August 15, 2021

Lesson 6: Steve Jobs

Lesson 6: Steve Jobs

Despite being dead for some time now, Steve Jobs is very well alive in the Product community. Whether you are an Apple fan or not, you will rarely get through a day without hearing a reference to a product he built or an obscure quote he uttered. Damn. I’m even dedicating an entire chapter to him. He is to Product Management what Jesus is to Christianity…

…A turtle-necked god.

Steve Jobs acted out loud in ways people only whisper about in hushed tones. And in this way he did what any aspiring Product Manager strives to do…

…no, I’m not talking about accepting a $1.00 annual salary…

…I'm talking about ignoring the damn customer.

“A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” Steve was famously quoted.

Of course comments like these spark debates that could resemble the Final Battle of Winterfell. But the point isn’t who is right or wrong regarding listening to the customer. The point is about achieving the Product Managers dream…

…and the dream is to have no customers so you finally have time to build a product customers want.

Is there irony in that dream?

Sure.

But if there’s one thing we Product Managers love to do, it’s complain about the stupidity of our customers. In fact, the only thing getting in the way of becoming a legendary Product virtuoso is our pain-in-the-ass customer with their support requests and contractual obligations and paid invoices. Our backlogs are so full of maintaining the current business that there isn't time to build a utopian future of pure product nirvana.

That’s what’s so amazing about Steve Jobs. He didn’t just dream it. He actually did it. Fearlessly. He built products with complete disregard of the existing customer. While Microsoft was trying to be backwards compatible all the way to MS-DOS, Steve Jobs was like, “F*** you! Here’s a  30-pin connector. Go buy a bunch of new expensive cables, suckers!”

What a visionary!

The typical product manager–without the MacBalls of Steve Jobs–will cower when faced with a decision that might make a customer unhappy. We’ve all capitulated and scrapped a bold release at the last minute because it was deemed to be “too risky.”

Do you think Steve Jobs gave a Magic Mouse’s ass about risk?

Let’s just say I doubt he ever attended a meeting called “iTunes Risk Mitigation.”

But instead, product managers are bombarded with hundreds of reasons not to do anything other than upgrade to the latest version of PHP. This also means we’ve capitulated on our dreams and we are now filling our backlogs full of uninspiring nonsense that “keeps the lights on.”…

…A zero-risk lightswitch flipper…

…that’s the mundane and redundant reality of our unsexy role as Product Managers…

…we ain’t no Steve Jobs.

…it ain’t easy.

When it comes to executives, however, they will expect you to keep the lights on as well as create apple-esque products each quarter. Trust me, every single member of your executive team is an Apple devotee. They parade around the office with their $3000 Apple Care protected Macbooks while forcing everyone else to use IBM Thinkpads well beyond the expired warranty. If the touchpad ceases to function, you’ll have to learn how to use that bizarre pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard…

…haha, the pointing stick. Now there’s a feature a stupid customer requested. The Product team knew it was a bad idea, but they were forced to implement it anyway…

…probably in the name of keeping the lights on.

Executives will all expense for each other Apple Watches at the office Christmas party. These watches will flamboyantly adorn the same arms that pull the ripcord of their golden parachutes, constantly checking an onslaught of wrist messages during key stakeholder meetings.

They will all have the latest version of the iPhone and they’ve never had to stand in line to get it. They had an assistant do that…

…maybe even a Product Manager…

…who, let’s be honest, to them is just a glorified assistant.

“I need you to have empathy for what it feels like to create a product in demand. Go stand in line and buy me the latest iPhone,” they might say…

…I know, that joke would have been funnier back when people actually stood in line for iPhones. We all know Steve is disappointingly observing from the afterlife as angels stand in line for the new release of his latest iHarp…

…or let’s be honest, probably the iPitchfork.

Regardless of your company’s size or capital investment, every executive wants their company to be like Apple and you, the Product Manager, are their ticket to success…

…A trillion dollars or bust…

…Oh yeah, you’re gonna bust.

It’s why every survey on Product Management indicates that executives are constantly disappointed by the job their Product Managers are doing.

“How would you rate the job your Product Manager is doing?”

“Dissatisfied.”

“Why?”

“She isn’t Steve Jobs.”

Let’s be clear. You were hired under some delusional fantasy that you could transform their sloth of a business into an innovation machine. And when you fail to do so, it will be your fault…

…even if you do indeed keep the lights on.

Just know that as a Product Manager you will be unrealistically expected to follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs and innovate for the future while making damn sure you don’t lose any customers.

Impossible…

…absolutely…

…Welcome to Product Management…

…It ain’t easy.

But as important as ignoring the customer is, it’s not the most important thing Steve Jobs gave to Product Management. The most important thing is that he finally gave us permission to be the dicks we always knew we were but were too socially conscious to exhibit.

For a bunch of nerds who are hopelessly insecure about our inability to code, we can leverage that insecurity to berate people in Steve Jobs fashion…

…imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

It doesn’t matter if you burn through all your office relationships. It doesn’t matter if your customers leave because, according to you, they are stupid. It doesn’t matter if your daughter thinks you’re an idiot. You are on a mission to innovate, and sometimes you gotta crack some Newtons to make an iPad…

…Newton is also the name of an associate engineer on your team.

Let me give it to you straight. If you’re a nice guy, you’re going to suck at Product Management. So to help you get started, here are a few classic Steve Jobs quotes. Save them up and use them at opportune times to display your superiority.

  1. For designers: “You’ve baked a really lovely cake, but then you’ve used dog shit for frosting.”
  2. For key technology partners: “You make a lot of crap. Get rid of the crappy stuff.”
  3. For your Scrum Team: “I need all of you to resign. Or else I’m going to resign and not come back on Monday.”
  4. For the Executives: “I’ve never met one of you who didn’t suck.”
  5. For Marketing and Sales: “F***ing dickless a**holes.”
  6. For your PM peers: “You guys don’t know what you’re doing.”

There you go.

What’s the lesson?

When it comes to being an effective Product Manager, there’s no such thing as being too Steve-ish. Even if your loser Scrum Master calls you out in a sprint retrospective for not being a team player, you can reply with a classic Jobs retort, “You may be right. But if I succeed, remember to look in the mirror and call yourself an a**hole for me.”