May 13, 2023
The Path of Product Management & Entrepreneurship
I started as a product manager, and it is a fundamentally different role. When you enter an organisation, you become a leading character in the company’s narrative. This feeling of being integral to the story is exhilarating, making the role so appealing to those on the outside.
The universally accepted definition of a product manager at the confluence of UX, Tech, and Business only emerged in 2011. Everyone I knew in the role was navigating it through trial and error.
One common strategy we all seemed to have mastered was “Faking it until making it.” I quickly discerned that this approach was a shared one.
Navigating the Field — Tools, Techniques & Self Reflection
We are seduced by the idea that using the latest frameworks, implementing Agile or Jobs to Be Done methodologies, and setting OKRs will save our companies and guide our products on the right path. We elevate trends, jumping from one to the next.
Consultants with significant marketing efforts often push these new silver bullets to sell something new. Frameworks and tools have become the new panacea.
We are inundated with so much BS that it causes us to question a fundamental truth we’ve understood since childhood: the importance of human identity and how relationships and communities form the fabric of society. At the core, humans are at the foundation, at the heart of our communities. No frameworks or tools will help you change people.
The process of learning tools and frameworks is akin to mastering katas and techniques in martial arts. It’s rehearsing the principles of combat in mock trials without truly understanding how to fight. The only way to truly learn it is to be thrown into the fray.
A crucial element of combat is the mindset. If the mind wanders or worries about others’ opinions, the fighter will forget everything they’ve learned. Currently learning boxing, one lesson stood out: one punch is enough to make you lose your grounding. Whatever happens, you must remember how to slip, throw a left or even breathe.
Whatever you think or how strong you are, you will get hit. It signifies that training the mind is as important as, if not more than, training the body.
Bruce Lee had a similar revelation after a fight. Even though he won, he realised his fighting style needed to be more efficient. It pushed him to rethink the conventions he was trained in, leading to his personal philosophy, “Be water my friend”, and the invention of Jeet Kune Do.
The parallel between this and product management isn’t too far-fetched. Believing that knowing more techniques and listening to the gurus of the field would help me be better at my job, it took me a while and many failures to realise that I needed to work on myself. Techniques were not enough, echoing the saying, “The tool does not make the man.”
The weapon’s wielder must decide if they are its master or its servant.
I had to ask: WHO AM I AS A PRODUCT MANAGER? WHO AM I BEYOND THE TITLE AND THE PRODUCT?
Given that my interests were diverse and not just limited to product, I soon discovered the missing piece in my puzzle that would guide my improvement.
The Missing Piece — Self-Awareness & Emotional Intelligence
In business or tech studies, there’s typically a near-exclusive focus on these subjects. What I found peculiar was that I struggled to find anything particularly insightful in my quest to better myself and enhance my performance. Then one day, I came across an article about a teenager narrating his experiences as a student-athlete in US hockey. He outlined the rigorous schedule he adhered to excel. What struck me most was the schools’ profound emphasis on physical prowess and mental development.
It left me contemplating the importance of mental training, philosophy, and psychology in our personal and professional lives. These disciplines, which lead to self-awareness and emotional intelligence, were conspicuously absent from my business and technology education.
During my studies, there was a significant lack of emphasis on personal growth and discipline. The focus was predominantly on techniques and theories. I chose a more pragmatic path, opting for internships that allowed me to amass practical work experience, setting me apart from my peers who followed a more traditional academic route.
As I reflect on this, I can’t help but wonder: What if we integrated mental training, philosophy, anthropology and psychology into our approach to business and technology education? What if we began to view our lives, and even ourselves, as products, strongly emphasising developing our minds alongside our professional skills?
Embracing the Hero’s Journey
My introspective journey has guided me down a path of self-discovery.
From an early age, the worlds of mythology and video games captivated me. The enchantment of storytelling, the way narrators could whisk me away on thrilling adventures, has always held a cherished place in my heart.
The Hero’s Journey, a narrative structure pervasive in mythology, literature, film, anime, and games, became my guiding compass.
This narrative structure is divided into two primary phases: the familiar and the unfamiliar.
It commences with a protagonist in their comfort zone, their natural setting. A call to action is issued, and with the aid or support of a mentor, the hero embarks on an adventure, still within the domain of the known. However, a transformative journey awaits them, leading them back to their origin point, but as transformed individuals.
Their adventure involves confronting and overcoming a crisis — a journey into the unknown.
For me, the adventure was my career in product management, and the crisis was the awakening that there was more to my role, a different lens through which to view it beyond techniques and frameworks.
I found myself on the hero’s path, longing for transformation and propelling myself into the unknown. I had to find a way to perceive myself differently.
I discovered a parallel in my career in product management.
The adventure was my professional trajectory, and the crisis was the emerging realisation that my role demanded more than just techniques and frameworks. It was also about the evolution of my career and how it could bring me fulfilment. I navigated the hero’s path, yearned for transformation, and ventured into the unknown.
I needed a fresh perspective on my role and myself.
The only answer was to productise myself.
The first step in productising ourselves is acknowledging that we are the protagonist, the hero of our journey.
No one else can live our life or rescue us from our challenges. We stand alone at the end of each day, confronting our reflection in the mirror. We are exclusively accountable to ourselves until the end of time. Hence, we must strive to understand ourselves better than anyone could.
The second step involves recalling the elements we love when immersed in a story or a video game.
The relentless grind, and the hero surmounting challenges and battles, are what we treasure. We delight in seeing our heroes portray human characteristics.
The most riveting movies or anime are those we can connect to on a human level. The connection we foster with the narrative emotionally ties us to the story.
We empathise with the hero’s emotions, sharing their sorrow and joy as they conclude their journey.
The third step is to deliver value to the world.
What is our unique value proposition?
We exist to improve things. Knowing who we are and what we bring to the table is one of the most empowering feelings. In the hero’s journey, we admire the protagonist strives for something more. Their purpose and mission are more significant than anything else. It fills us with hope and allows us to dream.
We must discover a similar purpose for our lives — an innate drive to contribute to the world.
To begin your journey, I recommend two exercises that have profoundly benefited me.
Write a Letter to Yourself
Writing a letter to your future self is profoundly personal and transformative. It calls for honesty, vulnerability, and forward-thinking, making it simple and challenging.
This exercise requires only 60 minutes of your time, a pen, and paper, but it also asks you to don the shoes of your future self a decade from now.
This exercise begins with visualisation.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself ten years into the future. What does your life look like? Where are you living? What work are you doing? How have your relationships evolved? Take note of every detail — your health, financial status, and state of mind.
Once you have a clear vision, begin writing the letter from this future perspective. Narrate the life you’ve achieved to your present self, detailing all aspects of your life. Be as precise and comprehensive as possible, covering personal, relational, financial, health, and mental aspects.
Remember, this letter is a conversation with yourself.
It’s an opportunity to articulate your aspirations, fears, and strategies for overcoming potential obstacles. It’s also a moment to congratulate yourself on the accomplishments you’ve already achieved and the growth you’ve experienced.
When you’ve finished the letter, seal it in an envelope. Decide on a date to open it — in a year or on the eve of your imagined future, ten years from now. When that day comes, you’ll find insights from a past self who dared to dream boldly about the future.
Three Questions to Self-Discovery
Around two years ago, I asked a few close friends three questions. Their answers helped me concentrate on areas I needed to improve. These friends would provide valuable, honest feedback, understanding the intent behind this exercise. Here are the questions:
What enables me to achieve what I want or my strengths?
What could hinder me from achieving what I want?
In your view, what is my greatest flaw?
These questions can offer invaluable insights into your strengths and weaknesses, as seen through the eyes of those who know you best.
It’s important to remember that while feedback from others can be incredibly valuable, it should not wholly define one’s self-perception. Instead, it should be used as additional data alongside personal introspection.
This exercise is a significant first step in your journey to self-discovery and productising yourself as a product creator and an entrepreneur.
Stay tuned for Part II, where I will delve deeper into the process of self-improvement and personal growth.