Anger vs. tact

In my attempts to figure out the best strategy to motivate my now two year old to work with me, I’ve learnt that anger and tact have opposite effects.

The use of anger looks promising for a short while and then its effectiveness plummets.

Tact, on the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving. The more you use it, the more you get comfortable with it, and the better you become at deploying it. Thanks to that in-built learning loop, its effectiveness grows over time.

I’ve written plenty about my growing awareness of my natural impulse to fight fire with fire. The turning point, for me, was reading “Non Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg ~6 weeks back. I’ve since noticed a much higher level of awareness of these impulses and been having a much greater appreciation of the importance of diffusing proverbial fire with water with tact.

I’m grateful I came across his work this year and I’m hopeful for a tactful 2019.

Mistakes and good judgment

December marks the beginning of reflection season in our home. And, as I reflect on the mistakes I made over the course of the year, I expect to find myself repeatedly going back to the quote – “Success comes from good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” 

There are many ways to account for mistakes – the normal place to start is by marking them in red ink in the “loss” category. But, this quote never fails to reminds me to think of failures in the investment category for the future.

The only mistakes and failures that deserve to be counted as losses are those that we repeated. The rest are investments that will pay themselves forward many times over in the form of good judgment if we invest in learning from them.

So, here’s to that.

The wrong kind of perseverance

Perseverance is defined as the steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. While it is often portrayed in the media as one of those heroic traits that “they” possess and we don’t, there is a big difference between the right and wrong kind of perseverance.

The difference between the right and wrong kinds is on what you are steadfast/stubborn about. The wrong kind of perseverance is stubborn on a solution or a way of approaching a problem. There is rarely a happy ending to these stories as this flavor makes it all about us and how we want things to be done.

On the other hand, the right kind of perseverance involves being stubborn on the problem and flexible on the solution. When we’re focused on solving a problem for the people we seek to serve, we keep experimenting on approaches until we find one that works.

Like most good things, we find the right kind of perseverance when we do things for reasons that require us to get over ourselves.

WordPress introduced “.blog” domains in 2016. I am a late adopter but, in the spirit of better late than never, I’m happy to share that the primary domain of this blog is now

While I’ll be keeping “” for the foreseeable future, I am also testing out as a back up name that may be easier to share with people I meet in person. But, the primary domain will always be “ALearningaDay” and I’m glad to have found the perfect domain name match in “.blog”

We’re currently in the age of podcasting – so much so that the idea of writing a daily blog almost seems a bit quaint. But, the skills we gain from blogging regularly – critical thinking, synthesis, and writing – are evergreen. More importantly, I’ve also come to realize that it is important to find a medium that suits your personality. I’m glad for new mediums like podcasting and vlogging as writing isn’t for everyone.

But, since writing is that medium for me, I am grateful for companies like WordPress and Feedblitz that provide the tools to enable folks like me to focus on showing up and writing. And, of course, to you for your attention and encouragement.

Zig Ziglar and the chasm

In the 1960s, legendary salesman and coach Zig Ziglar used to sell pots and pans. The standard approach for a salesperson at the time was to hit a new town, sell as many pots and pans over the course of a day, and drive out to the next one.

However, Zig did it differently.

When he picked a town, he moved in for a few weeks. He made sure he got the early adopters his colleagues got on day one. But, then, he stayed long enough to make friends, organize dinners, and get to know the community. As his behavior was so unusual, he began winning the trust of the folks on the other side of the chasm until he’d successfully sold his wares to anyone in the town who had a need for them.

You’ve probably guessed the ending – Zig’s approach ended up far more effective as crossing the chasm is both materially harder and more rewarding.

Now, while there are many great lessons to take away from Zig’s story, the one that I’ve been reflecting on is the power of playing the long game. The magic of Zig’s approach was to intentionally commit to being patient to make the change he sought to make.

It turns out that the road to the long game is valuable, beautiful, and never crowded.

(HT: Thank you to Seth for sharing the story on “This is Marketing“)

Averages and statistics

A friend who is in the market for a home recently shared how averages and statistics have little predictive value. While they might give you a sense of the likely range of outcomes, your unique preferences may land you well above or below these numbers. You are, after all, a data point.

I’ve observed that the same is true for the other challenging activity that many of us go through – job searching. When we’re out there looking for the next gig, it is tempting to get caught in the “average and statistics” zone by asking “do I stand a chance based on people like me who’ve been through the process before?” 

While it is important to know these numbers and use them to not spend all our time on unlikely events, the flip side holds as well. We are just one data point. If we’re focused and thoughtful about how we approach our search, averages and statistics can matter lesser than we think.

Understand them, then learn to ignore them.

Product sense = The ability to build for value

A note for new subscribers: This post is part of a bi-weekly Sunday series on my notes on technology product management (this is what I do for a living). You might notice that these posts often link to older posts in the series on LinkedIn even though they are all available on this blog. That is intended for folks who only want to follow future product management related posts. Finally, for all those of you who don’t build tech products for a living, I believe many of these notes have broader applicability. And, I hope you find that to be the case as well…

Product managers who consistently build good products over time are said to have good “product sense.” It is one of those sounds-insightful-but-it-really-is-vague terms that is thrown around a lot when product managers are assessed and evaluated. I think the use of the word “sense” makes it natural to equate product sense to “spidey sense” – something a tad more extraordinary. :-)

Product sense is simply the ability to consistently build for value. This note is going to be about why it matters so much and how it manifests itself in the process of building products.

For starters, let’s go back to what an IC (individual contributor) product manager doesa product manager brings a team of cross functional stakeholders together to build a product that is valuable, usable, feasible.

Of the three outcomes a PM is responsible for, the most important is value. Building a useless product that is beautifully designed and well engineered is a waste of everyone’s time. On the flip side, if you get to build a product that is incredibly valuable, you can survive many iterations of poor design and/or technical architecture. And, if you need any convincing, look at the launch version of products you now love – they most likely started out looking ugly or suffered from “this site is down” errors far too often.

So, let’s begin to explore the notion of value.

Value = benefit to others. The value of anything we do is measured by the benefit others get from it.

How, then, do we “add value” in our jobs? There is only end recipient of value in our jobs – the customer (used interchangeably with “user” for consumer product companies). But, when we build or work on products, there are 3 broad ways we create value –

1. We build for basic user needs/what is considered “table stakes”: This constitutes everything a company does to serve its customers’ basic needs and match competitor offerings. While “table stakes” sounds simple, this is often really hard to get right and tends be the foundation on which companies build their differentiation. One example for internet products would be SEO or search engine optimization. While it is definitely table stakes as customers expect to find you easily when they search for you, it is still hard to get right.

2. We are enablers for our co-workers/partners: This includes all products targeted at improving the productivity of our co-workers as well as all the tools we build to enable partners to sell our products to customers.

3. We work on stuff that differentiates our company from the competition: Every successful company succeeds on the basis of some differentiation. While working on the “moat” sounds all hip and snazzy, this is often a result of a relentless focus on the customer’s problem or “job-to-be-done.” This is also rarely one thing – instead, it tends to be a combination of things a company does to elevate its status from what is considered “table stakes.” Think: all the small things that Ikea does to successfully serve anyone who wants to quickly furnish a home.

This all sounds pretty basic – why is it so hard to do when we are building products? Building for value is hard to do in the same way exercising, reading good books, and eating healthy are hard to do. This should be how everyone builds products. But, other stuff – typically corporate politics, bad organizational or product culture, and organizational inertia – gets in the way. This “other stuff” results in bad product management.

Bad product management involves product teams building products that put the needs of the company or executive team ahead of the needs of the customer.

All this brings us back to the 4 core skills of an IC Product Manager – problem finding, problem solving, building effective teams, and selling. 

Since product sense is about building for value, I believe that “problem finding” or the ability to define customer/user problems well is the skill that differentiates good product managers from great product managers. As my hope with this series is to drive clarity, I’ve intentionally stayed away from using “product sense” instead of problem finding or problem definition – even if product sense is common usage. And, in our next post, we’ll dig into developing our problem finding muscle – via problem statements, hypotheses, and riskiest assumption tests.

A career and life sidebar. For the life learning/career learning geeks out there, the notion of “value” goes well beyond building products. It has profound implications to success in our careers and our lives. Take the idea “success” as an example – we succeed (externally) when we create or offer something that the world wants or values. It is this value that generally translates into wealth.

For example, we communicate well when the others in the room understand what we say. Our clients and managers don’t appreciate us for the work we do. Instead, they appreciate us for the problems we solve for them. Like him or hate him, this was the magic behind Steve Jobs’ work. He had a deep understanding for the problems we wanted solved and for the stories we wanted to hear. He remains a great example of someone with great “product sense.”

The implication for us – we often orient our narratives around what we did – “I worked so hard” or “I did so much” or “I said so many times.” Unfortunately, such effort counts for little. Outcomes >>> Outputs. Our external success, instead, is a function of how well we understand the exact nature of the problem others around us would like solved. As we get better at solving these problems for our world, we earn the right to do the same for “the world.”

As we’ll explore over the course of future posts, most of the principles that enable us to build products (or build anything for that matter) are just as applicable to our lives. Thanks, as always, for your attention – I look forward to your notes and feedback.