Love gets you twisted

I've been enjoying Christopher Cumming's product management blog, Product Management Meets Popular Culture. His most recent post, "Product Managers: Can You Reject Narcissism?" deserves special attention.

Most product management aficianados opine, at some point, about the importance of product passion. You need to love your product. You need to embrace it, nurture it, defend it, extol its virtues to other people. If your product fails, maybe you didn't believe in it enough. (You probably killed Tinkerbell, too, you unfeeling bastard.) If the product succeeds, you can bask in the afterglow, and then maybe have a cigarette.

If that sounds a little creepy, maybe it's worth re-evaluating your relationship with your product. I'm exaggerating for effect, but that's only because the word "passion" is vague, and exhortations to have product passion often sound pretty overheated.

That's what makes Cummings' post worth reading. Passion can easily mutate into something ugly, which can have bad consequences for the product manager, the object of the product manager's affections, and the company.

For example, if you've worked in a big company, you've no doubt attended at least one cross-group meeting in which PMs fight for their products' interests. These discussions can be constructive, but they can also turn into the tech industry equivalent of a child beauty pageants, with the passionate PMs playing the role of the stage mothers. No one wins in this arena, least of all the PM who may have just destroyed any chance of working productively with other PMs. Organizations change, PMs move between groups...Who knows who your co-worker, or your boss, will be, two or three years from now?

Product management is inherently political. Books that drive home that point, such as The Art Of Product Management, are worth reading. So, too, are like-minded blogs like The Cranky Product Manager.

Therefore, perhaps we should pick a different metaphor for product management. Instead of lovers, PMs need to be patriots. Both lovers and patriots feel strong ties and obligations. Both risk letting their emotions run out of control. The important difference is, while we understand and forgive lovers who give into these urges, we expect a bit more sangfroid from patriots.

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Comments

re: Love gets you twisted

Great article - especially something to keep in mind during hard times when we have to be realistic about our products and honest with ourselves.

re: Love gets you twisted

Hi Tom -I really like where you went with this! I have been in too many meetings like the one you described...Picking up on your Revolutionary War metaphor:The Patriots found British taxes illegal because the colonists were not directly represented within Parliament.As a PM, are you representing your "colonists" (your customers) while maintaining the integrity and leadership position of your country (your business)?I'll take Product Patriots over Product Narcissists and Loyalists any day.- Chris

re: Love gets you twisted

I agree - people's passion can turn them blind. In my opinion the solution is 3 fold:1. Listening - listening means that you need to seek out feedback from the market and the business and commit to seeing the both the confirming and disconfirming evidence it holds.2. Humility. This is cultural and personal. It means that you need to accept where you (your product) is, and know that you can always improve.3. Commitment to continuous improvement. No matter what you have achieved, consider it an opportunity to look around and see what the next step is.At AOL, people laughed at me when I said that the email client could stand improving - it works for my mom, they'd say. True. But the world doesn't stand still. If you don't go for the next thing, someone else will.

re: Love gets you twisted

Even the Patriots lost the Super Bowl! Good post though. The challenge is taking off the rose coloured glasses. The good product managers are the ones who seek negative feedback on their product.-Stewart