Use advice appropriately

If you want to be a bad product manager, be inconsistent in how you take advice. For issues that are very obvious and clear-cut, don’t bother conferring with anyone else. These are easy problems to solve and you’re well qualified to do so. For much more complex problems, make sure to get as much advice as possible. It may be worth even bringing in consultants, since they are likely very qualified to help with your dilemma.

If you want to be a good product manager, value advice similarly regardless of the difficulty of the situations about which you are seeking advice. Even though a product manager is traditionally the “president of the product,” you need to recognize that a good president will rely on his or her “cabinet” (sales, marketing, technology, user experience, finance, etc.) for assistance.

All product managers know that they need to get advice from others at certain times. The problem is knowing when to ask for and take advice and how to use it appropriately. Something that first appears to me to be a very simple and straightforward situation that doesn’t require consultation may in fact be a more complicated issue that deserves outside input. Conversely, I may be more apt to seek out advice if I’m dealing with an area I’m less familiar with or on a problem that seems very complex.

Francesca Gino describes this behavior in her article Let Me Give You Some Advice from the March 2006 Harvard Business Review. Based on research studies, Gino has found that “people tend to overvalue advice when the problem they’re addressing is hard and to undervalue it when the problem is easy.” She also has found that “people overvalue advice that they pay for.” Her recommendations:

When they paid for advice, people tended to give it more credence than it warranted – driven, I suspect, by a combination of sunk-cost bias and the nearly instinctual belief that cost and quality are linked. … Knowing that the complexity of the problems you face may affect how you weigh advice suggests that you should second-guess your reflexive reactions to it. Conversely, when you think the solution to a problem is simple, and you find yourself waving off advice givers, think again. You may know a lot about the problem, but that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from the opinions of others who know a lot, too. And when you’re struggling with a challenging problem and you’re tempted by advice that’s at odds with your own impulses, ask yourself whether you’re overvaluing that counsel. You may not be well-informed about the problem, but beware of being too willing to listen to others who are no better informed than you are. Finally, before acting on those premium-priced recommendations from your consultancy, ask what you’d do if you had gotten the same advice for free.

When you have a difficult problem, make sure you’re not overly reliant on the advice of others. Though they can help, you may be more capable than you think. When you have an easy problem, make sure to still seek out advice and not dismiss advice that is contrary to your own ideas.

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