The Science of Success for Product Managers and Innovators [podcast]

Science of SuccessMuch of the advice we’ve been told about being successful as a product manager and innovator is logical, earnest… and downright wrong. My guest, Eric Barker, explores the science of success. In his book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Eric reveals the science behind what actually determines success and—most important—how you can achieve it. Eric also has a popular blog by the same name as his book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, that shares science-based answers and expert insight on how to be successful.

Much of the insights can be summarized as:

Know yourself and pick the right pond.

This means knowing your strengths and working in an environment where you can frequently use your strengths. This and more is summarized below and discussed in the interview.

Here is a summary of the topics discussed and a link to the interview:

[4:08] When should product managers play it safe and when should they break the rules? First, people need to get to know themselves and align themselves with the right role. If you are a constant rule breaker, find an industry, company, and role that allows you that freedom. Also, from the book Little Bets, we know that low resource, quick commitments that can be tested is the right way to approach innovation. Instead of committing to one thing that we don’t know will be successful or not, make several small commitments that move the needle forward and allow you to assess what is likely to work.


[9:19] How do product managers find the resilience to keep going and not give up? Resilience is important because a lot of people give up on projects that have long term potential. Three ideas are well-established in the literature.

First is optimism. When you are optimistic – when you believe things will work out – then why not follow through. If you believe you will win, then you’ll take action. Optimism is composed of three Ps – personal, pervasive, and permanent. When you see that you did a good job for what you are personally responsible for, that things are working out for everything you are doing (pervasive), and that it is going to continue (permanent), we feel good. When the opposite is true, people get a feeling of futility and when that continues we call it clinical depression, feeling there is no point to continuing what we are doing. Recognize the positive elements to reinforce the three Ps and argue against negative thinking.

Second is making work a game, which must have four characteristics. The game – the process you are going through — must be winnable. It must have novelty so it feels new at times and you don’t get bored. It must also have clear goals. Finally, it must provide feedback on your progress.

Third are the stories we tell ourselves. We turn the events of our life into stories. If the stories you tell yourself involve persistence and not giving up, you are more likely to have resilience.


[17:55] What is more important to product managers – what they know or who they know? The research studies are consistent that having a large network is powerful in getting promoted, getting employed, and being successful. However, there is also research that shows that the more extroverted you are, the worse you are at your job. If you are focused on networking, you are not developing your individual skills. There needs to be a balance between the two. Focus on alignment by asking what your role requires and what your skill sets are in networking versus individual proficiency. Product managers need to know the people who are influential in getting things done. You don’t want to build these relationships when you need something – you want to build them ahead of that time. Take the time to meet the people you will need to help you before you need the help.


[25:05] How do we not feel overwhelmed at work and create a work-life balance? We currently have a perfect storm working against us. Work doesn’t end at 5 pm because the resources we need are always available, accessible in the Cloud and from our phones and laptops. We have the capability to work 24×7 until we collapse. Everyone has to draw their own line. This means having a personal definition of success. Working more is correlated to more success, but also to relationships that suffer. People who strike a reasonable work-life balance keep four metrics to determine success: (1) happiness – are you enjoying what you are doing, (2) achievement – are you moving forward and achieving your goals, (3) significance – is what you are doing important to you and those around you, and (4) legacy – are you improving the lives of others?


[32:59] Why is alignment between the characteristics of a product manager and their role important? Two common elements of success are knowing yourself and picking the right pond for your work. Align who you are with the right place to work so you can be successful. Knowing yourself means knowing your signature strengths – the things you are really good at. The more you can use your signature strengths, the happier you will be.


Listen to the interview with Eric Barker on The Everyday Innovator Podcast for product managers and innovators.



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Chad McAllisterChad McAllister, PhD. is a product innovation guide, innovation management educator, and recovering engineer. He leads Product Innovation Educators, which trains product managers to create products customers love. He also hosts The Everyday Innovator weekly podcast, sharing knowledge from innovation thought leaders and practitioners. Follow @ChadMcAllister

Chad McAllister




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