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What boxing taught me about Product Management

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, read this article it includes tools and templates that are free

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The noble art of self-defense, also known as boxing. The sport that brought you “Rumble in the jungle”, “The war”, “Campeon vs campeon”, Gatti vs Ward, and more recently Fury vs Wilder. The sport that has its fair share of scandals and mishaps. The sport you either love to hate, or hate to love, when another great fight ends up in controversy.

To some, the sport is barbaric, to others, it brings pure enjoyment. Me, I can see why people find the sport barbaric, but damned do I love me some boxing. The tactics, the head & body movement, anticipating your opponent’s movements, the ring leadership, will and perseverance needed to win, and luck with judges when it goes to the scorecards, there is just so much more to it than simply punching hard.

Looking beyond the sport itself, boxers and boxing have helped many youths distance themselves from crime. Take for instance the Gloves Up Knives Down social enterprise, of which Tony Bellew is the ambassador.

Looking at it on an individual level, boxing improves your physique, strength and power, mental health and confidence, and lowers stress.

Looking at it from a personal level, besides the individual improvements, boxing allowed me to get to know myself better, learning from and coaching others. It also made me realize that there is much to learn from boxing when it comes to being a Product Manager.

With no further ado, here are 4 things that boxing taught me about product management, including links to the best free templates and tools to use, to become a Product Management Heavyweight champion. So, let’s get ready to ruuuummbbbblllleeeee!

Dare to dream and believe

If you are in it to win it, to one day capture one of the IBF, WBC, WBA, or WBO belts (note: boxing definitely needs to reduce the number of governing bodies here), you need to dream and believe you can do so.

Dreams give a sense of purpose. Believe is necessary. It starts with believing in the dream. If you don’t believe in your product, then what do you expect from others?

If Muhammed Ali hadn’t believed in becoming the greatest of all time, he would have never achieved it. Muhammed Ali was on point in this one as he once said (slight interpretation of what he said here) To be a great product manager, you must believe your product is the best. If it isn’t pretend it is.

To be a great champion, you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are

In product management, this means that you need to set the image of what you want the product to be, by creating a kick*ss product vision. A vision to rally others around, get support, and have something to point back to when needed. It allows you to focus on the very next goals, and roadmap to achieve that dream. Make the belief rational and open up the possibility to make the product the best.

Tools and Templates recommendations

Use your competitive advantage

In boxing, right-handed people in general keep their left foot in front (the Orthodox stance), for left-handed people, it is the other way around (the Southpaw stance). Some of the greatest have struggled against southpaws.

Probably the most known example here that rings a bell with even none boxing fans, is the epic battle between Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa. Creed’s trainer, when selecting Rocky for their fight, even says it: “He’s a southpaw. I don’t want to mess with no southpaw”. Rocky managed to build a whole franchise out of being a southpaw.

All joking aside here. Orthodox boxers not consistently boxing top-notch southpaws, gives a southpaw the advantage, the southpaw having tons of opportunity to train with plenty of quality orthodox boxers. Boxers like Joe Calzaghe, Pernell Whitaker, and Manny Pacquiao have well-used their competitive advantage.

There are also natural orthodox fighters that train and fight in the southpaw stance and benefit from it as a result, like Vasyl Lomachenko and Tyson Fury.

A southpaw has a competitive advantage and as well-known and famous boxing trainer Teddy Atlas once said: “If you have an advantage, you have to take advantage of it.”

If you have an advantage, you have to take advantage of it.

In product management, this one might sound obvious, yet in my view is so many times forgotten or overlooked. Though companies manage to gain a competitive advantage by the introduction of new features, too often they fail to truly capitalize on it and keep it. Even a simple Google search will show you that there are tons of articles on how to gain a competitive advantage. Finding information on how to capitalize on and keep the competitive advantage, though, is like winning major world titles in eight different weight classes, it is possible, but you have to be Manny Pacquiao. It is key to not only gaining competitive advantage but keep it.

Tools and Templates recommendations

Promote flexibility

When a boxer faces adversity in the way of a loss, the boxer needs to remain focused. There is a valuable lesson in defeat for a boxer (note: in this writer’s opinion, the keeping of a 0 defeat record is highly overrated and a reason for highly uncompetitive match-ups nowadays). Thomas Hearns said after his first loss to Sugary Ray Leonard: “ The loss just made me hungry. It made me want to go out and win another title.”

The loss just made me hungry. It made me want to go out and win another title

The same goes for product management. When the requirements of the end goal have been identified, you need to remain ambitious when challenged. Not every feature will have a high adoption rate and be a success. You might at a certain point need to pivot and take the product in another direction. Therefore create a culture of fast experimentation, to fail frequently with minimal impact. What is important is that you learn from each event, that failure motivates you, and foremost that you enjoy the process as much as the end results.

Tools and Templates recommendations

Use Fear

Say what now?! Hold your horses (#theitalianstallion), please bear with me here.

Mike Tyson once said, that fear is like fire. If you control it, it will warm you. If you let it control you, it will burn you down.

Fear is like fire. If you control it, it will warm you. If you let it control you it will burn you down

Cus D’amato said that heroes and cowards feel exactly the same fear. Heroes just react to it differently.

Heroes and cowards feel exactly the same fear. Heroes just react to it differently.

And then just to finish the fear quotes with a knockout uppercut, George Foreman put it very eloquently saying that in boxing, he had a lot of fear. Fear was good. But, for the first time, in the bout with Muhammad Ali, he didn’t have any fear. He thought: “This is easy. This is what I’ve been waiting for. No fear at all. No nervousness”, and he lost.

In boxing, I had a lot of fear. Fear was good. But, for the first time, in the bout with Muhammad Ali, I didn’t have any fear. I thought, This is easy. This is what I’ve been waiting for. No fear at all. No nervousness. And I lost.

All of them recognized the importance of a healthy amount of fear and how, when handled well, it pushes you to be the greatest, to be the champion. The lack of fear, though, can be a good indicator that things will go south, and you need to be saved by the bell.

As a product manager, you might have various fears. The fear of customers not using the functionality that took months to convince stakeholders about and even more time to develop. The fear of disappointing stakeholders, when telling them their million-dollar “pet project” is not on the roadmap. The fear of competitors beating you to the punch on delivering game-changing features. The fear of personal failure, being a product manager that suffers from imposter syndrome. Use it to your benefit. Reframe your perspective of fear. Dealing with fear gives you experience.

Tools and Templates recommendations

In summary

There is a lot to learn from any sport, with my sport of choice being boxing. In product management, as in boxing, defining where you want to be, rigorously pursuing your goals, keeping an eye on competitors, being flexible in approach, and having some natural appetite for fear are your golden gloves to success.

Now let’s go to the judges’ scorecards (that’s you) and hear the verdict. Was this a winning, instant classic article, or just something to be forgotten about quickly?

Signing off,

Klaas Hermans for Sharpwitted.Ninja

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