Imagine you are sitting in a meeting.
You are in the middle of a heated debate with your head of sales. A customer is adamant they need a feature in order to renew. It’s a big account. The sales team needs the renewal to hit their quarter goal.
You don’t want to build the feature. It’s unique to this customer. Nobody else will benefit from it. It won’t be easy to build. You want your sales team to sell to clients that need what you have, not anyone and everyone.
Sound familiar? Most enterprise product managers have been in this situation.
What do you do?
Do you dig your heels in and fight for your vision? Do you explain why this would not create value for anyone else? Do you beg your head of sales to look beyond this one client?
These all seem like reasonable approaches. But they aren’t likely to work.
Sales people are supposed to fixate on the current customer. They are supposed to do everything within their power to get this client (not a hypothetical next client) to close right now.
So save your breath and redefine the problem. Get curious about the request.
Why does this customer need that feature? How does it help them use your product better? If you can better understand the need, you might be able to come up with a different solution that meets this client’s need and benefits your other customers.
But don’t stop there. Get curious about the market opportunity.
What makes this customer so different from your other customers? Is there a new market opportunity? Are there more customers like them out there that you should be going after?
Get curious about your sales team’s response.
Your sales team knows you can’t build every feature your clients request. Why is this one different? What do they see that you don’t?
Curiosity is a Fundamental Requirement for Building Better Products
Oxford Dictionary defines curiosity as: “a strong desire to know or learn something.”
Curiosity is critical for almost every aspect of the job. Not just feature request debates.
You need to know and learn about:
- your users and customers
- the competitive landscape
- your company’s business needs
- the latest technology trends
- how your product is performing
- the tools that are available to help you do your job better
- why sales loses business
- why sales wins business
- your own personal development
- your teammates’ skills and abilities and how you can best work with them
- the latest methods for how to best work with engineers
- and much more
Without curiosity, keeping up with the knowledge required to be a good product manager would be impossible. – Tweet This
How to Cultivate Curiosity
In the world of psychology, curiosity is considered both a trait and a state. That means that some of us are naturally more curious than others—that’s what makes it a trait.
However, regardless of our natural inclination to be curious, we all experience curiosity states. We all get situationally curious.
Your job is to cultivate that state. Here are a few ways you can do that.
Slow down. It’s hard to be curious when you are too busy rushing from one thing to the next.
This can be particularly challenging in the fast-paced world of internet products.
Your world moves fast, but if you are going to do a good job of staying on top of everything you need to know, you need to slow down and engage with the world around you.
Block 30–60 minutes on your calendar each week to slow down and engage fully with something that’s on your plate.
What do you need to learn more about?
What’s in front of you that needs further investigation?
Use the time to do it. Dedicate more time to these types of activities as your schedule allows. The more the better.
Reframe boring situations. When you find yourself bored, reframe the situation. Stuck in traffic? What can you observe about the world around you?
Observation is a great way to cultivate curiosity. – Tweet This
Waiting in line? Don’t immediately look at your phone. Look around. What’s interesting? Strike up a conversation with your neighbor.
Read widely. This is my favorite. I read 1 to 2 books a week. Both fiction and non-fiction.
I also read dozens of blogs and follow interesting links in my Twitter stream.
I work to cultivate diverse interests.
I don’t just read about product and design.
I follow blogs specifically because they introduce me to things I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. Brain Pickings and Farnam Street are great examples of this.
I read any book that someone I trust recommends, even if it falls outside of my normal area of interest.
You might ask, how do I find the time? Easy, I make it a priority.
Aside from sports, I don’t watch much TV. It’s not all or nothing. But while you are watching the latest reality TV show, I’m probably reading a book.
I read on the bus, while I’m making my morning coffee, and before I go to sleep. I fit it in because it’s important to me. You can too.
Follow your interests. With reading especially, don’t get caught up in what you should read.
If I was reading Shakespeare and Hemingway, I would only read two or three books a year. Instead, I read what interests me and I plow through two to three times that number each month.
It doesn’t have to be books.
Go outside. Learn about the flowers and trees in your neighborhood.
Meet the neighbors. Ask people what they do for a living and really listen.
Spend an afternoon at your local coffee shop and observe the comings and goings.
Go to a museum.
It doesn’t matter what you pick. It just matters that you follow and cultivate your interests.
Curiosity is about taking the time to engage. – Tweet This
Start with whatever grabs you first.
Pick up hobbies that help you see the world differently. Several years ago, I had a mild obsession with photography. I love to hike and found that when I carried a camera with me, it helped me to slow down and see the world differently.
I couldn’t capture what I saw until I took the time to really see it.
Macro photography helped me see the teeny-tiny world of bugs and landscape photography forced me to stop and see the vastness around me. Both inspired curiosity.
I’m taking a drawing class right now for a similar reason.
Get comfortable with what you don’t know. It’s hard to be curious when you are too busy acting like you know everything. Nobody does. The sooner you can get comfortable with the words, “I don’t know,” the sooner you can get on with learning about what you don’t know.
Ask questions. Questions are the best sign of curiosity.
Just like smiling makes you happy, asking questions will make you curious. – Tweet This
So even if you aren’t naturally a question asker, start practicing. Fight the urge to jump to quick solutions.
Instead, live in the world of uncertainty a little longer. Ask yourself questions. Ask the person next to you questions. Ask questions about what you read. Just keep asking questions.
Play. Kids are naturally curious. You can follow their lead. Play is one of the best ways to cultivate curiosity. So stop reading and go outside and play.
And finally, don’t be overwhelmed by all these suggestions. Pick one and start there.
Don’t compare yourself to others or focus on where you want to be. Just focus on what’s next.
Do that day after day and you’ll be well on your way to cultivating curiosity.
What else do you do to cultivate curiosity?
Up next, we’ll explore the concept of intellectual honesty and how to cultivate it. Don’t miss out. Subscribe to the Product Talk mailing list.