I survived yet another Improv class. Before I tell you about what I learned that applied to Product Management, I want to share the bat crap crazy portion of the evening.
Part of what we do in class is exercises – each present a different opportunity for us to learn something. Some exercises are designed to loosen up, others are to learn how to listen better, and others make us more aware of our surroundings. One of the exercises had us singing. I sing poorly. I’m not one of those folks being modest that when performing karaoke can belt out a Whitney Houston song…I’m one of those folks that do not like to sing happy birthday out loud because I’m so out of tune. For this exercise, we formed a circle. The first person went into the circle and started to sing like they were on Broadway. The rest of us acted like backup singers. Then one of us would have to “tag” the current singer out of the circle, we would enter the middle and than sing a song that popped in to our mind based on the previous song. Repeat. I ended up singing Sunglasses at Night, Don’t Worry be Happy and Holding out for a Hero. I’m very thankful for my knowledge of 80’s music. Bat. Crap. Crazy.
The other thing we do is scene work. In this case we were paired up. We have to play a scene where we articulate our relationship to each other, where we are, and why it matters. This has to be done in an exchange of 3 or so sentences. One person has to do something. Anything. For example: pretend they are digging a ditch, building a snowman, riding a motorcycle, etc. The other person starts the scene based on what the other person is “doing”. For the first several times I kept focusing on the relationship (is he my brother, long lost dog, life coach?) and where we were. It was so lame and uninteresting. I kept forgetting the piece on why it matters. Why does it matter that I’m in a kitchen with my cousin having soup? (zzz). It became interesting when the why was introduced. Are we rivals, is she my idol, does she embarrass me? That’s when the audience becomes invested. The same is true for what we do as product managers. The development team wants to know why they’re working on these items for this roadmap. The customers want to know why they should care about feature x. This is when people being engaged – when they understand the why.
I read “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek a couple of years ago. Great read for product managers. He talks about how “The Why” is what builds loyalty and trust with (and within) an organization. Without it, just the How and What – there is not really a relationship it’s just a transaction. This weeks lesson was a great reminder that I need to continue to focus on the Why to be a successful product manager.