In this #mtpengage Manchester talk, Rob Crook of Moonpig talks about product management mastery, and how to overcome imposter syndrome. He says that Robert Green calls it mastery, Tim Ferris calls it becoming superhuman, and Cal Newport says you need to practise it for 10,000 hours. There’s a modern obsession with self improvement – millennials spend double the amount that baby boomers spend on self-improvement activities.
This is the hero’s journey that most of us are on. A fairly standard distribution. If you overlay confidence on this, however, it’s nowhere near as predictable:
This follows the Dunning Kruger curve. As we get started, a little competence breeds great confidence, but that quickly subsides as we move from not knowing what we don’t know, to understanding just how much we don’t know, and quickly land in the valley of despair. We spend the majority of our careers here.
In the valley of despair, Rob believes we often ask ourselves these three questions:
1. What if I’m actually an imposter?
It can often feel like everyone else knows what they’re doing. But take Slack, a product we all know and admire. It started as a failed game called Glitch; they didn’t know what they were doing from the start. YouTube is similar; initially, they thought it would become a dating site.
We don’t often see these failures though. When looking at other products, we only get to see the most polished version.
2. How can I measure if I’m doing a good job?
Other disciplines have tangible outputs; product is intangible. You can be a horrible product manager with a great team and ship a product in spite of what you do, and the opposite is also true. Objectively measuring performance is hard. Rob recommends looking at what a company celebrates; is it sales figures? Technical leaps? Shipping product? These will give you a clue on what the company cares about, and therefore the lens through which you should judge your performance.
You need to understand what good feedback looks like. As product managers we sit in the middle of UX, business and tech, and getting different feedback from these functions indicates that you’re not prioritising one over the other, and instead you’re focusing on delivering value to the customer.
3. How do I get better?
Rob talks about Malcolm Gladwell and the 10,000 hours principle. If this is true, based on the number of days worked per year, and the hours of deep work in a day, it takes 18.7 years as a product manager to become great, a long time to wait in the valley of despair.
If you’d like to speed up that process, practise making products. Not necessarily aiming to become the next Instagram, in your spare time start thinking through how you would craft other products or services, begin to play, learn and discover. These things will help you become better at what you do.
Teaching is also another great way to retain information. It has the highest average retention rate of any learning activity.