That Strange Thanksgiving Day Highlights The Importance Of Gratitude To The Successful Product Manager
A post about Thanksgiving on December 5? Isn’t that a little strange, Chris? Sure, but the publication date of the story we’re using as our springboard into today’s topic is December 10, 1958, so from a certain lens we’re publishing a few days early. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
“Thanksgiving Day!” is a short story from Forbidden Worlds #73 in which hapless Harry is taught a valuable lesson in gratitude by a magical idol with reality-shaping powers. His misfortune is our post-Thanksgiving blessing, reminding PMs everywhere of the importance of being thankful for our co-workers as we strive to create a viable, sustainable business together.
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We’re going to reveal key plot points from this 63 year old story as we explore the importance of gratitude in product management. And we’ll do it all in 12 panels or less. You have been warned!
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Our story begins with Harry Q. Wilson on the outs with his supervisor.
Harry desperately needs a raise so he can be a better provider for his family: His son Bobbie wants a new bike so his classmates stop mocking him, his wife Ellen wants to fix leaky pipes in the house (even if it means she can’t get a Christmas present this year), and Harry’s father needs dental work. They all love Harry, but he’s overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy.
The next morning, Ellen asks him to pick up the Thanksgiving turkey. Still dressed in yesterday’s attire for unexplained reasons, Harry stops in a park on the way back from the store.
Suddenly, a small green statue pops into existence right beside him.
Sarcastically, he wishes the little idol would rain some money down on him so he could buy the things his family needs. Immediately, a bag of coins falls from the sky and lands right next to him.
Harry gambles the money on horses. He wishes to win, and he does. He invests his winnings in property, and becomes a landlord. Unfortunately, his newfound wealth corrupts him to the point that he starts to lose touch with his own humanity.
After a stern warning from his father, Harry tries to ditch the idol, blaming it for his personality change. But the idol won’t let him go. So Harry decides to intentionally embrace his greed, ruining his relationship with his family and even accidentally wish-killing his business partner. When Bobbie asks for Harry to spend more time with him, Harry instead buys his son a pony instead.
Unfortunately, Bobbie dies in a pony-riding accident. Broken-hearted, Ellen leaves Harry. Even Harry’s newly-dentured father can’t deal with Harry’s arrogance any more.
Alone in his empty, expensive home, Harry realizes how much the idol and his quest for wealth has truly cost him. So he makes one final wish: For the idol to vanish and leave him as the man he used to be.
The idol promptly vanishes, and Harry walks back to his old house hoping to relive old memories… only to find Ellen, Bobbie, and his father waiting for him to have Thanksgiving dinner.
“If Only You Would Vanish And Leave Me The Man I Used To Be!”
I like parts of this story, I’m confounded by other aspects, and there’s one piece that is quite frustrating.
In the pro column, I like the simplicity of the story and the happy ending. However I’m confounded by Harry’s inexpert imagination: He wishes for money, then bets the wish money on a horse race so he can score more money, and then he invests his wish winnings in different business ventures. It all seems quite inefficient.
The most frustrating part of the story is that Harry doesn’t really seem to learn anything.
Harry’s real problem is not the idol. Harry’s real problem is Harry.
He kind of seems to get that when he says, “I’ve learned my lesson – learned that humanity, love are the only important things in life!”
But look at his wish: “If only you would vanish and leave me the man I used to be!”
He could have wished to undo all the bad things that had happened, but he doesn’t. He wishes to become the man he used to be… but the man he used to be is the same man who got him into this mess in the first place. The idol facilitated it, but the idol didn’t create the arrogance and carelessness and thoughtlessness. That was all Harry.
Harry’s the one screwing up at work. Harry’s the one obsessing over his inability to provide for his family, but not really doing anything about it. Harry’s the one wearing the same outfit day after day.
Cultivating An Attitude Of Gratitude
French novelist Alphonse Karr once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”
The Greek philosopher Epicurus remarked, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
Ingratitude and pride are at the center of humanity’s fall from grace in Christianity, and remain at the heart of all that’s wrong with us today: “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21).
When it comes to product management, we can easily become Harrys: We can fall into the trap of looking at the thorns, desiring what we don’t have, or puffing ourselves up with pride.
We can hyper-focus on the faults in our co-workers and the unfairness of our circumstances… on teams missing deadlines, poor sales execution, lack of support, decisions rooted in feelings instead of facts, and on and on and on. All those frustrations can deceive us, leading us away from success and down into a pit of bitterness and despair.
From today, I want to challenge myself and challenge you to not dismiss those trouble spots, but likewise remember what we do have to be thankful for as product managers:
- For designers who make our products easy and enjoyable to use
- For developers who turn our hopes and dreams into working products
- For technical writers who document difficult concepts and make them understandable
- For QA engineers whose attention to detail ensures we adhere to top quality standards
- For marketers who help buyers understand how our products can meet their needs
- For salespeople being on the frontline with prospects and clients
- For support for fielding the slings and arrows of frustrated users and resolving their issues
We have a lot to be thankful for. But don’t wish to be the person you used to be. Instead, cultivate a consistent attitude of gratitude. And if you work somewhere where you can choose what you wear each day, be thankful for that — and remember to change your outfit each day.