What product managers need to learn from pioneers in the past
Did you know Leonardo Da Vinci spent several months in mortuaries studying the underlying muscles of a cadaver to build a deep knowledge of painting human moods? Relentless curiosity, imagination and never settling for anything but the best will help you build great technology products for the future.
About 300 to 500 years from now, documentation will recall the present-day era as that of technology renaissance. The renaissance of middle ages led to great advancement in art, science and humanity. This renaissance can lead to a significant upgradation of human life.
The drudgery and greed introduced in human life through industrialised economy can be replaced with leisure, celebration, abundance and joy. Great technologies have the properties of a black hole and magnetically pull everything in. They lead to the reduction in space and time and effort of getting things done.
The role of technology is central to our existence. Building great technology products is a huge opportunity and a responsibility. As a nation, India can play a similar role as that played by Italy during the Middle Age Renaissance. We have a unique opportunity to lead the world by building world-class technology and products.
So far, we’ve done well as the backend workshops of technology work done in the western world. We need to now step up and lead the change. Five thousand years ago, our sages had developed science, art, culture, technology and understanding of the world, which was way ahead of time and led to rapid advancement in humanity. It is time to regain the lost glory.
It is the high-quality lines of codes (HQLOC) we write, and not capital or skills, that will limit the growth of this nation in a few years. It is, therefore, critical to envision a better world through technology and build a great engineering culture and technology products.
Product leaders play a central role in envisioning technology products. Great product leaders have the soul of an artist, the intellect of a scientist and mind/vision of a CEO. Great products need creativity and a keen pursuit to apply imagination to intellect.
They are built out of deep empathy and curiosity about the user’s universe. Just like great movie actors spend time to get into the body of the character, great product leaders spend days to live the life of the user till they can think, act, eat, sleep like the user of technology. They bring in the following attributes:
Great product managers are intensely curious. They have an insatiable desire to know everything about the product they are building and the universe of the users. They go beyond to know everything else there is to know just for the sake of it. Leonardo Da Vinci would spend several months in hospital mortuaries studying the underlying muscles of cadaver to build a deep knowledge of painting human moods. The result was Mona Lisa’s smile. He instructed himself to learn about the placenta of a calf, the jaw of a crocodile, the tongue of a woodpecker, the light of the moon and the edges of a shadow to be a better artist.
Building the future needs one to take leaps of imagination. Einstein, over 15 years of thought experiments, travelled with the wave of light, which led to general and special theory of relativity. Leonardo Da Vinci would spend years imagining almost everything. He built the first prototype of airplanes looking at the four-winged dragonflies. He imagined a perpetual machine, a way to divert a river and turtle-like tanks. He used his imagination to see parallels of the problems in nature and plagiarised liberally from nature. The power of visualisation is underestimated. Great product managers spend a lot of their waking time visualising their products being in use. They first live it in their minds before really drawing it out on paper. They look at nature and take inspiration from nature to build great technology. Great technology, just like nature, is indistinguishable from magic.
Deep empathy and intuition
Great product managers are intuitive and deeply empathetic. They can close their eyes and transport themselves into the lives of the user. Linear issue tree based problem-solving leads to mediocre technology. Several times, enough data is not available to guide decision making on the product. If it’s a new, untested innovation, only trials will provide data for further improvement. However, deep empathy and intuition can provide a framework to find answers even when data is not available.
Leonardo Da Vinci married power of observation, details with a great scientific temperament. He was a forerunner of the age of observational experiments and critical thinking. When he came up with a great idea, he devised an experiment to test it. Great product managers use this to iterate on their products and get to the products that succeed.
Let perfect be the enemy of good
Do not settle for average or mediocre products. Great products appeal to imagination, intuitively feel right and score perfectly on scientific parameters. Great products appeal to the soul more than the senses. They are conscious and pull you in just like great pieces of art. Great product managers fervently and rigorously refine products till they meets their own standards of perfection and excellence. With every release, they keep raising their own bar on quality and deeply care about delivering perfection every time.
Every new-age company’s endeavour today should be to build outstanding products for users. The focus should be on building a world-class technology and product culture based on pointers like above. This requires ownership, self-regulation and a culture of inventiveness in everything that is done. It takes questioning everything based on first principles and marrying intuition and intellect to select the right answers. Organisations must try to learn lessons from history when humans made attempts to build a better future. If the entire ecosystem begins to reimagine technology and products, we can redefine the technology culture in India.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)