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The way of the Product Manager — 5 Hagakure Quotes that will resonate with every Product Manager

Cover Image for the Blog Article "The Way of the Product"


This article contains 5 inspirational Product Management quotes from a kick-ass book that was featured in one of the most epic movies of all time. Oh yeah, and each quote contains a recommendation for a must-read product management related book, with great insights for Product Managers. 

Thinking of it…probably you might want to check out this crisp, to-the-point, and 5 min quick-read article. Hope you enjoy it!

The Hagakure

Where Sun Tzu’s Art of War is considered a must-read for managers in any type of organization, to address the leadership challenges of leading people, resources, quality, battling competitors and constant improvement in organizations, Yamamoto’s Hagakure is its lesser-known sibling that is a must-read for those interested in Samurai literature and especially those working in Product Management.

The Hagakure is a practical and spiritual guide by Yamamoto Tsunetomo that summarizes the very essence of the Japanese Samurai bushido spirit.

It is full of Samurai wisdom and surprisingly provides tons of inspiration for those working in product management. 

Let’s see what the Hagakure has to offer Product Managers through 5 striking and inspirational quotes.

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一 About understanding customer needs and requirements

"Do not rely on following the degree of understanding that you have discovered, but simply think, "This is not enough."

The reason #1 for failing products is the failure to understand customer needs and wants. To be successful, one must validate frequently and often. Be it new features, understanding which adds the most value, validating the usability of existing features to further improve user experience, or in general uncovering what is next for your customers, you have to understand your customers’ needs and requirements.

The fact though about customer needs and wants is that often customers are unaware of their own needs. We, humans, tend to focus on what we want because of emotional factors and social reasons, rather than what it is we need. 

To truly understand and make the product what the customer needs it to be, rely on following the degree of understanding that has been discovered but simply think, “This is not enough”.

An interesting read here is by Melina Palmer. In her book What your customer wants and can’t tell you, she explains the neurosciences of customer behavior.

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二 About having a beginner’s mindset

"In the highest level a man has the look of knowing nothing ."

Innovation can be a challenge. No, let me rephrase that. Innovation is challenging!

To be successful, apply a beginner’s mindset. The mindset is one that periodically questions and reassesses theories and standards to devise new solutions. This can be because reality has changed or because the current approach is based on wrong assumptions. 

The beginner’s mind is not easy, as it takes a degree of naïveness that is contradicting what one has learned to trust experience and expertise. 

Those who excel at having a beginner’s mind should be considered to have reached the highest level and embody the look of knowing nothing.

A well-known good read and according to some a spiritual classic on the beginner’s mind is Shunryu Suzuki’s Zend Mind, Beginner’s mind

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三 About Product Success

"Purity is something that cannot be attained except by piling effort upon effort."

Product Teams that lack self-reflection, and a disciplined approach to delivery through consistency and standardization, create more work, face extra confusion, deliver worse results, and are more prone to low morale.

Practice makes perfect, continuously checking, adjusting, and refining, improving efficiency and delivering results. 

Though there might not be one size fits all, it is key to standardize and continuously refine and improve.

One should plan, do, check and act, pilling effort upon effort to continuously pursue excellence. Practice makes perfect.

A recommendation here would be James Clear’s Atomic Habits. The book provides an easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones, and get better every day.

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四 About Setting Direction

"It is not sufficient just to remain calm in the event of catastrophe or emergency. When challenged by adversity, charge onwards with courage and jubilation. This is rising to a higher level. It is like the saying, "The more water there is, the higher the boat rises."

Without Vision, it is challenging to implement an effective strategy. Without a strategy, it will be increasingly more challenging to have direction.

In Product Management, having an inspiring Vision and good strategy are essential. They will enable Product Managers to keep the product and stakeholders inspired, engaged, and on the right track. 

One will face adversity at some point, there is no question about that. The vision and strategy will be elementary to guide you through adversity. They will help you to stay focussed and remain calm in the event of catastrophe or emergency, and keep all heading forward in the envisioned direction.

A great read here is Ben Horowitz — The hard thing about hard things: building a business when there are no easy answers. I guess the title says it all, no need to further explain here.

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五 About you and the team

"To give a person one's opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service."

Though initially, this might sound counterproductive, you should feel comfortable, eloquently sharing your opinion and correcting faults. 

You probably have heard these phrases before, “treat others like how you want to be treated” and “bring your best self to the game (or work) each and every day”. There is a good chance (just guessing here) you aim to follow these principles. Yes, I specifically said aim, as we all have some bad days, moments, or phases, that make you drift away from these principles. To adhere to these principles you have to feel comfortable providing feedback. 

Better people, make better processes, make better results, make better morale. To be able to do so, the setting should allow speaking up and trust that someone who does, does so with good intent. 

In it end, it is all about the delivery. The quality delivery of the product and the quality delivery of feedback, so it is accepted and used to evolve.

A great read about delivering feedback is Kim Scott’s Radical Candor

Article inspiration

I was introduced to the Hagakure through the epic movie Ghostdog. In the movie, Forest Whitaker portrays a hitman who lives by the code of the samurai, works for the mafia, and finds himself in their crosshairs when his recent job doesn’t go according to plan. The soundtrack was created by RZA who had a cameo in the movie.

Signing off Klaas Hermans for Sharpwitted.Ninja

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