The Strategy Trap - Throw The Books Away!

Less Talk, More Action For Success

It was Greece around 8 years ago and my daughter, aged 6 at the time, jumped on a little bike (sans stabilisers) and just like that wobbled into the distance and learnt to ride. She didn’t read books, study videos or attend courses. She didn’t even let us try to help! She nearly fell off but she just got on the bike and had a go.

There is a phenomeon I’ve observed in tech companies recently. I call it The Strategy Trap. Product people are becoming too obsessed with the endless supply of deep dive product strategy books, frameworks and fancy sounding ideation workshops. Whilst Melissa Perri discusses The Build Trap (Which is something I used to subscribe to) I’m coming around to the notion that in fact you ARE better building stuff and shipping it rather than running endless discovery streams. I’m also becoming tired of hearing Product Managers regurgitate the same product-babble they’ve heard on podcasts or within the latest product books. 

The allure of new product strategy books often captivates us. However, the true essence of success in this field goes beyond merely absorbing theories; it thrives in the fusion of theory and the application of real-world experience.

Just like my daughter learning to ride, sometimes it might be the best policy to forego strategy and move quickly to action.

The Value of Real-World Examples

The Value of Real-World Examples

Real-world examples serve as living testaments to the lessons found in theories. Consider the launch of the iPhone by Apple. Its success was not solely anchored in theories from books but stemmed from a combination of visionary strategy, market understanding, and an acute grasp of consumer needs. This amalgamation birthed a groundbreaking product that redefined an entire industry.

The Pitfalls of Theory without Application

Reading an abundance of product strategy books without practical application can lead to a knowledge trap. It instills a false sense of expertise without the lived experience to validate it. Much like a captain studying manuals but never steering a ship, relying solely on theory can create a gap between knowledge and its real-world application. There’s a big danger here for the product person starting out – founders and stakeholders are getting better at filtering out the bullshit. So rather than produce endless product presentations filled with Marty Cagan quotes, actually build something. Produce tangible deliverables or at least concise, plain English documentation that conveys your thoughts and ideas.

Striking the Balance

Product leaders need both the scholarly foundation from books and the empirical insight gained from shipping products to market. The balance lies in cultivating an environment where theory meets practice harmoniously. Integrating lessons from books with hands-on experience fosters a robust understanding that fuels innovation and strategic decision-making. I most certainly am being tongue-in-cheek when I’m calling for the disposal of your product strategy books. But use them as a guide for what YOU are going practice. Do not use them as an endless stream of gibberish you bore a founder with.

Embracing a Culture of Action

Avoiding the trap of endless reading without implementation is crucial. To counter this, product people must foster a culture that encourages learning by doing (and failing!). For example, principles outlined in Lean Startup methodology highlight the vitality of quick iterations, learning from failures, and the necessity of market feedback—a testimony to the value of putting theory into practice. But actually DO this. This means fast to action, not wasting time and delivering something to market to rapidly get real feedback.

Incorporating Practical Insights

Real-world experiences often reveal nuances and complexities that theoretical literature might overlook. For instance, consider Amazon’s evolution from an online bookstore to the vast e-commerce ecosystem it is today. The practical application of their strategies and constant innovation in response to market dynamics has been a key factor in their success.

Developing Adaptive Strategies

Theory provides frameworks, but real-world experience teaches adaptation. Nokia’s downfall amidst the smartphone era shift stands as a poignant lesson. Despite possessing theoretical knowledge, the failure to adapt and apply that knowledge led to their decline in a rapidly evolving market.

The Evolving Nature of Product Strategy

The landscape of product strategy is constantly evolving. Thus, an openness to learning from both theory and real-world experiences is crucial. Acknowledging the limitations of theoretical frameworks and understanding the dynamic nature of markets can be pivotal for success.

Closing Thoughts

In the pursuit of mastering product strategy, it’s pivotal to understand that the real essence lies in the synthesis of theory and practical application. True expertise emerges not just from the knowledge procured through books but from the wisdom gained in the trenches of product development. As a Chief Product Officer, the art of balancing theory and real-world experience will undeniably steer you towards success in the dynamic landscape of product strategy.

Another area of concern I’ve noticed in less experience product managers is imposter syndrome. I honestly think the over consumption of product strategy literature exacerbates this conundrum – the product manager takes to heart the literature so much they are unable to understand what really might happen in the real world. This leads to fear and anxiety. There is NO MAGIC PILL for product management or development. It literally is is about trying to reduce some risks and then seeing if something resonates with the market. 

Remember, while theory lays the foundation, experience builds the empire.

JASON FRIED: People think it’s irresponsible or that it’s lazy. “How can you run a business without planning a year, three years, five years in advance? “How is anyone going to know what to do if you don’t lay it all out clearly for them?” I’m here to tell you it’s absolutely possible to run a business this way, and in fact I think it’s desirable.