Unexpected behaviors

The most common response to unexpected behaviors from humans or systems is one of surprise. In some cases, the surprise leads to panicked reactions and temper tantrums.

However, “But, it was unexpected” is a really lame excuse for an immature response. That’s because unexpected behaviors are the most predictable outcomes when humans and systems interact with each other. Their exact nature may be unexpected but their presence is not.

So, if something is expected and inevitable, there’s no place for panicked and frazzled reactions. A creative, constructive and corrective response is all we need.

And, if you feel up to it, a sense of humor is a bonus that would work great, too.

Rich

When you search for rich, you see two meanings for the word. When I was growing up, I defined rich as the first meaning – having a great deal of money or assets.

But, I’ve realized over time that money and assets is just one kind of wealth.

Similar to the second meaning, I think the other kind of wealth comes from a place of peace of mind and confidence. It recognizes that, if you live simply, money can be abundant. And, it helps us appreciate the fact that there’s plenty of wealth and goodness out there for all of us. It is on us to be grateful and spread this wealth and goodness.

The first kind of wealth is easy to measure and more fickle. Focusing on it typically leads to us obsessing about maintaining or growing it.

The second kind of wealth is harder to measure and, in many ways, harder to get to. But, unlike the first kind, once it arrives, it is here to stay.

Product Leadership vs Product Management

This is a series of posts that is a synthesis of ideas from 4 sources – Marty Cagan’s workshop on Product Management, Product Leadership (the book), conversations I’ve had with experienced product managers and my own observations. I’d like to explore what building products is all about, the various folks and forces at play and tools and ideas that might help get the job done better.

Product Leadership and Product Management: Product leadership isn’t just about leading a team of product managers. Instead, every technology product manager has 2 aspects to their job – product management and product leadership. This is analogous to the management and leadership of a business. While often discussed in the same breath, they are very different. Leadership is about doing the right things or effectiveness while management is about doing things right or efficiency. Similarly –

  • Product leadership is the time spent on deciding which products to build to add value to customers. The challenges here revolve around “customer/user discovery” or finding “product-market fit.”
  • Product management is running the process of building products as efficiently as possible.  The challenge here is generally around optimizing funnels.

Folks in smaller organizations tend to spend most of the their time wrestling with product-market fit. Thus, smaller organizations requires product managers who are comfortable wearing the product leadership hat. In larger organizations, senior product leaders or product managers leading “venture bets” tend to spend more time wearing the leadership hat.

In summary, wearing the product leader hat involves spending time wrestling with questions around product-market fit while wearing the product manager hat involves spending time wrestling with optimizing funnels. 

Leading a product: A successful product is one that is valuable, usable and feasible.

When you are deciding whether to build a product, you work within these constraints by thinking of the market, the customer and the/your company. This process requires the product leader to go through a process of customer discovery (in lean start up parlance) to ensure she is building a product that has hope of finding product-market fit. Or, put differently, the product leader tries to find a customer to validate her hypothesis that her product solves a real need and is, thus, valuable. Once the value is ascertained, she can begin scoping a product that is usable and feasible.

This is best visualized when you think of the primary tool a product leader uses. For the product leader, a product strategy document is a great tool to align people around the vision. A good product strategy document includes the following –

  • Problem Statement/vision: Describe the problem we’re trying to solve and, in the process, paint the picture for what we’re trying to achieve.
  • Principles: Clear guardrails that help us make decisions.
  • Strategy/Hypothesis: Answer the questions – “where do we play?” and “how do we win?”
  • Vision Roadmap: Outline what we’ll need to build in the coming quarters/years to solve the problem.

Of course, visionary product leaders don’t just write a great product strategy document and leave it at that. But, building a compelling vision with clear product principles and a strategy are the first step. We’ll cover the rest in later posts.

Managing the product: Once you agree on what to build, you put on your product manager hat to lead the process of building the product. In doing so, you take responsibility to balance the perspectives of the business (value), design (usability) and engineering (feasibility).

The primary tool product managers use is a product roadmap in some form. Again, we’ll cover roadmaps in detail at a later time.

The 3 axes of value, usability and feasibility are very useful as you think of skills product managers tend to build. A model (that builds on this and that) I’ve found helpful is that of “explorer, scientist, driver.”

  • Explorer PMs lead with design thinking. They are very curious about users and the market and build instincts for what matters to users and what doesn’t.
  • Scientist PMs lead with analytical/engineering expertise. They know their funnels and dig deep into their data to find insights and product improvements.
  • Driver PMs lead with business acumen. They’re great at moving the organization to build products that their customers are ready to buy and understand what it takes to go-to-market with them.

This model brings forth a couple of interesting insights. First, I’ve noticed that great product folk tend to have 2 of these 3 traits and learn to build teams that balance their weaknesses.

Second, different types of products tend to require different expertise. For example, B2C products tend to require more of an emphasis on usability and feasibility while B2B products tend to place more of an emphasis on value and feasibility over usability. My hypothesis is that this means PMs who prefer the explorer hat work better on consumer products while PMs who prefer the driver hat work better on business products. This also points to what folks need to do to learn complementary skills. If you want to build your explorer/design skillset, work on consumer products. And, if you want to work on building out your business acument, work on a B2B product.

Finally, the ability to lead with analytical insight is increasingly becoming table stakes.

A question for reflection, then – how much time do you spend wearing the management and leadership hats in your jobs? Does the ratio feel right to you?

No mercy / no malice

I first came across a talk by NYU Professor Scott Galloway two and a half years ago. He gave a 15 minute overview of what was going on in tech at the DLD conference in NYU. I found his talk very insightful and used some of his material when I gave a couple of presentations on the same topic while I was in graduate school. But, I wasn’t really drawn to him as I thought of him as someone who seemed to just enjoy being controversial.

When I stumbled upon his material again this year, I found it thought provoking again. So, I subscribed to his weekly newsletter – “No Mercy/No Malice.” I’ve been subscribed for the past few months and have begun to really look forward to receiving them on Friday’s.

He splits his newsletter into two parts – one half is commentary on technology and one half is commentary on life. I came for the commentary on tech but I find myself sticking around for the life.

I thought I’d share a portion from his “life” section from 2 weeks ago – a post about the schools he went to when he was growing up.


It seemed as if the teachers at Emerson were angry and hungover a lot. Emerson defined the term “warehousing” youth. Most of the affluent white kids transferred throughout the first year, leaving a student body from middle and lower income households. We had black against white softball games and, though technically an integrated school, we self-segregated on campus. There was little commingling until the ninth grade, when you began to see friendships form across racial boundaries. My closest friend was a Mormon kid, Brett.

We then went to University High School in Santa Monica, which had a similar demographic makeup. A strange and nice thing happened: we all began to get along. I still hung out with Brett, but also was friends with Ronnie Drake, a black kid who lived in Bell Gardens and was starting middle linebacker for the University Warriors football team. Our mascot was a Native American with a headdress, screaming as if he was mid-battle. The mascot has since been changed to the Wildcats, but that’s another post.

Ronnie’s dad was a reverend who would bellow, when I would visit, “Somebody feed this boy.” I drove a Renault Le Car and wore cut-off shirts, Top-Siders with no socks, and Vuarnets. Ronnie drove a Buick, liked silk shirts, and also wore Top-Siders. I was hoping to get into a UC campus, and Ronnie was hoping to get a football scholarship, which he did, to Linfield College in Oregon.

We all studied, partied, and took ski trips to Mammoth together. After being color-blind in elementary school, we were again color-blind in high school. We lived in different neighborhoods, listened to different music, and wore different clothes. But the things that united us overrode our differences. We were all awkwardly spilling into adulthood, establishing the links between effort and achievement, trying to figure out who we were, what attributes we wanted to develop, and what was next given your grades and early indications on your potential. It wasn’t a given that we were all going to college, nor would even get a job.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” It’s not that we didn’t like each other. We just needed to get to know one another better.


Thanks to his strong opinions, his newsletter never lacks personality. For instance, here’s the end of his note from yesterday – There are few better examples of what Pope Francis refers to as an unhealthy “idolatry of money” than our obsession with Steve Jobs. Though he accumulated an estimated $8.3 billion fortune through his holdings in Apple and a 7.4% stake in Disney, there is no public record of Mr. Jobs giving money to charity. It is conventional wisdom that Steve Jobs put “a dent in the universe.” No, he didn’t. Steve Jobs, in my view, spat on the universe. People who get up every morning, get their kids dressed, get them to school, and have an irrational passion for their kids’ well-being, dent the universe. The world needs more homes with engaged parents, not a better fucking phone.

But, what I love is that he makes me stop and think – every week. And, for that I’m grateful.

Thanks Prof Galloway.

What have you taught recently?

A simple way to ask yourself if you are maximizing your learning is by asking yourself – what have you taught recently?

Absorbing content or experiences is one thing. Teaching is quite another. Teaching requires you to synthesize – i.e., reflect on the content or experience, boil things down to what really matters and frame it in a way that makes it easy to retain that information.

The best part about the act of teaching is that you don’t need an audience. You can teach a concept to a dog on a walk or to the trees. Or, you can write it all down on a blog that is likely just read by your mom (let’s face it, that’s most of our blogs :)).

We learn when we synthesize information. And, teaching is a wonderful excuse to synthesize.

If you’re not taking the time to teach and share, you’re likely not learning as much as you think you are.

Three steps forward, two steps back

Working through the most hairy, worthwhile problems typically ends up with us taking three steps forward and two steps back.

This is almost always the case. Think back to worthy habits you’ve built – exercise, reading good books, eating well, better organization, prioritizing your work, among others. I bet they didn’t just stick the first time you tried.

No, you started with a few days at the gym. Then, something came up and you had to restart the habit again.

Three steps forward, two steps back.

The lessons for me from this pattern are two fold.

First, remind yourself of the progress you make when you feel demotivated after the two steps back. You are one step further than you were before and you know what it takes to take three steps forward again.

And, second, expect stops and starts as you deal with hairy problems and worthwhile habits. Let it not be too much of a big deal when either happens. Instead, keep optimizing for learning and plugging away.

What would help?

Yesterday’s post was all about a simple question – “would it help?” – that can change our perspective in a tough situation. It is a beautiful checkpoint.

But, “would it help?” is a level 1 question. I’d still suggest starting with “would it help?” as it helps check negative reactions at the door.

Once we’re able to do that, a level 2 question is “what would help?” With this, the onus is on us to respond to the situation with something constructive. This is the sort of thing that is easy in theory, but incredibly hard to do when every one of our instincts is pushing us to do something rash.

But, we can, of course. We aren’t naturally wired to react to stimuli in any way. We cultivate habits based on what we’re exposed to. And, we can change those habits and those seemingly hard-wired reactions. This was a powerful lesson for me as I always thought of myself as emotional, impulsive and impatient. I could be all those things more often than not but I didn’t need to channel them every time I respond to a situation. They’re habits that needed to be replaced. And, one by one, they’ve made their way out.

Our habits are a by-product of the questions we ask.

It is on us to ask better questions.

HT: Rebecca Rapple – who wrote in yesterday with a note on “what would help?” that inspired this post.