I know you’ve heard it before; someone telling you to think outside the box. I know I’ve heard it a lot of times. It seems to be the catch phrase of choice when people want you to come up with a solution to a problem that no else can solve, or a problem where conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to be working.
I spent the last three days in San Francisco attending a pair of seminars put on by a company called Pragmatic Marketing. The first was a two day seminar titled “Practical Product Management” and focused on all the things an effective product manager should be doing. The second was a one day course titled “Requirements That Work” that spent time explaining the best way to move your product through a minefield from solving a market problem to getting your well defined solution designed, developed and shipped.
Overall the information was worthwhile. Because I’m new to the world of product management I was pretty much overwhelmed by the information because I have a lack of familiarity with everything from the verbiage to the business world. I looked around the room and noted how many heavy hitters in the technology world were represented, including RIM and HP. The thought hit me like a ton of bricks: these people are here to learn how to think inside the box. Let’s face it, the material was a well laid out roadmap of how to be a successful product manager. I always wonder how things like this get started. Someone made it big and everyone else decided that that was the right way to do things and started copying the process.
Several times during the three day course the instructor used the phrase “lather, rinse, repeat”. In other words create a process that is standardized and repeatable; interesting concept. This is the exact opposite of thinking outside the box. In fact, it is teaching every product manager to use the exact same box if they want to be a success. Is that the right approach? I have no idea. Obviously I’ll take what I’ve learned and try to apply it verbatim. I mean after all, I no idea what being a product manger is all about. I’ve been a pharmacist for the past 13 years and a product manager for three weeks. I really need someone to draw a box for me to work in. I’m just sayin’.