Product Management Insights From The Life Of Legendary Artist Neal Adams

Product Management Insights From The Life Of Legendary Artist Neal Adams

Neal Adams, renowned for his work with various DC Comics and Marvel characters, has passed away. He was 80. His son Adam told The Hollywood Reporter, “My father was a force. His career was defined by unparalleled artistic talent and an unwavering character that drove him to constantly fight for his peers and those in need.” Reflecting on Neal Adams’ career and character, I see two important insights for product managers.

“Draw like you.”

At a 2018 convention in the Philippines, Neal told aspiring artists in attendance:

“If there are a small number of you in here that want to be artists, you can learn how to do it — not how to draw like me, which is the worst thing in the world that you can do. What you want to do is to draw like you and that’s what you can learn.”

– Neal Adams

Product Management Insight: Don’t adhere slavishly to product frameworks or your established roadmap

Product management is difficult. Product management frameworks exist to help guide PMs through the intricacies of the product lifecycle. Roadmaps exist to provide a guide for how you intend to achieve your organization’s goals. But these concepts intended to help can become roadblocks if we become slaves to them.

If we cling too tightly to a framework, we can miss the forest for the trees. If we cling too tightly to existing items on the roadmap, we can miss critical opportunities to innovate with higher ROI as we learn new information or obtain new insights.

Like artists should not try to draw like Neal Adams, PMs should not be so rigid in our approach to product. The individual artist needs to understand the fundamentals of his craft, then draw as only he can draw. The individual product manager needs to understand the fundamentals of his craft, then lead product as only he can.

“He tailored his art to the story, not the other way ‘round.”

Back in 2009, artist John Byrne shared his appreciation for Neal Adams:

Unlike modern artists, Neal did not attack the characters. He rarely redesigned costumes, for instance. (Green Arrow is a notable, and outstanding exception). He did not inflict steroidic physiques on slender forms, or zeppelin sized boobs when none such had previously been. His characters stood, sat, walked, ran, jumped like real people (or, as one wag put it, Neal’s characters looked exactly like what people would look like if people looked like that). He tailored his art to the story, not the other way ’round. When the story needed “small” he got small. When it needed big, he exploded.

– John Byrne

Product Management Insight: Don’t confuse adding new features with solving core problems

Adding new features to a product just feels right, doesn’t it? We imagine customers reading our release announcements, pleased to see new value being delivered to them. We hear positive feedback from the development team, excited about adopting new technologies.

But if these new features do not actually address core problems, have we really delivered new value to the market? If these new features do not get adopted, will development really be pleased about shouldering the burden of supporting them in the days ahead? Will UX be psyched about complicating the user interface and the user experience?

Neal did not put his art above the story; he tailored his art to help tell the story. Similarly, as PMs we need to keep our eyes on the core user problem and not get distracted by unvalidated blinky, shiny objects.

One Closing Thought

Death is terrible, and this pain and suffering isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Neal was a talented artist. I didn’t know him or what he believed about God, but I know Jesus loved us enough to live and die for us so we could be reconciled with God and adopted into his family. I hope he’s drawing something magnificent for him right now, in the way only Neal Adams can.

Bonus Content

Hear Neal speak in this 1987 interview about his approach to comic book storytelling:

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