One Awkward Man’s Quest To Stop King Arthur From Destroying Modern-Day England Illustrates The Importance Of Taking Calculated Risks In Product Management
When a group of extremists bring a mythic figure to life in their quest for power, a retired monster hunter yanks her awkward adult grandson into a world of magic, wizardry and heavy artillery in a desperate quest to stop the legendary threat.
Once & Future (Vol. 1): The King Is Undead collects the first six issues of the ongoing supernatural adventure by author Kieron Gillen and illustrator Dan Mora, and has an important lesson for product managers about the importance of taking calculated risks.
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We’re going to reveal key plot points from this modern-day fantasy epic as we unpack today’s product management topic. And we’ll do it all in 12 panels or less. You have been warned!
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Our story starts with Duncan stumbling through his first date with fellow academic Rose. His embarrassment is interrupted by a call from his grandmother Bridgette who has escaped from her nursing home.
Bridgette leads Duncan to the woods where she uncovers a cache of weapons and explains that she used to hunt monsters.
Suddenly a huge, serpentine creature charges at them. Duncan panics and runs the monster in circles while Bridgette rummages for the right weapon to stop it — a spear. She tosses the spear to Duncan and the minute he catches it, the creature stops chasing him and runs away.
Duncan starts after it, but his grandmother restrains him with wise words: “You start chasing it, and you’ll just get obsessed and you’ll be no good to anyone. Be careful with people who chase monsters too hard.”
She explains that her ex-teammate, Elaine, is trying to bring King Arthur to life so he can reclaim England for pure-blooded British people. Duncan agrees to help Bridgette. But they arrive too late.
The resurrected Arthur slays Elaine’s team because of their non-British blood, then transforms them into his new knights. Elaine offers up her twenty-something son to be Arthur’s new Galahad — the one who will find the lost grail and bring it to Arthur so he can restore England to his liking. Duncan and Bridgette recruit Rose to help them find the grail first.
The trio rush headlong into revelations about Duncan’s family and the secrets Bridgette has been keeping from him — including the fact that Elaine is actually Duncan’s mother. To gain access to the otherworldly hiding place of the grail, Bridgette shoots herself in the chest, offering herself as a blood sacrifice. Leaving Bridgette in Rose’s care, Duncan crosses over into the otherworld to confront Galahad and grab the grail so he can use its mystical properties to save Bridgette.
Duncan succeeds in stealing the grail away from Galahad. But it vanishes from Duncan’s hands when he crosses back to earth. Unable to use the grail’s powers to heal Bridgette, Duncan and Rose take her to Bath, where they retrieve Excalibur from the ladies in the lake. Then they cross over to the otherworld.
Duncan confronts his mother, who rejects him, saying she must focus on Galahad for the cursed story to come true. Duncan finds a way to heal Bridgette’s injuries, then engages Arthur in battle.
Bridgette saves her grandson by revealing the secret of Galahad’s true father. The outraged Arthur summons his army to attack, and the otherworld begins to melt. Elaine escapes in the confusion.
After returning to earth with Bridgette and Rose, Duncan returns Excalibur to the ladies of the lake. Later, Duncan has some choice words for Bridgette about her lifetime of lies and secrecy — and then the giant snake monster returns.
This time, there is no panic, no running: Duncan takes the monster down with confidence. The battle ends, but the quest continues.
“It’s Not Real. It’s Just True.”
Product managers often need to make judgement calls and rarely have all the information we want — or even all the information that might be required — to make an informed decision. This is the reality.
One example is pricing for a new product. If you work for a large enterprise, you may have access to analysts who can help guide you or even develop the pricing for you. But if you don’t have access to those resources, you can feel panicked about it. I know I have.
The last time I generated pricing for a new product, I approached it with a Duncan mindset — running around in circles, trying to figure out where to even start… and then, once I had an approach and some data, just charging right at it, agonizing over my analysis, spending huge amounts of time and brainpower trying to account for all scenarios and crafting something perfect…. the Pricing Model to end all Pricing Models.
“Be Careful With People Who Chase Monsters Too Hard.”
Bridgette’s caution to Duncan applies to that kind of scenario. Did I need to create new pricing? Yes. Developing pricing, generating market assessments, and similar exercises are good and necessary. These are good things we need to pursue to focus ourselves and our teams on solving the right problems and generating the outcomes and revenue the business needs. But perfection, as they say, is the enemy of the good.
In my situation, the tradeoff was around precision… which meant overspending on time… which had the unfortunate impact of depriving other activities of the appropriate time they required. And to Bridgette’s point about reality and truth not necessarily being the same — in this case, I was precise… I had real numbers to back up my model… but that precision did not mean that I ultimately got the pricing correct on the first go because of other factors.
Life in product management is a balancing act — and almost every aspect involves some manner of tradeoff. So my advice is to remember that speed matters. Take calculated risks. Document your reasoning and move forward. Remember: Most of the decisions we face are not irreversible.
Again, going back to my situation – one way I might have spared myself the extra time and aggravation of getting to the perfect single assessment would be to approach the exercise from a more agile mindset.
In that approach, I would present the model I am most confident in to my stakeholders, document my evidence and assumptions so reviewers understand the risk associated, test the pricing with clients and partners, and iterate as needed.
Like grandma always says, chase the monster. But don’t chase it too hard. Not when there are so many to slay.
Want more Once & Future? Check out Near Mint Condition’s review of the Once & Future Book One Deluxe Edition Slipcover:
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