The Rebirth of Optimus Prime in Transformers: Generation 2 Shows How Product Managers Can Scale Themselves

“Transformers: Generation 2” is a 12-issue comic book series where everyone’s favorite transforming robots battle the vastly superior forces of the next generation Cybertronian Empire and confront a new threat more dangerous than anything they’ve ever encountered before. The series was written by Simon Furman, drawn primarily by Manny Galan, Derek Yaniger and Geoff Senior, and published by Marvel Comics during the 1990s.

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We’re going to reveal key plot points of Transformers: Generation 2 as we explore how product managers can seemingly do the impossible: scale themselves. And we’ll do it all in 12 panels or less. You have been warned!

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While the heroic Autobots take down a Deception mining operation on an alien world, Autobot leader Optimus Prime is overcome by an apocalyptic vision.

Shortly thereafter, Optimus and his team are taken prisoner by a new foe named Jhiaxus. The ruler of the sprawling Cybertronian Empire is hellbent on transforming organic worlds into mini replicas of Cybertron and he has no issue with intergalactic genocide.

The Autobots escape from Jhiaxus, but are staggered by the magnitude of the new threat they now face. Back on earth, the evil Megatron is on a quest to regain control of his Decepticon army from the skull-faced upstart named Bludgeon.

Megatron succeeds.

Meanwhile, determined to understand the meaning of his menacing visions, Optimus enlists the aid of the mysterious Cybertronian elders who help him unlock the powers of the Matrix housed inside his chest.

Hurled mentally back through time, Optimus learns the Transformers were once able to reproduce by cellular division — an unsettling ability forgotten by the original Transformers but somehow reactivated by Jhiaxus to create his empire.

Armed with this new information, Optimus heads to Earth to persuade Megatron to join forces and stop the new Cybertronians. Megatron chooses to smack down Optimus instead, steal the Matrix, and go face Jhiaxus on his own.

Jhaxius curb stomps Megatron. Defeated, Megatron decides to join forces with Optimus after all. Naturally, he’s not thrilled about it.

Before the new dynamic duo can generate a battle plan, the stolen Matrix mutates Megatron’s traitorous right-hand ‘bot Starscream into a new threat…

… which gets superseded by the even bigger threat the Matrix has been warning Optimus about: the Swarm.

A byproduct of the Cybertronians’ cellular reproduction, the Swarm is a seemingly mindless entity that consumes everything in its path. And now, it’s on its way to Earth, which is already being decimated by Jhaxius’ forces.

Under the influence of the Matrix, Starscream returns the Matrix to Optimus.

Optimus being Optimus, he tries to reason with Jhiaxus and enlist his aid in fighting the Swarm.

Jhiaxus doesn’t take kindly to the notion.

The remainder of the Transformers make a desperate last stand against the Swarm. Their efforts are bolstered by Megatron who uses stolen technology to save both Autobots and Decepticons alike.

Unhinged, Jhiaxus takes the battle directly to the Swarm and pays the ultimate price.

Optimus hypothesizes that if he can expose the Swarm to the energies of the Matrix, the Swarm will develop a conscience and cease its mindless attack. Regrettably, the only way to do that is to allow the Swarm to devour him.

Prime’s gamble pays off. The Swarm learns the difference between despair and hope, ceases its attack, and even gives Optimus a new body.

While Optimus and the surviving Transformers celebrate their victory, other forces in the universe plot a day of reckoning.

“Drowning In An Ocean Of Corpses” Sounds Melodramatic, Sure, But Don’t You Sometimes Feel That Way?

You plan out your work day — your tasks, your meetings, your client calls — and then…

  • The emails roll in.
  • Slack alerts start to pop.
  • Escalations erupt out of nowhere.

At the end of the day, when you look at what you planned to accomplish versus what you actually did… it can feel like you’re drowning in an ocean of unattended calendar events and unfinished tasks.

The Quest To Scale

Throughout Transformers: Generation 2, Optimus Prime is on a quest.

Look at the magnitude of challenges he’s facing:

  • Jhiaxus
  • The Cybertronian Empire
  • Megatron
  • Starscream
  • The Swarm

However, his primary quest is a meta journey to scale himself.

Even with his team of Autobots and the power of the Matrix inside his chest, Optimus realizes that he can’t win this fight on his own. He needs to recruit help — create a shared vision with them — and distribute power and control to achieve that vision.

Given how many times Optimus gets physically thrashed in this series, clearly, there’s risk in this approach.

But if you’re going to scale, you have to take some calculated risk.

A Prime Problem

So how do you scale as a product manager?

Investing in technology will help. For example, moving from…

  • Hand-crafted Excel reports to metrics dashboards
  • PowerPoint roadmap presentations to web-based solutions that help you prioritize and communicate your product roadmap
  • Notebooks of customer feedback to online systems that help you standardize, process, and interpret customer feedback

The other thing to focus on is more conceptual.

Let’s look at some of the concepts — or power struggles — that can help or hurt your scalability.

Power Struggle Optimus’ Approach Questions To Consider
Vision Optimus creates a shared vision of what the future could be, and never stops evangelizing it — even when he gets his mouth literally punched off his face. Do you create a shared vision with others? Or do you create your own personal vision of the future and then impose this vision on others? To scale, vision has to be a joint creation.
Decisions Optimus is waging too many battles on too many fronts. To be the leader he needs to be, he must entrust important decisions to others. Do you delegate decisions that don’t specifically require your input? Can you discern the difference between decisions that should be made by you versus those that do not? Do you hold others accountable for their decisions?
Control Optimus gives up control — sacrifices himself — to expose the Swarm to the light of the Matrix and save the day. To be clear: You don’t need to lay down your life for your team to succeed. But are you willing to relinquish some of your control to empower your team? For example: Do you let them talk to users to get feedback and better understand pain points, or do you horde all user interactions to yourself?
Actions Optimus inspires others to take action in accordance with their shared vision. Even Megatron. Inspired by Optimus, Megatron saves Autobots and Decepticons alike in the final battle against the Swarm. Do you encourage other people to be their best? Do you set the tone and tempo and then let everyone get down to business? Or are people paralyzed, unable to do anything until they get the word from you?
Victories In this series, events tend to go from bad to worse so Optimus isn’t really afforded the opportunity to celebrate the small wins. But when the Swarm is transformed and the Earth saved, he rallies the combined Autobots and Decepticons, reminds them of what they’ve achieved together, and speaks to the promise of a new day.

In our non-stop world, it’s easy to ignore what you’ve achieved and just jump to the next task in the endless task list. The scalable PM finds time to celebrate the wins, big and small, to unify the team around a positive outcome, build momentum, and motivate the team to continue delivering good work.

To be successful product managers, we need to build the right products.

To do that effectively, we need to scale.

To scale, we need to lead more than manage.

Leading like Optimus may sound a little scary, but it isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.

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