken to sending you essays of feedback IN ALL CAPS THAT USE ONES AS EXCLAMATIONS!!!11!!)

Take a deep breath. It's not Shit. It's the energy and chaos and spirit of People Doing what they Honestly Believe is the Best Thing They Could Be Doing. It's trying and sometimes failing and learning in the process. It's not perfect but what person or job or life is? Close your eyes and trust.

And if you find you can’t, if it’s simply impossible to muster the belief that you're not surrounded by shit, then maybe it's time to seek greener pastures. Because why on earth would you insist on staying somewhere that rains feces all the time?

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.

    Julie Zhuo

    Written by

    Product design VP @ Facebook. Author of The Making of a Manager Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

    The Year of the Looking Glass

    A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.

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