In the 2011 film Conan the Barbarian, the sword-wielding Conan (played by Jason Momoa) vows to avenge his people’s genocide — even if it means sacrificing his own life in the process.
Clearly, this is a product management epic if ever there was one.
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To be fair, Conan is not renown for its plot. Still, we’re going to discuss key plot points as we hack & slash our way through this rumination on sacrifice in product management. You have been warned!
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Born On The Battlefield
Conan is born mid-battle to a fatally wounded mother, and life doesn’t get any easier after that. As an adolescent, he tries to save his father and his tribe from being brutally killed by the evil Khalar Zym… and fails.
Driven by the need for vengeance, the adult Conan brawls, blunders, and beguiles his way toward his goal. Along the way he frees some slaves, wins an arm-wrestling match, visits a brothel, befriends a thief who comes in handy later, and fights sand ninjas and a giant octopus.
Zym captures the pureblood Tamara (Rachel Nichols), whom he believes is the key to reviving his dead wife and ruling the world. Conan uses his wits and his sword to kill Zym, rescue Tamara, and save the day.
“I live. I love. I slay. And I am content.”
It’s easy to write off Conan as a one-dimensional killing machine. Like some sales people I’ve known.
But, really, he’s a man on an intensely personal quest who slowly discovers a higher calling. Yes, it’s helpful that the two missions dovetail as well as they do, but still — either way, he’s willing to sacrifice everything, including his life, to succeed.
“Are we all just doomed to chaos and ruin?”
Product Managers encounter moments of sacrifice all the time:
- During development: PMs can sacrifice features based on critical business needs, or arbitrarily because the team couldn’t get everything done on time.
- In the day-to-day: PMs can sacrifice their time working through to-do lists, or developing market strategy.
- Quality of life: Does the stress of being a PM cause you to sacrifice your sanity and health, or propel you forward?
“What is most important when making a sword, fire or ice?”
Western culture tries to deny the very idea of sacrifice:
“Lose weight without dieting or exercise!”
“Get rich without working hard!”
“Have it your way!”
It’s a seductive fantasy. The reality is very different.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “sacrifice” as “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy”.
When you try to have 100% quality and 100% feature set and 100% time to market and answer every email and attend every meeting and segment markets and write requirements and call customers — you’re not sacrificing anything, except for your sanity and ability to do your job productively.
I’m going to say something now that will rub many PMs the wrong way.
Conan is willing to sacrifice everything to achieve his single goal. When the goal changes — when he finds something more valuable and worthy of sacrificing himself for — he applies himself to that.
Many PMs — and I’ll include myself in this criticism — often complain of being overworked and stressed out and not having the time to do their jobs.
Organizational structures often play a role in that.
But that’s not the only reason.
We try to do it all because we don’t truly value one part of our job over another.
Sacrifice reveals what we truly value.
If we don’t have rock-hard abs, it’s because we value the freedom to eat whatever we want over everything else. If we don’t have time to devise market strategy, it’s because we value tactical work instead.
Are you not able to attain certain goals? Presuming you have the skills — the reason you’re not able to meet the goal is likely that you don’t actually value that goal as much as you wish you did.
To move forward, you need to leave something behind. If you deny the idea of sacrifice, you end up holding onto everything in a vain attempt to have it all — even things you don’t necessarily want to keep.
What do you need to sacrifice to move forward?
And what will it take to make you do it?
New Around Here?
Watch the official trailer for Conan the Barbarian: