The Trial Of Reed Richards Reveals The Importance Of Advocates In Your Product Management Career
“The Trial of Reed Richards” is a classic morality tale by John Byrne: Because scientist Reed Richards saves the world-devouring Galactus from death, a galactic tribunal seizes Reed and puts him on trial for the resulting extinction-level events caused by the revitalized Galactus. In the process, this story reveals how advocates can make or break your career in product management.
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We’ll reveal key plot points from Fantastic Four #262 (1984) as we explore the importance of advocates in your product management career. And we’ll do it all in 12 panels or less. You have been warned!
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The story begins with Fanastic Four writer/artist John Byrne receiving a strange extraterrestrial visitor: The Watcher.
The Watcher whisks John away to an alien world so he can capture a critical event in galactic history:
The trial follows the M’Ndavian Procedures, wherein a number of colorful gems monitor the emotions and judgments of all present. If all the gems turn white by the end of the trial, the verdict is automatically rendered not guilty. The aliens describe it as “the most perfect legal system in the galaxy” but I have some doubts about that.
The prosecutor, Princess Lilandra of the Shi’ar Empire, calls her first witness: A survivor of a world destroyed by the planet-eating Galactus.
Lilandra proceeds to call many, many witnesses with similar testimonies to establish that Reed knew full-well of Galactus’ planet-munching behavior.
In a surprise twist, Reed pleads guilty — not to aiding and abetting genocide, but to saving Galactus’ life which is an incontrovertible fact.
He proceeds to argue that saving Galactus’ life could not be a crime because Galactus is a force of nature and, somehow, a force for good.
The Watcher sends Reed’s brother-in-law to retrieve Odin, the leader of the Norse gods, who proceeds to explain the origins and purpose of Galactus.
Even though his testimony is basically third-hand hearsay, Odin’s appearance and explanation sway most, but not all, of those present.
Galactus himself then appears to testify on Reed’s behalf. As you might imagine, the words of a planet murderer fail to convince anyone of Reed’s innocence. (Whoops.)
So Galactus and the Watcher merge together to bring forth the defense’s final witness, Eternity – the living embodiment of the universe – who shows the court the Cosmic Truth about Galactus being a necessary force in the universe.
The gems all go white. Exonerated, Reed and the Fantastic Four return to Earth along with John who hurries to capture these events for publication in the next issue of The Fantastic Four comic book.
“To all mortals present is this Cosmic Truth made plain…”
Many organizations, especially in the technology sector, describe themselves as meritocracies where employees are rewarded for performance. However, Carla Harris learned early in her career that working hard is important, of course, but so is having an advocate or sponsor if you want to ascend in an organization.
Harris describes a sponsor as someone who is “spending their valuable political and social capital on you” and will “pound the table on your behalf.” Because the reality in business is that people in top-level, closed-door meetings are making subjective decisions about us — and if you don’t have a sponsor in those meetings, you will likely lose out to someone who does in terms of pay raises, bonuses, and career advancement.
You need someone to advocate for you in those meetings, who can make plain to all mortals present at the table that you bring unique and meaningful value to the organization.
Different From Mentors
While the may sound similar, a sponsor is different from a mentor.
Mentors will help you improve — they’ll give you the good, the bad, and the ugly about your performance and perception. They’re investing time in you.
Sponsors or advocates, on the other hand, are investing — risking — their reputation on you by presenting you in the best possible light to influence the organizational executive stakeholders in your favor.
Identifying Your Advocate
In seeking someone to be your advocate, Harris recommends looking for these three qualities:
- A seat at the table
- Real insight into you and your work
- Power to influence decisions
In “The Trial of Reed Richards,” Reed has three advocates: Odin, Galactus, and Eternity. All three are God-like entities. Only one effectively advocates on Reed’s behalf by proving Reed’s thesis right.
- Odin has power and reputation, but his testimony is based on hearsay — events he was told about but did not directly experience. He doesn’t have direct exposure to Galactus’ origin or Reed’s work so he is not credible.
- Galactus has power and reputation, but his testimony — while accurate — only serves to condemn Reed because the court is terrified of Galactus and enraged by him. Galactus does not have a seat at the table.
- Eternity succeeds as an advocate. He has power and uses it to open everyone’s eyes to the truth. He has a seat at the table because, in essence, he is the table. He knows Galactus and he knows Reed, so he has credibility. Eternity is there for them when it matters.
Keep your performance high as a PM — demonstrate your value to the business by achieving outcomes that matter. Invest in people in your environment — develop your network among your cross-functional team.
And in searching for your sponsor, think back on Reed’s three advocates and reach out to the one who has a seat at the table, understands you and your impact to the company, and can use their power to influence the outcome in your favor. And does not devour moons or planets.
We have two pieces of bonus content this time.
First – For a licensed attorney’s take on the actual legal issues presented in the Trial of Reed Richards, check out this article on The Law and the Multiverse.
Second – Watch Carla Harris explain how to identify and develop a productive sponsor relationship in her candid, powerful talk.