Posted: 18 Nov. 2020 7 min. read


A product manager’s superpower

An overdose of Marvel, DC, and the X-men movies led me to believe that I could be a superhero, or at least a class 5 mutant (nothing less would cut it). I was sure that I have these powers deep within me, and one day I’ll wake up enlightened, and I’ll harness them to make this world a better place to live in.

Cut to 2014, I adopted a kitten, and named him Toby—he never responded to that, so we changed his name to Mao, and he still didn’t respond. I felt extremely hurt, but what could I do more? I couldn’t force him to respond to his name.

Mao is an immensely curious cat; he jumps into boxes without deliberating what the box could have inside. If something is moving, he absolutely must figure out what that thing is, without contemplating how dangerous that thing could be. Not that he is always certain that he will have a reward inside, he continues to jump in again a second time anyways even if his previous box expedition was not successful. While he does that, he ought to be alert and consider multiple parameters like his weight, attic’s height, the areas around his source and destination, a fall back plan to land on the ground safely if his original plan to jump from the bed to attic with the box he has an eye on tanks. Not just that, he often gets creative in getting to the attic, from using a bedside table, to the cupboard door among other re-usable or helpful assets to elevate his jump closer to the box. And since we certainly don’t have cat schools and universities yet, so I’m certain he didn’t learn this all in a curriculum, instead it is his innate personality trait.

Even though I royally failed at naming him, watching him grow and seeing him embark on his box jumping expeditions made me realize what my superpower could be, and it was curiosity.

I created a mental cohort of all the smart and successful people I knew from school, university, and my office. They all had very specific and different traits, but the most common thread across all of them was that they were all curious personalities.

And it struck me: Being a successful product manager is like being a cat. You should not be afraid to jump in an unknown box.

So, here are my two cents on a product manger’s superpower:

  1. Curious product managers are intrinsically motivated
    Just as for the curious cat, the real motivation is not the reward, instead, the motivation is the journey itself. When you are motivated beyond external rewards, you will enjoy the journey, and the activities along the way because you see them as opportunities to explore, learn, and effectuate your true potential.
  2. Curious product managers are always alert & agile
    In this time and age where speed is king, and the world around us is changing exponentially, curiosity helps you be alert and listen for changes in the market, user needs, technology, innovation, and other disrupters. The more informed you are, the more conscientious your reaction is.
  3. Curious product managers ask questions
    As humans, why do we refrain from asking questions as we get older—is it because we are scared of being judged as incompetent, indecisive, or unintelligent? As product managers, let your specialisation and experience not exacerbate your learning, instead, let it drive you to question more.
  4. Curious product managers define better
    Curiosity helps you look in between your ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’ states, so that you are defining your problem statements with utmost detail. It propels you towards deeper engagement, superior performance, and more-meaningful goals.
  5. Curious product managers solution better
    Similarly, as a curious product manager, you will view tough situations more creatively. You’ll relentlessly find lean solutions to your complex problems, and not give up simply because someone told you it will not be possible to achieve right now.
  6. Curious product managers execute to learn
    You have to believe that ‘unknown’ isn’t as scary as you think. As adults, we look for comfortable situations with guaranteed outcomes. That limits us from new experiences and ideas. Asses the risks, prepare for them—but always make that bold move. Even if you fail, you learn from the experience and use it to inform your future work.
Having curiosity as your ubiquitous trait as a product manager enables your mind to constantly seek new information, and experiences. In today’s world of unlimited availability of information, with everything a click away, the drive to explore and expand is the differentiated skill that will enable you to build great products.
And now, I’m curious about what was your last curiosity expedition.

About the author

Neerja Kushwaha is a product manager within the Digital Experience capability at Deloitte Consulting India Private Limited. With more than 10 years of experience, she is usually found bridging the design, engineering & business teams. Neerja is currently on an amazing journey leading and executing product discoveries, creative designs, tactical engineering planning, & learning from user behavior & market trends.


The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of her current, former, or future employers or any organization with which she is associated.