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Black swans travel in packs


The end of the year is approaching and don't know about you, but for me this year felt like five years. I can barely remember the end of last year but I remember the feeling - it was challenging enough. What did I know...

It is continuously difficult to talk about product management considering all that is happening lately. The war in Europe, the global recession, the still lingering Covid epidemic... And amidst these crises, we need to somehow build products and make our companies successful. It's hard to even find the motivation to get up from bed every morning.

It will be a weird post, probably more relevant to me than to people who will read it. However, I'll try to focus on what I learnt this year in the context of work and life.

Black swans do really exist... and they travel in packs

I remember the disbelief and the sense of surrealism at the beginning of the year. What? A war in Europe? in the XXI century? Impossible! Turns out - it is possible and it could still happen at any point.

Massive inflation, markets collapsing and industry-spanning layoffs? in the developed West? Can't be! Here they are and we didn't even touch the deep's end.

Nassim Taleb warned us that black swans exist. He forgot to mention these birds can travel in packs.

It's easy to be overwhelmed by everything that's happening lately. I know I was. Multiple times. What helped me to keep some sense of sanity are the following things.

Focus on what I can do and forbid myself from worrying about what I can't control

Yeah, I know it's easier said than done. But doing this is absolutely essential to keep any energy at all to act when you need to. Worrying is stress. Constant worrying is constant stress that drains energy from you and leaves you exhausted and incapable of helping yourself, let alone others.

I've learnt this year how little and at the same time how much an individual can do. But the pre-condition is always the same - good boundaries. Only if you understand what you can and cannot do - you can act efficiently and really make a difference. And when you do what you can do - you don't have much time for worrying.

Frequently remember my vision for the future and my values

In all this chaos it's easy to lose track of what's really important. Your plans are ruined, you cannot plan anything new as you literally don't know how the world would look like tomorrow. You freeze and don't do much. I did. For a while. But then I've reminded myself about things that didn't change, about things I am certain of. For me, it meant to keep investing in myself. To keep on learning, to keep on taking care of my body and my mind. This basic truth is so easy to forget - you can only give to others what you have. You can only help others if you have the strength to do it.

Betting on a better future, cautiously

This year I took some risks. I changed jobs, opened my own business, invested some of my savings in properties and stocks. Those are by all means unproven, aspirational and risky bets. I hope we will go on, I hope the economy will bounce back and I see some green on my portfolio. But I suspect I will be wrong, at least partly. I might never see any returns on my investments and I might lose what I've bet. If the worse would realise - it will be painful, but it will not be the end of the world (well, unless it's the end of the world and then who cares). However, if we somehow get out of all this, some of those bets might bring healthy returns.

What does it have to do with the business of building products?

Historically, the end of the year and the beginning of another is the time when we, product managers, look back at what we've achieved this year and make some plans for the new one.

Another "one in a lifetime" crisis

When PM will be evaluating this year, we should not forget to include the macro-economical and investment factors into account. Of course, you cannot blame everything on the recession, but the current labour and investment climate definitely affected the majority of businesses out there.

Plans are rubbish, but planning is still useful

Making your plans for the next year - exercise caution. You might even want to create several plans: the realistic scenario, the pessimistic scenario and the doom scenario. Definitely don't end up without a plan B or resources to weather the storm.

Stay true to your vision, but find some creative ways to reach it

Times of uncertainty are not the reason to abandon your vision. If anything - it's the time to double down on your vision. It could be your guiding star in the storm that is happening all around you. Maybe you'll even find new, better ways to realise your vision under the new constraints presented by our current environment.

Don't use the crisis as an excuse to come back to bad practices

You might have noticed it as well - when times get tough people tend to revert back. You can see it in decision-making, processes, culture, politics, international relations, everywhere really. When all is good we are committed and focused on doing things right. But when times get tougher - we tend to drop all the "right" bits and get back to bad old habits. Let's try to avoid this and continue doing the right thing even if it appears harder.

Another opportunity to reinvent yourself

This last bit goes to all the fellow PMs, designers and engineers who lost their jobs this year, had to move from their homes and build a new life elsewhere. I can vaguely imagine how you must feel. I moved enough times in my life but luckily did it on my own terms. What helped me is "hacking" lightly my psyche. When you go through a change - your brain inevitably generates a spectrum of emotions, most notably - anxiety and excitement. If you can capture the latter one, excitement, and supercharge it - you might find it much easier to adjust in a new context. Every major change is a new opportunity to reinvent yourself and grow.

There is only one thing I want the next year to be - I want it to be a very boring year. Very, extremely, totally forgettable 2023 year.

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