Professional Thinker

thinkerFor the past few months (nearly 8 since I made the western move) I have been making the rounds and meeting lots of new people. With that comes the inevitable question “What do you do?” Depending on who they are and what I think their background is, I will vary my answer. Sometimes it is “I am Senior Product Manager for software company based downtown” or “I work for a software company” or “I am in product management” and the list could go on using various descriptions to articulate the same thing. Generally, this spawns a series of “and what does that mean?” questions for which I have another series of canned answers.

One particular occurrence, when asked by the resident 12-year old “What do you do?”, I responded with “a professional thinker” and it got a curious look and a bit of chuckle. The reality is, this is pretty accurate. What we do, as product managers, is think. In my post “10 Secrets to GREAT Product Management“, the fourth item is “think”. We are paid to think. We take input and think about it. We create output and collect more input and think about it some more. (Ideally you write down your thoughts using various best-practice techniques.) Some times there is short-term thinking (today, this week, this sprint) and some times there is long-term thinking (next sprint, next year, 3 years from now). Business thinking. Technical thinking. Financial thinking. Creative thinking. The challenges are blocking out time for thinking in your schedule and not over-thinking things.

I like to tell people that product management is a knowledge worker role, a linchpin role if you will. For those of you who have not yet read Linchpin by Seth Godin, a linchpin is defined as: “… people who invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.” Sound familiar?

Thinking is only one of the many things that you do through the day/week/year, but it is one of the more important things.

So for the time being, I am running with this “Professional Thinker” title. Combining that with “I am thinking of my equivalent to the iPhone 5″, it seems to resonate with people. They may not know how I do it, but they know what I do.

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