Fear is one of the big problems product managers face, in our creative role of finding new solutions to new problems.
Much of the time we’re looking at a blank page that we need to fill with requirements or a datasheet
… or a blank screen that we need to put a user interface on
… or a blank set of slides that will eventually be used to sell our product.
And a blank page is a recipe for fear – fear of failure, fear of not coming up with the right solution, fear of missing something obvious, or just fear that this time the magic isn’t going to happen.
A big part of the literature of creativity is focused on how to overcome fear. In other domains they call it by different names – writer’s block, or stage fright, or creative block.
Today I’ll start with some of the techniques I use that come from outside the world of product management. I find these three techniques incredibly valuable, and I try to use them every day.
More often though, the words will eventually start coalescing around a topic, often the topic about which you are blocked. At least, that’s my experience. Cameron describes morning pages as three pages, handwritten.I typically do my morning pages on an awesome website called 750words.com – three pages handwritten is about 750 words – which tracks my writing over time, and makes it fairly easy for me to reuse it if I come up with something good (which often happens). The site has a number of “gamification”-like features, like giving you badges for streaks of different lengths. I’ve now added my own challenges, such as attempting to write 1,000 words or more per day on average. I find that my creativity really starts to kick into gear, if it’s going to, between 600-800 words, and if things start rolling, it’s pretty easy to get up to 1,400 words in a sitting.
What’s amazing is that you can attack that first draft, and turn it into a second draft, and it’s likely to be a lot better, and the draft after that even better. And even if the first draft doesn’t lead directly to a second draft, at least it will help you think through your idea so that you can create another (but less crappy) first draft in a different direction, but with much more knowledge about the landscape of the idea.The two techniques above are focused on writing, but you can use them for any creative effort. I often will do something like crappy first drafts for UI concepts. I don’t expect to do a good job of user experience design on my first mockup, but I always learn a lot and at worst I get a sense of what additional things I need to start thinking about in order to make a better experience.
The basic idea is that what is obvious to us about a particular situation is not necessarily obvious to other people. In fact, that what’s obvious to us is actually our differentiator, to use a very product-management word, it’s why we got the job in the first place. The way I use this is to just write down what’s obvious to me at first. That might be innovative enough, and it’s certainly a good start. To provide value I don’t have to necessarily invent something new – I just need to get my own insight into the world.
The ideas above are applicable to any creative endeavor.
There are also product management-specific techniques. (And there are some product management tools that, if they existed, would help overcome fear.)
You can check out some more product management-specific techniques for overcoming fear and creative blocks in my other posts.
Let me know in the comments how you handle creative challenges in your work, whether it’s coming up with new product ideas, or designing UIs, or writing marketing material.
Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.
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