We live in an age of distraction. Attention is a scarce commodity, which makes storytelling more valuable than ever. Good storytelling, after all, is the art of attention management.
Storytelling—or rhetoric as the ancients called it—has always been my most valuable asset as a product manager. A product manager’s first job is to persuade a group of smart and opinionated people to follow a particular strategy. The key word here is persuade. A strategy is not provable, so product managers have to convince people to follow a plan, even though we can’t be sure of what the future holds.
If you’re a product manager looking to improve your storytelling skills, where should you turn? There is no obvious answer. If you wanted to learn Python or repair your refrigerator, you could easily find plenty of online courses and videos. But when it comes to improving storytelling skills, I’ve never come across anything particularly helpful. Why is that? One compelling explanation for our lack of rhetorical resources can be found in Plato’s dialogues.
Every time I watch a teammate walk out the door for another opportunity, I wonder how much of our organization’s knowledge leaves with them. Surely an organization can “know” more than what’s inside each employee’s head. But how is this knowledge acquired? Where is it stored? Is it written down in documents, or is it tacitly woven into a team’s culture?
These questions are especially pertinent to product managers. Think about a product manager identifying the winning variant of an A/B test. Given enough of these tests, the PM begins to build an intuition for what tends to work. But does the organization share these data-driven intuitions?
I believe that organizational learning can be a source of operational effectiveness and even a competitive advantage. Further, product managers are in a unique position to enable such learning due to the data-driven nature of our work. My team of product managers has been experimenting with a process to translate our product experiments into shared organizational knowledge. This is the first in a series of posts that will describe how we approach building our team’s knowledge base.