5 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier

Lessons in Product and Life

In fact there are a few more than 5. In any case as I approach my 50th year on this planet I find myself reflecting a little on life and realise that there are quite a few things in both my personal and professional life that I wish I’d known earlier.

Some are directly related to product management, a career that has seen me move in and out of being a product designer, strategist, CPO, VP and so on over the past 20 years. But there are also some crossover learnings that are applicable to personal development and life outside work.

Spend less time at work, more time with family

An old friend of mine exited his business a few years ago for over $100M. He had enjoyed an extremely successful career before founding his own venture. But I remember sitting in a restaurant one evening where he expressed remorse that in chasing his career success he had been absent for his children’s formative years. He could never get that time back. Work, money, career are all of course super important but those close to you should take priority, especially your children. Running my own agency when the kids were small meant that I could be there for their breakfast everyday and spend time with them. Being ‘out of work’ mode is important even within a work context. When you’re holding 1-2-1s try to understand your people. Your team will appreciate the ‘non work’ side of your leadership more than you can imagine. They most certainly won’t remember nailing those all important KPIs but they WILL remember the personal chat you might have had with them giving advice or a social event where they got to know you a little better.

Understand the Balance Between Vision and Execution

Having a product vision is vital for team motivation, to wrap your day to day around something ‘bigger’ that keeps you pushing forward. In many instances it is the vision that will compel investors to bet on your idea. However, lean in too much to the vision and execution will suffer. Before you look round your runway has evaporated and you’re staring at a shiny prototype that didn’t even see the light of day in a lesser form. Product leaders understand the need to balance strategic vision with execution to deliver value consistently (McKinsey). You can address this by keeping development cycles small, testing iterations with users, even if the ideas may be forward thinking. Like this you’ll be able to test some of your vision concepts early but keep your product current and the execution rhythm sane.

Look after yourself

Burnout is real. We all know that long hours, not enough sleep and a relentless pace can impact even the most resilient of individuals. In my younger years I felt that I had to be on point almost 24/7. I worked late into the small hours feeling that I should use every available minute to be productive. Of course I’m older and wiser now. I have a fitness and nutrition regimen that not only is consistent but is a non-negotiable lifestyle change. Self-care has been proven to not only help us cope better with the stresses of work and life but also in how we manage and influence others. There are some very big knock on effects of self-care to those around you.

Embracing Failure as a Learning Opportunity

Does anyone actually learn from success? I’d debate that failure is how we learn and go on to be successful. Failure is an inevitable part of the product development process, yet many product leaders shy away from it or view it as a sign of incompetence. However, failure, when approached with the right mindset, can serve as a powerful catalyst for growth and innovation.

Research published in the Harvard Business Review emphasises the importance of fostering a culture that embraces experimentation and learning from failure. Product leaders should create environments where team members feel empowered to take calculated risks, test hypotheses, and learn from both successes and setbacks. By reframing failure as a natural byproduct of innovation, leaders can cultivate resilience and creativity within their teams.

This also extends to your personal life. No one is built with a perfect set of behaviours or decision making processes. Being able to accept your failures, examine them and be humble enough to admit you were wrong or made the incorrect decisions will lead to better learnings for the future.

Surround Yourself with Great People, Exit your Comfort Zone

The company you keep can impact your mindset, your work, your personal life and your opportunities. Even if you are not an extrovert, try to push yourself into a sphere of opportunity by reaching out to people. It may seem unnatural to be proactively social but it can pay off in many ways. I am a natural introvert but I’ve found that reaching out to possible future connections reaps huge dividends. For example, I once approached a start up in my 20s, keen to have a piece of that action. Months later the founder invited me to join him in a brand new venture that would go on to be a huge success. On the flip side try to avoid people who relentlessly talk politics or who do not have a general optimism about their day to day!

Be B/A/D

I have a mantra that can help with the last point – be BAD. It is simply a framework that will help you be successful in anything that you choose to do. I struggled with certain aspects of this in my younger years but now know that by adopting this framework you can in many ways make your own luck. BAD literally stands for Believe / Action / Deliver. Foster a sense of belief. Dream big. Belief is what carries us through and fuels our ambition. It is what powers a product vision or future state. Without that you’ll struggle to move to the next phase – ACTION.

Steve Jobs once said “Most people never pick up the phone and call. Most people never ask, and that’s what separates the people who do things from the people who just dream about them.”

This may seem like common-sense but I know so many people who have great ideas or who dream about a project or future but never take the first step. Make sure you adopt an ‘action’ mindset. Set a task list. That could be reaching out to people, being bold, sending an email, whatever. Don’t worry about failure or whether you might appear stupid, just go for it. Lastly DELIVER. If after taking steps you’re given an opportunity then make 100% sure that you deliver something. Do not stop and move swiftly to execution mode.

The one thing people have often said to me is that they wish they’d tried. Probably one of the biggest lessons is knowing that you can rest easy in later life knowing that you gave something a shot, even if it didn’t work out. The more you adopt this mindset the more you can craft your own magic and realise your dreams.

Give Back

There is a universal law that the more you give, the more you receive. Whether it is some form of philanthropy, volunteering or even acting as a mentor to people in your industry. Your work will net you income to make a living but as Winston Churchill so eloquently put it: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I have clear memories of individuals who have over the years taken time to provide me with advice or just a few minutes of their time. These types of interactions are never forgotten.

Build Diverse and Inclusive Teams

One thing product people learn over time is that they are not building the product for themselves. The sooner you understand this the better. Think about who’s using the brilliant products we know and love. Not just people like you. Everyone. Diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords; they are critical components of high-performing teams and innovative cultures. Product leaders who prioritise diversity in their hiring and team-building efforts benefit from a wider range of perspectives, experiences, and ideas, ultimately leading to more robust and empathetic products.

According to a report by McKinsey, companies with diverse executive teams are more likely to outperform their less diverse counterparts in terms of profitability and value creation.

There are so many other points I wanted to go through in this post but I’ll save them for another time. I do think that the B/A/D framework can address a lot of the opportunity testing in our lives. Without action or belief or delivery you will never know what’s around the corner and the stories you’ll tell in the future.