Issue #32: 9 lessons on product management, leadership, and career growth from reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential
My annual summer read always surprises me with new feelings
Hola friends! 👋
This week’s thoughts and feelings include:
6 lessons on product management, leadership, and career growth from reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential
(FAKs or Folks.Ask.Kax)
5 things to help you this week
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By the time you’re reading this, I will probably be halfway to Barcelona. Time to say goodbye to my beach life and return to the city, my laundry, and (hopefully my still-alive) plants.
I go back to work on Tuesday. But I suspect half of my team are on their own holidays so it should be a quiet first few days back. 🤞
On to the stories!
1️⃣ Lessons on product management, leadership, and career growth from reading Kitchen Confidential
Every summer I re-read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Because while on the surface he talks about his kitchen life and all the highs and lows (literally and figuratively) that come with it - he also talks about career, leadership, career, building something that people will come to love… hopefully.
This summer’s re-reading reminded me of a couple of principles that I carry with me to this day. And I wanted to share these with you.
Lessons on Building Products and Creating Value
Learn the ins and outs of the industry and market you’re in. As Product people, we’re taught to hyper-focus on user problems and build our products accordingly. But people’s behaviors and decisions are not just influenced by their problems. Their problems are but just a single node in their entire life’s system.
“I watch the local news and weather with my wife, nothing for professional reasons, any major sporting events, commuter traffic, and most important, the weekend weather forecast. Nice crisp weather and no big games? That means we’re going to get slammed tonight.”
Seasonality matters. Economic, geographic, and social context matters too. Everybody is talking about AI. Data Scientists are in high demand right now. Fraud is an ever-evolving, ever-increasing problem. All these and more will have as high an influence on your product-market fit as solving user problems will.
Don’t just understand the problems. Understand the system.
“Food had power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please me . . . and others”. Pay attention to the experience your products bring. Sure it can solve a person’s problem but if it doesn’t invoke any emotion, then there will be no attachment between your product and your user. And they’ll easily jump ship to the next product that can not just solve their problem but also make them feel feelings.
“Fully feeling the effects of the sake, I was seriously considering burning my passport, trading my jeans and leather jacket for a dirty seersucker suit and disappearing into the exotic East.”
Some products can blow people’s minds and change people's lives. Aim for that.
“Not all kitchens are the press-gang-crewed pressure cookers I’m used to. There are islands of reason and calm, where the pace is steady, where quality always takes precedence over the demands of volume”.
There are so many rules and best practices being shared nowadays on how to build products. I’ve seen some Product Managers get frustrated when they can’t implement the frameworks they’ve learned from popular books they’ve read or courses they’ve attended.
But context and culture matter. Rules and best practices are never universal. They have been made within the confines and constraints of their context.
You know what else matters? Probably the one thing that matters the most? Creating value. To both users and the business. Focus on that. And then create your own rules.
Lessons on Leading and Building a Team
"Skills can be taught. Character — you either have or you don't have." Sometimes the most talented people in the world are unreliable pains in the ass. They may be able to make magic with their hands but if you can’t rely on them to deliver, be on time, and be respectful of other people - then you don’t want these people in your team.
“there are two types of people in the world: those who do what they say they're going to do — and everyone else.”
Teaching Product Management to people who want to be PMs is easy. But it’s hard to teach people to be reliable, respectful, and kind. There has to be a decision to want to be one first. Unfortunately, some people don’t get there.
Make sure you know and understand your team because team dynamics is everything. When you have a diverse, multicultural team, they will come with their nuances and contexts.
Put the conflict-avoidant Filipino in a high-tension environment with a confrontational German and there may be tears (ideally after work). This doesn’t mean that cultures cannot mix. They absolutely can!
But you, as the leader, need to do the work. You need to understand these nuances and take the time and spend the energy to learn how to create bridges, a healthy culture, and a safe space for conflict to happen that does not compromise anybody’s values in the process. You have to.
“Just because someone you work with is a miserable, treacherous, self-serving, capricious and corrupt asshole shouldn't prevent you from enjoying their company, working with them or finding them entertaining. This is business”
Every team will need to learn how to work together not just to build things and deliver results - but to get through tough situations. They don’t have to be the best of friends afterward, and I really don’t buy into this whole “we’re a family” thing either, BUT they will need to learn to navigate and complement each other to be able to bring out the best in one another. Especially when there are knives involved. 🔪
Don’t make excuses. Take accountability for your decisions. Actually, let me take a step back and say: make decisions. Some, if not most, will fail. Own those failures. Then do better. Your team will respect you for that. Just don’t make the same mistake again.
“Don't lie about it. You made a mistake. Admit it and move on. Just don't do it again. Ever”
Lessons on Career, Growth, and Dreams
“Good food and good eating are about risk.” Sometimes the best things in life are on the other side of our comfort zone.
“The more exotic the food, the more adventurous the serious eater, the higher the likelihood of discomfort.”
Do you want to grow your career?
Do you want to be a founder?
Do you want to be “somebody”?
Here’s the thing - the path to achieving these things will be accompanied by discomfort. Sometimes even pain. The learning and effort needed that often accompanies the endeavor to achieve one’s goals is never easy.
So accept that you will be uncomfortable. In fact, embrace it. Take the risk.
Sometimes you will trip. Oftentimes, you will feel slow. And you will feel like you’re behind everybody else.
But by George, the reward of growth will be remarkable!
“Don’t eat in a restaurant with a filthy bathroom”. The makings of a good restaurant are not just about the food they serve. It’s also about how well they take care of their surroundings and their team. Same for any company.
Sometimes when we’re looking for opportunities we can easily get distracted by the flashy things that some companies project such as their big name, their recently acquired investment, and the shiny new technology they use.
But what makes for a good company goes beyond the shiny things:
The people. Are they happy? Are they growing?
The company. Are they building ethically? Do they prioritize diversity?
The leadership. Where have they worked before? What are their values?
“If the restaurant can’t be bothered to replace the puck in the urinal or keep the toilets and floors clean, then just imagine what their refrigeration and work spaces look like.”
There’s more to a company than their name and the product they’re building.
“What would happen if you were walking across the street and were suddenly hit by a careening Mister Softee truck? As you lie there, in your last few moments of consciousness, what kind of final regrets flash through your mind?” It’s easy to get distracted by the day-to-day routine of the hustle. To be so immersed in our jobs that we focus solely on working hard and make the mistake of only spending our days thinking about moving up the job ladder, launching within the deadline, and making our bosses happy.
But what about YOUR dreams?
But what about YOUR happiness?
What about the things that YOU really want to do?
When all is said and done, what would you regret more? Not responding to that email at 10 in the evening or ordering another bottle of wine with your best friends on a fine summer evening?
The worst case scenario is, 20-30 years from now, you’ll end up asking yourself… “What if?”
So take a risk. Be bold. Have unrealistic ambitions.
In Conclusion: Never Order Fish on a Monday
These days, there seems to be more focus on dishing out rules on HOW TO DO…
10 things you MUST do to build a high-performing team
5 ways you are doing building product wrong
8 things you need to start doing NOW to get promoted
And then we get disappointed because they didn’t work for us.
Which CAN and WILL happen.
But here’s the thing.
Behind all of these rules are a lot of context.
A culture that they operated in that gave them space.
Values that may or may not be similar to the ones we hold.
So take these rules and frameworks and templates with a grain of salt.
But acknowledge that behind all of the rules, they are preaching something even more fundamental. Which is:
MOVE FORWARD. TAKE ACTION. DO SOMETHING!
And in between, go make your own rules. Define your own style. Make your own best practices.
If it works… FANTASTIC!
If it’s fun… EVEN BETTER!
If it fails… DONT SWEAT IT!
In between, be honest about your gaps and keep on improving.
And when find yourself face first on the ground wondering: “What in the world did I get myself into?”
Pick yourself up and get yourself a decent meal. Try to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. Then try again.
You’ll be fine.
Everything will be fine.
p.s. if you found this post helpful, why not share with other people might also find it valuable?
2️⃣ (FAKs or Folks.Ask.Kax) is still on a break
I’m still officially on holiday. I’ll get back to regular F.A.Ks next week!
In the meantime, you can leave your questions about related to Product Management or career growth in Product Management in the comments below!
3️⃣ Five things to help you this week 🤓
Continuing on the topic of Context, Phil Araujo shares some insights on how to master context to help you succeed in your product career.
- writes about using the Opportunity Tree in Everyday Life. (always a big fan of trying to use the same tools for both product building and life building 🤓)
Interviewing for Product roles? Garett Rysko shares some insights about Interviewing for Product Manager roles in 2023.
And one last thing! 📣
Back in May, Sara Guiral and I went to La Product Conference Madrid 2023 to talk about the dynamics between a manager and their report.
The talk we did is now available online so I thought I’d share! I’d love to know your thoughts and feelings afterwards 🙏
But before you go!
Last 2 slots for coaching starting in August! For the Product Managers and other Women in Tech who want to spend the last months of the year owning their career growth, improving their performance, and working towards their dream — I’d love to help you. Let’s chat 💙
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