Author: minhthanh3145

To be able, at any moment, to sacrifice what you are, for what you will become.

Get everyone out of the building – or how Product Managers are like Fire Fighters

I realize that “get out of the building” is probably already an advice that’s meant for everyone. But If I may rephrase the advice so that it incorporates a bit better the nuance that I’ve observed, I would call it “Get everyone out of the building”, which sounds like something that a Fire Fighter would say. Perhaps in this sense (and many others in which we both roles have to fight different kinds of fire), Product Managers are just like Fire Fighters.

Don’t look away

When you’re in pain, you tend to find something to distract you away from it.

But when it comes to metaphysical pain, which is the kind of pain that isn’t a bodily sensation you can clearly pinpoint, it gets tricky. You drown yourself with mildly amusing music, videos or information so that the nagging pain feels just like a minor nuisance. But that method of distraction works only on physical pain. For flesh wounds and bodily damage, it does seem to be an effective pain management strategy.

Metaphysical pain comes from the disease of the mind. A pain that is so sharp and heavy that, if you were to be left alone in a room with nothing other than your own mind, it would take on a shape so gripping that you can practically feel its hand tightening around your neck.

But only in paying attention to that pain, in capitalizing on our capacity to transform chaos in order which is tapped in when we engage with the world consciously, that we can find within that pain a source of meaning that can justify existence.

In distracting yourself by flooding your brain with constant stimulations, you choose to look away, which can make life a bit more bearable momentarily because now you exist in a state of consciousness that’s being spread thin over too many things that there’s hardly any consciousness at any particular point.

Don’t look away. Confront the suffering. Engage with it. There’s no guarantee that your confrontation will have any merits. Perhaps you will die alone and with no dignity, but perhaps you will die feeling that your existence justified, with every fiber of your being.

On exploring human nature

Nature is like this: everything changes it shape according to your nature. It is what lurks beneath our actions and our intentions.

It is also a perfect self-preserving system. If I have a choice, I wouldn’t choose to be anything other than myself.

It is one of those things that assigns values and meanings. It is the lens that you use to look at the world. A lens that fits you so perfectly that it may as well be a biological part of you.

You can’t reason with nature trying to change it, because nature doesn’t wish to change, and logic is meaningful insofar that it’s congruent with your nature. If a chain of reasoning arrives at a conclusion that my nature doesn’t accept, it can be understood but impossible to be incorporated.

I believe that human behaviors are subjected to change. Even our ways of thinking are subjected to change as new information and knowledge reveal themselves. Even the things we value change over the years, although much more slowly and not as easily.

But nature is not those things. Nature is not a collection of behaviors or ways of thinking. It’s the underlying function from which these things are generated. Nature is also not what we value, although that is its manifestation. It’s the underlying function that constrains and directs our values.

I do not think that nature can be changed. It can only be discovered. If we flip it around, we can say that “nature” is what we call the parts of us that remain invariant throughout life. Indeed, nature comes from natura – a Latin word that means course of things, constitution, natural character, quality, the universe.

Over the years, I’ve come to discover my nature. That itself is a result of many things. Family crisis. Existential crisis. Countless self-induced existential crises. Experimenting with people’s lives. Nights that essentially spent cornering myself intellectually and emotionally.

If nature is the underlying function for many things, how do we understand it? I think the answer lies in experience. To explore and understand nature, we have to expose ourselves to experience with the upmost quality.

This is the same way that we understand a black box system: exposing the object under study to as many qualitatively different inputs as possible and observe how it behaves. With nature, we have the fortune of it being an integral part of our existence and therefore, strictly speaking, is not a black box. We can understand our nature by a combination of inquisition and reflection.

The defining characteristic of experience is the level at which we’re willing to explore them. For me, experience is more characterized by depth, and less characterized by breadth. Not that one matters and the others don’t, but they have different weights.

Not all experience have depths, some will only be shallow. But I think there are three levels of depth that reflect how far we’re willing to explore a particular experience.

We can stay in the shallow sea where we look at experience with little or no investigation. This is where I tend to avoid staying in the most. I don’t like to follow things that cannot be investigated or doing so would be systematically discouraged. One practical example would be Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. But perhaps more subtly, this would be people who chase the highs, adopt the trends or follow customs and traditions without any question. It’s a shallow sea because there are points that can be ostensibly deep but they turn out to be shallow all the same.

Once we dive a little deeper, we find ourselves in the black mud. Here, things seem very dark and morbid. That’s because they are. But that’s also because these impressions are a defense mechanism that prevents us from digging further. Taboo topics, things that we have implicitly or explicitly sealed away, any trauma or unresolved tensions belong here. The things in the black mud are still peripheral to our nature. Trauma does not define us, but the roles that we play in trauma do.

Once we dive past the black mud, we arrive at place that’s essentially our own custom-made bloody hell. Everything hurts. The process of separating the particular details of our specific catastrophe from the intolerable general condition of being is very hurtful. But only by separating ourselves from those trauma that we discover ourselves. We either re-emerge from this place as someone who understand our nature a little bit better, or we drown.

This is why I don’t shy away from dark, morbid, taboo or personal topics. Although I’ve come to understand my nature, these topics are still the best tools out there to understand other people’s nature. For me, meaningful relationships can only be built and maintained if each party is willing to expose their own nature.

How Product Development Frameworks Work Together To Enable Actions

A product strategy can be seen as a function that takes in business outcomes, possible product changes, activities people do and produce an effective action.

JTBD helps discover activities people do that need improvement.

Company Vision Helps identify business outcomes.

The North Star Framework helps produce metrics that align with business outcomes and activities customers do that need improvement.

Continuous Discovery helps discover opportunities and solutions.

Opportunity-Solution tree helps make product changes that align with opportunities which best solve company and customer problems simultaneously

The Build Trap, Great Product Managers, Strategic Gaps and Product Kata

Last month, I finished reading Escaping the build trap as part of an attempt to discover the pillars of product management. Although I did not discover anything of sort, I think it was a great read since the book provides useful frameworks and mental models that I can apply in my daily work. In this blog post, I want to elaborate on some ideas in the book that I found to be interesting.

Departures (2008) – How Death makes you Reconsider Life, and How Mentally Simulating the Deaths of your Frameworks can improve Cognitive Agility

The movie’s theme is obviously about death, but it’s not told from the perspective of someone who lost a beloved one, although that is part of the storyline. Rather, it is told from the perspective of morticians who have to provide funeral services to the deceased, such as purifying, changing the clothing, applying make-up, and delivering the body to its final destination.

Quarantine Diary – Eleventh day, August 10th, 2021: My subconscious is telling me something, finally going home, anticipations vs plans

Today is the 11th day I spend in this quarantine facility. I couldn’t sleep properly last night because I keep having this weird, singular thought, which is not exactly hope, that tomorrow may really be the day. It is not hope because it doesn’t capture and direct my mind towards these images of what I think will happen, at least yet. Instead, the sleeplessness comes from a single thought: that tomorrow may be the day.

My subconscious is telling me something

Of course, I have tried my best to not submit to its claws, because I know the moment I let these images that so naturally follow such a thought into my mind, it would be too late. My mind would be already subjugated. However, I think my subconscious was clearly trying to tell me something. It’s saying so by projecting that single thought to the conscious mind. Sometimes, forcing yourself to look away from what you should consider is something so fatally wrong that your subconscious torments you all night.

Finally going home!

Of course, I can only say that because I received the news from a medical staff this morning, at approximately 9 AM, that I will be leaving here today. It was as if the torment played on me last night served as a premonition to this moment. Who knows, my subconscious could have taken into account all the evidence (subconsciously) and produced a single conclusion that today is really the day. It also could have taken into account my miserable experience yesterday and decided not to overdo it with the messaging. All of that could have led to that singular thought that kept me up yesterday. And of course, as I’m no psychologist, these are only interesting explanations that I tell myself. This could all just be confirmation bias.

But what is true is that my heart is filled with joy. It beats faster and more excitingly as the reality of finally coming home hits me. During my morning shower, I can’t help but feel happy and optimistic. I once again started to visualize the moments before, during, and after my departure here and my arrival home. Except that this time they are not based on false hope.

Anticipations vs plans

My anticipations have become plans, and these plans carry an implicit meaning – the fact that one can formulate such plans with high certainty implies that one is in control of his or her environment. Planning implies an attempt to control. To plan is to implicitly realize that one can affect and change the situation. Those who possess the opposite mindset naturally rely on the universe, claiming that some hidden forces will make everything alright despite their inactions.

Even though they both are usually oriented towards a vision or a goal, the difference between anticipating and planning is in the recognition that one can move the situation forward.

Those who are merely anticipating are stuck at a point in time and space, desperately trying to visualize a better point at which they could have occupied. But they also instinctively know that such visualizations are incongruent with reality as they know it, so their hope is taken away. When hope is taken away, in this case by the mere awareness about their powerlessness with regards to the situation, and the situation is so undesirable that merely being in it produces distress, then one experiences despair. I have written about this previously.

Those in planning are in a position that naturally moves forward, albeit in a seemingly random fashion, and with their plans they’re trying to control such movement so that the flow of life will lead them to where they want to be.


Next up

Unfortunately, since I’m home, my need for release out these thoughts is also decreased dramatically. As you may guess, this is the end of my Quarantine Diary – though I’m not exactly sure if it can be called a diary. If you have made it here, I’d like to express my thanks for your time and attention. Hopefully, you have learned something about me that you otherwise wouldn’t have, in which case the outcome of this series will be achieved.

Farewell, and until the next time, stay safe!

Quarantine Diary – Tenth day, August 9th, 2021: Free from anticipations, the absence of hope is not despair, we need to control any situation to a certain extent, getting retested unexpectedly, despair is when hope is forcefully taken away in a manner that induces despair, today is not the day

Free from anticipations

Today is my 10th day at this quarantine facility. Unlike yesterday, I am not plagued by the feeling of anticipation anymore. Because I was hoping for a happy ending, which would be me leaving here yesterday, marking the end of an otherwise distasteful week, now that that hope is gone, I feel a sense of relief. It’s as if I’m released from its grip around my neck which was so strong that kept me paralyzed and unable to focus on anything. My mind was filled with images about coming home, about what I was going to do, how I was going to start a new week, and about how a single phone call would have made all of that come true. Of course, such hope was squashed by reality, as hope usually does, either by my limited understanding of the procedure that this facility employs, or a time delay in getting the results that I had not considered.

However, now that I’m forced to discard my false hope, its weight is also lifted off my shoulder. It’s perhaps akin to the feeling someone with terminal cancer has once he’s accepted his mortality. It’s reassuring to know there’s no turning back to a time when a way out was still possible. Similarly, I thought that my situation was going to end perfectly, and now that I know that such a perfect ending is no longer possible. Unlike having terminal cancer, though, my situation is still going to end sooner or later. The common thing between me and a terminal cancer patient is that we are both forced to dispose of false hope.

The absence of hope is not despair

I used to think, just several days ago, that the absence of hope is despair, but I have since reconsidered. The absence of hope is not necessarily equivalent to despair, but instead, it can be a momentary state in which one feels at peace. That is, of course, until the next moment where hope once again appears and permeates every aspect of your existence, unless you have terminal cancer and an overwhelming amount of evidence dictates otherwise. If there’s something you can do about the situation, then I think hope is healthy. But otherwise, hope will grab you by the mind and direct your attention towards the things you want the most, despite you physically being unable to affect the situation. Such captivity leaves the mind with no resources to attend to other matters.

In this albeit impermanent moment, I feel a normal amount of anticipation and a normal amount of awareness that such anticipation may not be met. I feel no need to rationalize or provide justifications as to how my anticipation is grounded in evidence and known information, or how it is reasonable to anticipate.

Of course, I’m not going to deny my reasoning to my anticipation yesterday. It was due to imperfect information and perhaps unexpected events that my anticipation was off the mark, but it doesn’t mean that it was not well-founded. Like I said, a 50/50 odd of leaving home was pretty solid, compared to that of the previous days.

We need to control any situation to a certain extent

Nonetheless, once we hope for something, especially when we’re constrained in terms of information and resources to affect the situation, it’s going to get ahold of our mind. Our physical powerlessness with regard to the situation compels our minds to exert mental control over the situation. We can’t stand being completely vulnerable. This isn’t about being a tough shell or a snowflake either, it’s merely human nature that we seek to control any situation to a certain extent, even if such control occurs only within the mind. Someone commenting on concentration camps once said something similar: a man can be deprived of everything, except for his right to respond to the situation with his own will.

The mind only knows one way to exert control over things, it rationalizes and visualizes. Indeed, because I was unable to affect my situation in any meaningful way, in that I have no control over the test results or the procedure that would lead to my release, my mind was rationalizing and visualizing about what should happen if things were ideal. In doing so, it consumes resources that would otherwise be spent on other more fruitful activities.

Getting retested again unexpectedly

Today I was unexpectedly called out to get a sample again in the morning. I don’t know what it means, but my sister said that it’s possible that my test result was not conclusive and therefore requires another test to make sure. It is her opinion that this test is of a different nature and the result will be available immediately, which means that I’d probably hear about the result of both these tests today.

Despair is when hope is forcefully removed in a way that induces distress

I wonder about despair. What is it? It’s not simply the absence of hope, but the state of things in which hope is forcefully removed and great distress is present. The absence of hope doesn’t immediately imply despair. The absence of hope could be that impermanent state of peace I mentioned earlier, or it could be something else. Maybe you’re in a situation that is not exactly desirable, and you have certain hopes of how things should go. However, due to imperfect information, miscalculations, or unfortunate events, what you hoped for simply didn’t happen, but it also didn’t result in significant distress. That would still qualify as a situation absent of hope, but there’s no despair involved, only slight disappointments.

So despair seems to be that which follows when hope is forcefully taken away in a manner that induces great distress. It’s somewhat circular and I’m still not quite satisfied with this definition, but let’s leave that for later. On a different yet related topic, even as someone who has seen despair, I can’t help but think that sometimes hope is much more dangerous, especially the hope that slowly but surely takes hold of your mind and deprives you of mental resources for anything else. That’s the experience I had yesterday.

Today is not the day

It seems that today is not the day again. Nevertheless, I obtained some valuable information from the guy who lives in the living room. It seems that, if people are allowed to go home on a certain day, they will be informed in the morning to prepare their stuffs. In the evening they will be permitted to leave. This information should mean that the most important time of the day is actually in the morning, whereas I previously assumed that it was in the afternoon because that’s when the old lady who left here received the call to inform her about her departure. However, in retrospect, anticipating the phone call was neglecting the base rate. It might have been that the old lady had a particular connection to someone in the medical staff who would inform her via phone personally. Or it could be that the procedure changed when she left and now announcements are made in the morning only. The information I obtained today was from the old couple who was also allowed to leave today, so it takes more precedence over old information.


Next up