Peter Yang

@peteryang

Don’t Worry About Appearing Smart, Worry About Finding the Truth

Have you ever given a presentation that you prepared hours for, only to be blindsided with a question that you didn’t consider? Or have you found yourself in a debate with a peer, only to think “why can’t I convince this person to see things my way?”

If you enjoy this post, I’m writing a book for new and aspiring product managers to help them get a head start in their PM career. Sign up at principles.pm to get a free chapter now.

One of the most important things I’ve learned as a PM is that my job is not to be right, but to find the truth.

Because PMs are expected to know everything about their product, I used to spend hours looking at customer research and crafting a polished document before sharing with anyone. I would then go into a meeting with the goal to convince everyone else to see things my way. When objections arise, I would answer them with “let’s take that offline” without giving them serious thought afterwards. This approach is inefficient.
 
It’s inefficient because no matter how much preparation I do, there’s always a chance that I could be very wrong.

So instead of going into a discussion with a goal of “how can I convince this person to see things my way?” I now have a goal of “how can we discover the truth together?”

Instead of waiting until I’ve written a polished document before sharing it with my colleagues, I now try to share my thinking early and often for feedback. Instead of waiting until my product is built or designed before sharing with customers, I now try to talk to at least one customer a week — even if I’ve barely drafted an outline of an idea.

The fastest way to find the truth is to seek out knowledgeable people who are willing to disagree.

Here’s how I put the above statement into practice:

  1. Identify knowledgeable people: At the start of a project, I try to identify people who are my customers or closely connected with them, people who have domain experience, or simply people who I think are thoughtful.
  2. Listen: I meet face to face with these people as soon as possible and listen to their opinions. Listening could also include stating my opinion and encouraging disagreement (“please poke holes in this”).
  3. Follow-up on blind spots: These meetings are productive if we can identify important unknowns together (“how do we know that users really want this?”). It’s equally important to follow-up on these unknowns as quickly as possible to find an answer.

With the help of other knowledgeable people, I’ve found that I can very quickly identify questions that I’ve missed or holes in my logic. There’s nothing embarrassing about quickly correcting an error. In fact:

If the other person can prove that I’m wrong, then I feel incredibly thankful instead of embarrassed.

Whether this person is the CEO or the most junior person in the room, if they can make a reasoned argument or present evidence that my direction is wrong, then I feel joy. Even if their point invalidates a lot of the work that my team has accomplished to date, they’ve still saved us from future wasted effort and embarrassment.

Remember: Don’t worry about appearing smart, worry about finding the truth.

Also remember: The fastest way to find the truth is to seek out knowledgeable people who will disagree with you.

I’m writing a book for new and aspiring product managers. If you enjoyed this post, visit principles.pm to get a free chapter.

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