Product Management: A Stoic Philosophy of a Management

When Maximus (Russell Crowe) entered an arena as a Gladiator, the entire world noticed a fighter culture of a Roman empire. On the other hand, his father Marcus Aurelius entered an arena of a mind and established a legacy as the Stoic emperor. Do you know what Stoicism means?

Stoicism is one of the most enduring philosophies Greek and Roman taught an entire world. It is a view of an empirical ethics and base for a happy life. Roman and Greek philosophers share deep thoughts to overcome fear and pain points of our life. They provided principles to understand the world around us and work with others collaboratively.

Isn’t it product management is all about understanding customer pain points, be aware of our strengths and weaknesses and work collaboratively with engineering and marketing to facilitate an organization to grow and prosper?

In my opinion, product management is a stoic philosophy of management. Marcus Aurelius Said, “Look into their minds, at what the wise do and what they don’t.” I turned that to PM world and said, “Look into customer behavior what they do with your product and what they don’t.” It will give you a path to build what customer wants. Let me share fundamental Stoic principles and how they apply to PM world.

Principle 1: First Acknowledge All Negative Emotions
“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my perceptions not outside.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
It is always internal thoughts which drive a person rather than external force or condition. Your inner fire always accomplishes more results than external motivation. As a product manager, you will always in search of what to build next. There are various ways to find what to build. However, the question is – “will new feature we are planning to make help an organization to grow?” As a PM we fail to acknowledge problems in our product. We do not manage to accept there are pain points of end users. To improve a product first step is to acknowledge we have a problem. By recognizing problems we accomplish three things

  • We identify users requirements and pain points
  • We comprehend what we can build next and why
  • We improve product usability experience

Principle 2: Recognize There is Life after Failure
“Does what’s happened to keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
We all fail at one particular time in our life. Sometimes we give up, and sometimes we persist. When we think there is something beyond failure, we reflect on next steps rather than focusing on failure. It needs a mindset and requires an attitude to pick up a lesson from past and apply it to a next step. It might be possible you are working on a product feature for last 3-4 months, and when you launch it, you witness its failure. Now what? As a PM you follow product development lifecycle (identify, plan, design, develop, launch, assess and repeat). You take lessons from your past failure and identify a problem again.(Key here is to remember: Focus on a problem). Failure is an inevitable part of the product role. Thus key here is to build a mindset – there is no growth without failure.

Principle 3: When You’re Working, Be Ruthlessly Present
Lately, the digital world has captured everyone’s attention, and we started focusing on wrong things at a bad time. For example, while sitting in a restaurant among a group of friends, we spend time on Facebook or Instagram. We forget to stay in a moment to connect with another person who is present and available to talk. We are more interested in a person who can be found on Facebook messenger to chat. We are more connected to screens rather than people. The same habits we carry at work. As a PM it is important to focus on a customer/internal team(It could be any internal stakeholder) when we are talking to them. When we focus completely on a client, it allows us to accomplish three things

  • It makes it possible to capture their pain points
  • Sometimes they share product ideas indirectly, so it makes it possible to read between the lines.
  • You give 100% attention to a customer, so it establishes a connection and builds customer satisfaction

Principle 4: Reflect on what you spend the most time on
It is critical to remind yourself time is a most valuable resource for you as a Product Manager. Thus, you need to be very focused and detailed oriented to decide as a company/engineering team what will you build. As a PM you are navigating a company and responsible for executing company’s strategies. As a PM your priority is to focus on product, product roadmap, and measurement matrix. If you are spending time on solving fires, you should take a moment and think about it. It might be helpful in a short term. However, it will impact a company concerning a long-term execution. Thus, your evaluation will help you to bring your focus back on track and see a bigger picture.

In summary, the Stoic philosophy allows you to maintain your calm and composed approach during the chaos. As a PM, chaos is an inevitable part of the job because you as a PM interacts with sales, marketing, engineering, customer success and supports. In my opinion, above stoic principles provides a platform for a PM to reflect on our work, focus on long-term strategic planning, understand our mistakes, and envision an opportunity after failure to build a successful organization.



Also published on Medium.