Product Managers Must Be Curious (About Everything)

Let’s face it – product managers have the best job in the world. I say that because we get to blend taste and science every day. In other words, we sit at the intersection of multiple disciplines. From marketing and design to engineering and data science, our role brings all of these functions together in making great products.

As product managers, it’s important that we lean into the mix of all these disciplines. For example, you should learn from your peers in other functions in order to develop a greater understanding of their expertise. From reading about design and technology to attending business conferences, we can all learn from getting out of our “product bubble” on a regular basis.

Furthermore, I highly recommend watching documentaries and reading novels. Part of becoming a successful product manager is to get into the head of someone who isn’t like you. As a result, you’re able to get outside your comfort zone and flex your “empathy muscle” in relating to an audience that is completely new to you.

Most importantly, product managers must be curious about our customers. We are all focused on making products to help people. However, you have to realize that this process is not about you – it’s about everyone else.

In addition, you must remember that your customer is not like you at all. With this, it’s critical to talk with a customer at least once a day to ensure that you understand their needs. From answering customer services tickets to visiting customers at home or at work, product managers need to connect with customers on a personal level.

To quote Elizabeth Gilbert, “curiosity is a far more friendly way to do creativity than passion.”

Along these lines, the best product ideas come from repeated interactions with customers. In other words, they do not come from brainstorming sessions at your office. Through exercising curiosity, product managers are able to be more open and truly understand their customers’ preferences.

Using an example from my time at Advent, we visited a client who was using one of our money management products. We noticed that the account managers had sticky notes all over their monitors. When we asked why, they said that the sticky notes were used to stay on top of daily trades. As a result, we developed a brand-new solution to complement our existing product that digitized their trade management.

In summary, product managers need to get out and listen to others. Simply put, we don’t have all the answers as a product expert. Instead, you need to be ready for things to come to you.

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About the speaker
Michael Sippey Medium, CPO Member

Michael Sippey is VP Product at Medium, leading a team that helps more than 80 million readers a month discovery smart thinking on things that matter. Prior to joining Medium in 2017, Sippey was CEO and co-founder of Talkshow Industries, a startup focused on making great conversations easy to discover. He’s also held executive and product leadership roles at Twitter, SAY Media and Six Apart. He has a BA in English Literature from Colgate University, and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. He lives in Berkeley with his wife, his two daughters and his dog Scout.

About the host
Jessica Chen Riolfi

Jessica Chen Riolfi has spent her career taking companies international, and currently accelerates TransferWise’s mission around the world. At TransferWise, she started off by globalizing TransferWise’s product and now leads the Asia region, managing 13 countries and a significant chunk of the £800 million transferred on a monthly basis by TransferWise customers. Previously, she drove international growth at eBay and Amazon. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Dartmouth College.

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