18 Aphorisms For The Product Leader

Five years of experience as co-CEO and Head of Product @howaboutwe boiled down to a numbered list that every PM should print out and tape to their desk.

18 Aphorisms For The Product Leader
[Covered in yellow notes: Lasse Kristensen via Shutterstock]

1. You are the conductor. Your one and only job is to lead your team to make something people love.
2. If anyone on your team does not have what they need to do their very best work, consider it your fault and fix it.
3. What you do after each small failure will determine your course and destination. Treat everything as an experiment.
4. Your process is itself a product. Build this process iteratively, test it, refine it, and find product-market fit.
5. Each product and team is unique and calls for a specific, unique process.
6. Ideate. Prioritize. Articulate. Coordinate. Inspire. Your five tools.
7. Fear of failure is at the root of almost every unhelpful behavior. It can also be among the most powerful sources of ambition, openness, drive, and creativity. Managing morale is, at the root, managing fear of failure.
8. Confusion is a dire enemy for most, but for some it is a combustion engine.
9. Tell a story that leads from a future people can expect to a future that is truly wondrous. That is: manage both expectations and hope.
10. Top-down and bottom-up are sisters, not enemies. Everyone, rightfully, wants to be heard and respected. A few, bold people want to make choices for which they are actually accountable. Be neither stupidly democratic nor stupidly autocratic.
11. At least four times each week, exercise until you can’t think about anything but your body. (Then, for fun, try to quietly witness your body from slightly above and behind your head.)
12. Cherishing sleep is cherishing your brain.
13. Fear meetings. Ten thousand hours of soul-depleting boredom and disarray have been saved by the great facilitator.
14. Roadmap > design > build > deploy > analyze > kill or refine. These happen in order, with breathing room for thought. Improper planning leads to overlap which leads to a cart mired in the mud of blame.
15. If you hear about a problem you aren’t already solving, you probably haven’t been paying close enough attention.
16. Humor is a great balm and motivator. If you’re not hearing and making jokes, this is a sign that you need to relax. Relaxation and slacking are strangely close to opposites.
17. Perceive what is most wonderful and precious about each person. Make sure they are using this beloved quality to move the needle for everyone. This is what people mean when they say they love their work.
18. Creation is the activity of Consciousness.


This list is based in part on a 15,000-word series about how to build top-notch product development processes. Check it out here.


About the author

Aaron Schildkrout is co-Founder of (acquired by IAC, 2014). At @howaboutwe, Aaron was co-CEO and oversaw product development, design, data, and engineering