Keeping up with new tech joneses — A product manager’s dilemma
A candid question for all Product Managers out there: do you ever get the urge to learn every new technology? I mean a full-on FOMO about how you need to learn every new tech as it could potentially help you launch a new product or enhance your existing product. And at the end of it, you are left feeling like the technologies are emerging too fast, and you can’t keep up. Suddenly, you don’t feel like you’re doing enough, or that you’re enough. It seems we’re in an unwinnable rat race against whatever the innovation equivalent of Moore’s law is.
In this era of advanced technology, everyday I find that there’s a new product or occurrence I need to catch up with. I noticed that with each change, the needs of consumers around the world evolve. This might sound exciting for a regular person who loves to buy gadgets but as a product manager who has to anticipate the needs of consumers and find new angles to dominate their industry, I found it exhausting. I was supposed to see ahead — instead it always felt like I was reacting to something.
Initially, my strategy as a product manager looking to stay up to date was to keep up with new tech trends by aggressively pursuing them. When blockchain came out, I bought a book called ‘Blockchain for Dummies’ — Seriously. After reading and getting a hang of it, I started a blockchain project that didn’t work as planned. In the same vein, in an attempt to master machine learning, I attended a boot camp. In another attempt, I applied for a scholarship in cloud engineering. I got it and started the classes but along the line, I realised hopping from a new trend to another in order to master it is probably going to burn me out. I can’t become a master of all trades and I was wasting resources in a bid to do.
After that epiphany, my strategy towards learning as a product manager changed. I had to strip down to the core of what product management meant and in doing so, hold to this core, realising that the new tech was only a tool to deliver on this core. And tools are just that, tools. Skillfully using the right ones at the right time is more important than having a vast array of tools in one’s arsenal. Of course, more tools gives more options. But ultimately, its not the number of tools but how I use those I have that really matter.
Here are some of the tactics that help me stay on top of my game as opposed to trying to learn everything as fast as possible.
- Get to know the technology (At a high-level).
I know know — I sound like captain obvious. For me, getting to understand a new tech trend is learning it with low fidelity and low expectations of fully understanding it. I try to read as much as i can about the new technology but also being conscious that I can’t be a master at it just like that. Mastering complex technological advancements requires devotion and consistency that an average product manager may not be able to give, considering the other facets of their job. Instead of starting a big project, I stick to reading as much I can about the product.
How do i know that i know enough of the new tech trend, well.. Once i can explain it to my 9-year old son and i can also flex with it at a dinner party.
2. Determine if there any relevant use cases or problems that the tech can solve in your domain.
Every product is a solution to an existing problem. My job as a product manager is to find it. This is how you find the angle of the advancement that is beneficial to you, your product and the rest of the team.
Using this strategy helped me realise that product managers are supposed to be a bridge between the problem plaguing a group of people and the technological solution proposed. It’s left to those with problems to decide how to engage with the solution but ultimately, our role as product manager is overseeing a smooth activation process.
However, one thing I have noticed over the years is that many of these tech products were not created as necessary inventions to ease the problems of humans. For example, the early history of NFT shows that it was created to cater to a superficial problem that not many people experienced at the time. Even today, thousands of people are yet to understand how NFTs benefit their lives. This is where a product manager comes in — finding the use of a product as it applies to a specific group of people.
Another example is the Hermès bag. Every Hermès bag comes with its own unique card that proves its originality and that card is specific to its owner I.e it can not be replicated. One of the functions of NFTs is proof of ownership. A good use for NFT that centres on human interest would be to replace the Hermès certificate of authenticity card with an NFT. Not only does this maintain the originality attached to the Hermès bag, it adds a special touch of exclusivity that would be unique to the bag.
Leveraging unexplored areas like this in an era of technological evolution requires a level of keeping up. I read books and articles. When I’m not reading, I listen to a podcast or an audio book.
3. Ask how i can get my friends and family to use it/ Figure out distribution:
THis is really about go-to-market and distribution.   When I get my friends to use it, they provide me with valuable feedback I can apply to my work. Depending on which friend catches on to a product, I have a little bit of insight to how consumers would adapt a product.
Here’s some of my favourite books and podcasts so far
- AI 2041 : I especially loved this book because it’s written like a novel that explores how much Artificial intelligence would have grown in the year 2041.
- Fintech Podcast
- Payments on Fire
- NVidia AI Podcast
- Breaking Banks
I want to write about distribution here or go-to — market. Which title sounds better? Also can you put in personal relatable content here.
What do you think?