We recently sat down with Verizon Board Director and Silicon Valley pioneer, Shellye Archambeau, to discuss her upcoming book, Unapologetically Ambitious, and the power of planning with intent. It was a deeply insightful exchange on how to grow a successful career as a product leader by taking risks.
Taking risks is vital to career and company growth, but how do we calculate that risk as product leaders? Product Talk host Nikki Ahmadi sits down with Shellye Archambeau, Silicon Valley pioneer, Verizon Board Director, and former CEO of Metric Streams, to discuss the power of planning, intention, and how to enhance the skill of taking risks.

On how planning with intent is crucial to career development

Many people know how to lay out a plan, but the power really lies in the execution.

“The key here is being intentional, and so many people out there really aren’t. I’ve found that very few people make decisions every day consistent with their plans, consistent with their goals. That’s where the power really lies. Set a goal and ask yourself, what needs to be true in order for me to achieve it, and then ask yourself, how do I make that true. That’s how you develop the plan.”

“When I say make decisions consistent, it comes down to making decisions assuming that what you want will really happen and therefore, what do you need to do now to get ready for it.”

On how risk and reward go hand in hand

Taking risks is a part of every decision we make. Great product leaders learn how to become comfortable with, and manage, taking risks.

“I like to say Risk and Reward are two sides of the same coin. If you aren’t taking risks, then you aren’t going to have the opportunity to have great rewards.”

“That’s the question I asked. [If] the worst thing happened, can I live with it? If I could live with it and there was an upside, I take the risk. And then I do things to try and mitigate that risk, so I didn’t just take 100% of the risk. 

On how taking risks is a skill

Being aware of your personal risk tolerance can help grow the muscle of taking risks which is necessary for career and company development.

“There isn’t one framework for everybody because we all have different risk tolerances.”

“You need to ask yourself a series of questions and then honestly answer it. Am I a risk-taker? Am I not? And if you find that the answer tends to be no, then I would encourage – if you are ambitious – then here’s where it’s a good idea to get a coach, or a really involved mentor, that can help you work through how to improve your risk tolerance a bit.

“Studies have shown if you take risks in your career you will move faster and do better than if you don’t. The reason the whole corporation entity exists is because it was created to enable people to come together and share risk.”

“People who lead companies need to be risk-takers. They want people who work for them to be good risk-takers. If you aren’t taking risks then you aren’t going to be able to grow because you’re doing everything like everybody else is. So if you’re ambitious and you find that you’re not a risk-taker then you need to figure out how to become one, how to develop that skill.

On common mistakes made by product leaders

Making mistakes is par for the course, but common ones can be avoided.

“They assume that the user of their product has more time and patience than they do. User interfaces are just so, so important. We tend to spend much of our time not on the interface, but on what happens after the user interface.”

“It’s always surprising to me how many people don’t ask for what they need or what they want, and if you don’t ask, people can’t help you. So let them help you, and ask.”

Speaker: Shellye Archambeau