Martin Eriksson opened #mtpcon London 2018 – the world’s largest conference for passionate product people – by telling us that despite all he’s achieved, he feels like a fraud. This Imposter Syndrome is a deep fear of being exposed as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, despite their position in the world.
Imposter Syndrome isn’t unique to product people, but we suffer from it more than most because we are generalists in a world full of specialists. We work with developers, user researchers, data scientists, and a host of other experts every single day. It’s only natural that we should feel like the dumbest people in the room.
But for Martin, being the odd one out is also a product manager’s greatest strength, and one we need to embrace. He shared how previous #mtpcon speakers have touched on the same subject. In 2015 Ken Norton spoke about how product managers can learn a lot from how jazz musicians approach their craft – like Jazz musicians we have to get uncomfortable. Last year Janice Fraser talked about how in order to innovate, we have to end our addiction to being right – because being the awkward one in the room asking all the questions is actually more valuable than having all the answers. And a few years ago Tim Harford argued that this frustration actually makes us more creative – because “the sheer awkwardness of dealing with the gooseberry in the room” leads to better discussions and better outcomes. It turns out that diversity of thought and fresh perspectives lead to better decisions.
This openness to new ideas and new ways of thinking is important because product management, designing software, even building hardware, are all so new, and we’re all working it out as we go. And because any meaningful innovation crosses so many disciplines, it’s important that we’re able to come together in a safe space like #mtpcon to share ideas and experiences. Being an imposter is more important than ever, says Martin, because as imposters we know we don’t know everything, we know we’re here to disrupt the status quo, to figure out new ways to do things, and to ask why.
So embrace the awkward. Embrace your imposter syndrome, and use it to bridge the disciplines and build products people love.