sochi winter olympics

Sochi Fails: Why Product Managers Need to Travel Abroad

It’s amusing to hear all the reactions of the visitors to the Sochi Winter Olympics. All the fails, from hotel lobbies that are not complete, broken elevators, no hot water, door knobs falling off, brown tap water, unusual bathroom rules, or sidewalks that may not be complete. How is all this good for a product manager to experience? It changes your way of thinking. You grow up thinking there is only one way to do something.

As a person who was born and raised in America, this is what I thought growing up:

  • Stuff is bought with dollars
  • Sidewalks and construction areas are made safe with construction zone yellow tape
  • Public Bathrooms offered private stalls and toilet paper
  • Everyone drives on the right side of the road
  • Toilet paper goes in the toilet bowl after you use it
  • You don’t cook the head of the animal you are eating

After living in China and having traveled to over 18 countries, I realize there is more than one way to do things. It’s the same with product management. I know product managers for consumer products are a little different, but when dealing with Enterprise hardware or software there are a lot of things to keep in mind. User experience, features, and price are at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, but you may be surprised to find out a white paper, a managed service, or sales education can dramatically improve customer adoption.

I like the book Thinking for a change by John Maxwell. In his “Skill 8: Question the Acceptance of Popular Thinking.”, he encourages you to question popular thinking. In everyone’s mind, popular thinking is the way of thinking you grew up with. It’s popular because your parents thought that way, your professors thought that way, and maybe even your executives think that way. A product manager is as good as his or her ability to think and solve problems. Take the opportunity to think differently and it opens the new doors and opportunities. Just remember, even though it may be the right decision, doesn’t mean it will be the popular decision.

Here are some thoughts on popular thinking by some famous people.

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”
-Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), in a talk given to a 1977 World Future Society meeting in Boston

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
– Harry M. Warner, co-founder of Warner Brothers, 1926

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”
– Albert Einstein, 1932

“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”
– French military leader Ferdinand Foch, 1911

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
— Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
— Western Union internal memo, 1876

The next time you get a chance to travel to a foreign country, don’t miss the opportunity to challenge your thinking as well as learn from your experiences. For more reactions of popular thinking on the way things must be, just watch social media for the reactions to the Sochi Olympics.

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