How to make better decisions:

Why does Warren Buffet live in the same house he bought in 1958, despite his wealth? Why did Mark Zuckerberg buy all the houses around his property? Why did Bill Gates build himself the uber- home? Why did Richard Branson buy an island?

Long story, short

Your environment is decisive on the decisions you make. The better your environment is, the more different and more detached your decisions will be.

“Better” means close to your mind’s picture about the desired environment, to how you imagine it should be. Should, not could.

When your environment is far from ideal you will make safe decisions, safer decisions and very, very safe decisions.

When your environment is closer to the ideal you will make far more risky decisions.

The key to understand this process is the fact that your brain is one mean prediction machine.

The state of your environment is more predictable the closer it is to your imagined state. You see, when you desire something you are actually optimizing the thing for easier predictability, and rationalize the optimum as desire.

The closer the environment is to your desired state, the safer you feel overall to make high risk decisions.

We tend to not be aware of this preset in our minds.

Now, my long story

When one asks you:

what do you want (to do, to buy, to eat, to have etc)?

… it is important that you stop and, while keeping in your short term memory the subject of the question, notice your environment.

If you are cozy but stranger to the setting, if you are comfy but there is a weird asymmetry that keeps nagging you, if you are fitting in but it doesn’t feel like the in fits the out, the problem is you are trying to emulate your desired environment in strange and wrong settings.

This will lead to weak and soft answers to the question.

Environment, through perception, triggers senses, and from experiencing the sense a sensation is created. Sensations trigger sentiments. Sentiments are how we experience our own creativity. Decisions are riskier the more creative we are. That is why, the more predictable the environment, the better we’re able to sense it, and then all the predictable sensorial experience will trigger deeper sentiments, which will in turn influence our decision making process.

Because of this relationship, between sentiments and sensations, it is very important that you strive to make a predictable environment, which, in easier terms, means building the place you like being in.

If you are one that stays late at the office for no reason, you might wonder what is it that you don’t like about your home, and change that.

If you are one that rarely stays in one place, take special attention on what you rent, what you will do in the new place depends heavily on that.

If you are one that is in the progress of wrapping up a new stable environment, aka home, don’t take decisions now, let them wait until you’re at the end of your project.

How the immediate world appears and is sensed makes a huge difference in the risk you are willing to assume.

Still with me?


If you wonder what is wrong with low risk decisions the answer is: limited time.

Increased risk does not mean recklessness. By that I mean, when you make a high risk decision you will still do your best to assess input and output. If you ignore input you are not deciding, you are taking a leap of faith. If you ignore output, you are probably depressed, and should look into that first. A decision minds both the input and the output and increased risk is a matter of self expression and direct contact with life.

Why a beautiful home matters for some

The more stable and predictable the environment, the more inclined you are at taking big risk decisions

Ever wonder why men in idyllic marriages, raising healthy kids, making great salaries, venture into affairs so promiscuous that it is completely obvious these affairs will explode into alimony for life?

It is because their environment is completely predictable and because they’ve been postponing the decision for long enough time.

But there is also a bright side of this, fulfillment. Fulfillment always clings upon a decision, and it is always narrow enough to carry a corresponding big risk.

We may say:

Fulfillment completely depends on a predictable environment.

This is what thriving means: having enough energy to take risky decision after risky decision and living to see the results, again and again. If thriving for you sounds like a good idea, start at the bottom and optimize your environment.

There is no universal recipe. Some optimize their environment by having the “perfect” job, some build the ideal home, some search for a particular set of traits in their significant other and so on. What matters is the amount of predictability you get.

Predicting the future is hard. That is why every human restricts the array of possibilities to an accessible set, the set they find clear.

Clarity is a huge indicator for our brains about what we should settle on when narrowing our predictive behavior: some find clarity at work, some at creative endeavors, some at nothing in particular. Yes, “nothing in particular” is a narrow subset of possibilities and some people are very good at it, and to our blazing disappointment we might find out that most people choose this subset.

Overall, what I am trying to say is that you should be cool with what you feel like optimizing and never be afraid to delay a decision.

Pay attention to where you are. Literally.

To delay a decision is by no means indecision. Delaying is, as the name says, postponing, moving into the future the actionable choice, not fretting endlessly about outcomes and possible better alternatives, which means indecision.

Yet, if delaying is not your thing, because you have some work to do in the patience chapter, at least acknowledge were you are, how it feels to be there and how big the gap between ideal and real currently is, and in this way you’ll get to know your gut feeling.

Once you know what your gut feeling actually means, when it screams its way out like a spoiled child, you will be able to apply reason in a more reliable manner and, who knows, maybe even live a better life without changing anything at all. Now, that’d be nice.

Decidedly, clap this if you think it’s worth it.

Hands On Management Is Great Unless The Hands Are Always On

“If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to Be Happy at Work”, said Harvard Business Review.

That means,

employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business.

Indeed an old assumption, one going back to days of middle age guilds, that true mastery is stolen not taught, turned out to be true. It would appear that hands on management is good.

But don’t close the tab yet, there is more to this than meets the fold.

The problem with hands on management is when the hands are always on.

Why? Because:

  • hands on activity lowers cognitive availability for management

The lower cognitive availability is not because of multitasking, as multitasking lowers cognitive ability, it is because hands on activity engages the fast thinking system, executes things we know, recalls memory we’ve used and used again, while management deals with uncertain input, engages the slow thinking system, requires the learning of new things and so on.

Management is any activity that creates empowerment.

Empowerment is the complex result of of ability, motivation, drive and action.

So before you roll up your sleeves ask yourself if the “hands on” work you’re about to do meets this criteria:

  • it causes action: you demonstrate a technology, you push decisions through the chain.
  • it gives ability: you mentor someone in some professional aspect, you remove a roadblock in someone’s activity.
  • it inspires motivation. you create organizational momentum, you create a team spirit when things go though, you lead by example.
  • it builds drive, you write the bootstrap for a project, you create clear roadmaps, you demonstrate impacts.

As a manager, competence in your team’s domain is great, however you must calculate whether your input helps your managerial role. If it is simply work that accelerates a deadline, striking out items in backlogs, or the worst of them all:

doing things because nobody else does it like you do it, suffering from the haze of too much expertise

… then you are a bad hands on manager.

Hands on managers who have a hard time recruiting will be the most affected. They will tend to cover for the fact their teams are understaffed. There is only one time when actually going into the work shedding the manager cape and taking on the nitty gritty of a too small team is good: critical situations. Situations as in moments in time, not as in critical projects, critical path tasks and so on.

If you are a manager with understaffed teams that handles so many critical situations that you find yourself constantly drowned in hands on activities you either handle it at an organizational level or you reduce scope.

Non critical teams can function understaffed without reducing scope by simply becoming resource hogs in organizations: consuming time. Critical teams with good managers reduce scope.

Management is what makes businesses more or less successful, responsible and sustainable. By taking care of how much “hands on” you allow yourself to be, you will have a greater impact on what matters for the business.

For a manager having their hands too full with anything but management the antidote is found up the ladder in the organizational chain of command, and instinctively it is used by endless meetings and useless reporting. The intent is always positive, but filling up cells in spreadsheets is not empowering anyone.

So if you manage managers, save them from too much “hands on”: use retrospectives, constantly seek out to adapt and reevaluate things like mission, market fitness, product bloat, useless development and so many other management empowering activities, which discourage time wasted doing the work of those who are supposed to train in the work.

I have met many good professionals who forgot being managers because of time constraints, bad communication skills or simply a poor understanding of what management is supposed to be. Those who didn’t turn into crappy micromanagers ended up unhappy, overworked and burned out. So, no matter how outstanding your skills are, don’t fall into the expert savior trap for your own sake and the good health of the business that employs your service.

If you enjoyed this here is more on the same subject:

What is product management?

© 2011 Martin Eriksson. Re-use with appropriate attribution.

In a previous article I have talked about management in general. I was explaining my opinion on how management is any activity that creates empowerment. By effect, management as an activity should result in ability, motivation, drive and action. But it is only management if the four results are intertwined by a common goal.

Considering this, how do we apply that definition to product management?

Management creates three forms of empowerment: leadership, vision and expertise.

For a business leadership empowers people, vision empowers the organization, expertise empowers the product. By effect, product management is the management done for the product, derived from expertise.

There is a lot of discussion on what defines good product management. The most up to date trend is to remove expertise in the domain as a requirement in explaining the activity of product management.

That is a mistake.

Let’s take Matt LeMay ’s example. He proposes a new skill model made of communication, organization and execution. The problem here is that this set is NOT good as a definition for product management skills. Product management is a specific type of management, not a general case of management. Any of the three (communication, organization and execution) are so generic that any position of management from your team lead to your CEO must excel at them.

You cannot create empowerment at all if you lack communication skills that generate alignment, organization skills that remove bottlenecks, and execution capabilities that get stuff done. All three are subjective attributes, and if applied solely by themselves create the zombie manager, the one who has no idea what is actually happening, but executes, communicates and organizes. You know, the one that says “there are no stupid questions” randomly, even if you intentionally ask a stupid question because you are pointing something absurd.

UX, tech, and business are areas of subject matter knowledge that might be relevant to some product managers, but they are not the actual skills required to be a great product manager, [source]

I personally would go as far as to call communication, organization and execution talents. This idea that you can get skilled at some of these things is somewhat wrong. Not entirely but at least hard to prove. This belief makes managers out of people who don’t want to be managers. It makes organizations promote people based on “years on board”, thinking that training and coaching can ingrain communication, organization and execution “skills” into someone. I’m afraid, i’m afraid because in fifteen years I haven’t met one person who got trained well in these areas.

Daniel Demetri ‘s approach is far more grounded. How product management could be declined, depending on which part of the product it has to manage, is far closer to reality, because it actually describes the actual expertise you’d want in your product manager. Do you need hard UX skills or design know how, do you require number crunching abilities or technical understanding? These are decisions to take when you craft your job description for a product manager.

I also don’t like is how product managers, and managers in general, are seen as bridging gaps. They are sometimes bridging gaps. Management creates empowerment by bridging gaps too, but that is not the only thing they do, nor is it the essence of the craft.

PMs know just enough of each discipline to be responsible for the entire product development system. Brandon Chu, source

This. This above is exactly a matter of expertise, and I personally find it to be the best way to put things when asked about the core competencies expected of product managers. To that add the type of product managing they do (business, user or tech) and as you see one can finally get very specific about what a product manager does.

But Josh Elman gets it, for me, even closer to the idea that product management is a form of management that empowers the product via expertise. It is explained at large in the article, but simply put:

Help your team (and company) ship the right product to your users (source)

However, I don’t agree very much, but this may be just me and my pride so take it with a grain of salt, with the idea that product managers are “glorified note takers” a la same Josh Elman. I believe that in a good company management is the same type of activity from C-level execs and VPs, to team leaders, what differs are the responsibilities and the required levels of leadership, vision and expertise required for the job.

A product manager does management for the product, creating empowerment through expertise. If it is not that it could be anything else of the array of possible jobs: traffic manager, project manager, account manager et cetera. To end i’ll bring to the rescue something that I fully agree with from the same Josh Elman:

The best [product] managers are the ones who simply roll up their sleeves and help their team through this journey.

Brackets are mine for concision: ALL managers need to roll up their sleeves!

We need no soldiers

Dear wonderful teenager, please, stop dreaming of being a soldier. I know, this is a lot to ask of you. But think about this: that which you call meaning and purpose which an army might offer is the invention of other people. That’s it, nothing more, nothing less.

The bare truth is that nobody knows anything. The bare truth is that what we crave so much in our little humble lives, meaning, is shamelessly exploited by others to send people to their death. What we require to wake up in the morning, the sense that life makes sense, is the cruel manipulation others play on us teaching how we should sacrifice for the country, for the prophets, for the ancestors, for democracy or the jihad.

Think about it. Any army is an octopus made of chains of command. You will be that last phalanx, the tip of the whip which spanking commanders handle upon innocent women and children, in the name of patriotism, in the name of saving us from our enemies, in the name of divine warrant to punish the infidels. That whip is made in time by a long lie and it erodes. It needs you to keep splashing its death filled sound on the lives of humans, which happened to be born in its path.

If you want to be given meaning by submitting to a higher goal let me ask you this: would you be one of the fingers of my right hand? Imagine there is nothing more rewarding that being in a magic dance of the fingers as I write love poems to my beloved, as I stroke the hair of a playful child or as grasp the hand of the friend who saved my life. In this perfect coordination, all fingers work together, never get any credit individually and accomplish human gestures filled with our humanity itself.

But were I to use my right hand to beat my beloved for nor submitting to my whims and needs, were I to use my right hand to punish the child for playing too loud or kill another human being by grasping the throat of a friend who betrayed my years long trust, would you still like to be one of the fingers of my right hand? Would you still approve of having no voice and no way to fight what I want to do with you?

That is what a soldier is. This planet will get peace only when you, dear wonderful teenager, will stop fantasizing about the honor and adventure of regimented life. Only when youth will stray from the lies of the generals, on both sides of the planet, on both sides of the border, on both sides of the coin, only when the young will see how love poems and confusion about purpose are so very much the same on both sides, when the promise of honor and sacrifice for country and faith will mean nothing, the nothingness that such empty promises deserve.

Let our armies age and dwindle.

You would say, what about conscription, compulsory drafting and military police ripping you from your mother’s desperate embrace? What about the threats and horrors that await the pacifist nation from the “others”. But I would say, there is nothing built in an army that does not depend on humans and human will alone. It is not the ones who are drafted and send blindly to a battle who make the wars, but it is those who believe the lie, those who decide, early at about your age, dearest teenager, that meaning can be found in the invented order and void discipline of the army command chain. You can be a soldier because the situation requires, but you can also be a soldier because you chose to be a soldier. Don’t choose to be a soldier.

Let our armies march with reluctant cohorts. Let our armies lose the lunacy of fervor and see how commanding officers suddenly byte battalions with the venom of family, country, religion, patriotism and honor. Empty speeches will be poured on young children. Endless horror shows of the others doing atrocities will be commanded upon generations to come so that you, dear teenager, you the one who understand and stopped dreaming about being a soldier, will be replaced by the children of tomorrow.

If you must be a soldier, be that soldier who dismantles his army. You will do us all the biggest service anyone has ever done to humanity: stop us from killing each other while our sun dims out and there is no sign of salvation from the heavens yet.

What Is Management?

​First management is not a “business term”. Management is just a generic human activity, mainly:

Management is any activity that creates empowerment

But what is empowerment?

Empowerment is the complex result of of ability, motivation, drive and action. Only when all four components are active, does empowerment start.

There are four basic tenants of empowerment:

  • it must cause action. Without action we have no empowerment, ability, motivation and drive alone only make demagogy.
  • it fails if it does not give ability. Without ability you are not empowered but merely enthusiastic. Curb it and save the energy.
  • it needs to inspire motivation. Without motivation you are given a job, not empowerment. This usually results in stagnation.
  • it has to build drive. Without drive you are simply educated, not empowered. That is because missing drive means missing meaning. Try and say that fast.

By effect, management as an activity should result in ability, motivation, drive and action. But it is only management if the four results are intertwined by a common goal. Otherwise it is activism, not management.

Management types

Management creates three forms of empowerment:

  1. leadership
  2. vision
  3. expertise

In general you can only have two concurrent types of empowerment, not all three. The two factors that cause this “two out of three” situation are common to any human activity. They are: limited time and scarce opportunity.

Leadership and expertise give the expert leader.

The expert leader is a manager that brings motivation among the people. They will create boosts of progress in whatever they’re doing management for.

You do not want the leading expert as a manager. They are too narrow. They make the perfect academics but fail to empower because they miss drive. Drive feels immediate, has some urgency to it while leading experts appear to have all the time in the world. Life is short.

Vision and leadership give the visionary leader.

The visionary leader creates drive and ability. A visionary leader identifies needs correctly. There is no better fuel for drive than need. A visionary leader creates ability mainly by untangling “red tape” in all its shapes and forms.

You do not need a leading visionary as a manager. Too wide views. They are perfect theoreticians but fail to empower motivation. Motivation needs short term results to be born.

Vision and expertise give the visionary expert

A visionary expert excels at action. They understand the “what” better than anyone, but also have key insights on “how”.

Oh, and not an expert visionary, never. You know this one … “expert visionary”. I can’t even. Whatever.

Management and business

In business, leadership empowers people, vision empowers the organization, expertise empowers the product.

Management is what makes businesses more or less successful, responsible and sustainable. Empowerment is not positive by default. Thus management results go either way, for better or for worse.

In business mission is defined by founders or boards. Management delivers the vision. The reason is because the mission is the why, while the vision is the how. Management also delivers the what, aka the product. So mismanagement can make a business very successful (profitable and / or growing) but not responsible, or sustainable. What a business does and how a business does it are the tweaking buttons of success, responsibility and sustainability. Management, from CEO to team lead, has them all.

In business all three types of management work. Most likely visionary leaders will find their way to the top. Middle management gets populated with visionary experts. Lower management has all the expert leaders it can get. That is “most likely”. Reality is much more complex because management structure depends on the mission, created by founders and boards.

Management and politics

In politics leadership empowers people, vision empowers the society and expertise empowers the government.

As a corollary to management creating empowerment: governments should not have the management of corporations.

Governments and corporations have two very different “raison d’etre” and this causes profound differences in the kind of abilities, motivations, drives and actions their empowerment results in. A corporation is a joined human activity with an economic purpose. A government is a a joined human activity with a social purpose. Society and economics only coexist because we collectively consider that progress is a form of greater good. If suddenly we’d globally change our minds and progress becomes just a side effect of existence, then economics becomes far less relevant.

Parties should put out for election good managers.

Management should be the key activity from president to any elected representative. Management should be the key activity from prime minister to any named official. The empowering that results is the reason these structures exist in the first place.

In politics visionary experts should be seconded by visionary leaders. In practice it is usually the other way around, because the government is by the people. The people propel leaders not experts, and usually this is what makes governments fail in being for the people. We should have government by society and for the people. But, alas, this just sounds too complicated.

Management and life

In life leadership empowers joy, vision empowers happiness and expertise empowers pleasure.

For stupid reasons we stay away from doing management for our life, yet we should! In doing so, we create concerted ability, motivation, drive and action in ourselves and in the people around us. That is what no man is an island is for!

The thing with life is that only you should be the manager. You should not pick anyone else to do management for your life. You could of course, but that will most likely lower the joy, rarefy happiness and dim pleasure. Not to mention alienating your experience from yourself. As a recursive being only you can really know thyself and hence do management for yourself properly.

In life one could benefit from expert leaders. Outsourcing vision in life will never come close to empowering your happiness. Visionary leaders and visionary experts are not welcome here.


You cannot “be managing” anything. You can only “do management for” something. The moment you entitle as manager of anything you loose sight of the fact that you are doing an activity only about the others. A good manager doesn’t entitle and keeps it at doing management for something. In doing so they’re constantly aware of having an effect outside of themselves.

To manage should not equal to handle. Handling it involves the self as the primary goal. Handling is a form of survival and is always short term and short sighted. For example, the notion of managing a crisis is different from handling a crisis. Handling a crisis is simply overcoming it. It distributes human effort to bring the situation to normal. Managing a crisis creates a distributed human framework. This framework will dissemble the root cause of the crisis and avoid it in the future.

Oh, one more thing. Empowerment is not a default positive thing. You can create empowerment for all kinds of morally, ethically and humanly questionable or condemned things. Management is not good unless we make it so. Management is not bad unless we make it so.

Leader over population

Look at these:

I am so tired of this leader versus manager, boss vs manager, leader vs boss differences. In fact there are none. I believe that those who make these comparisons don’t get the following:

You can’t compare managers to leaders.

Leadership is a function of management.

So a manager is a leader, by default.

Not all leaders are good. Being a “leader” is not a guarantee of anything. You can lead people into the abyss just as well as you can lead them up the mountain top.

You can’t compare bosses to managers.

Only those who directly pay are bosses.

The boss is the owner or the client.

Being a boss excludes being a manager. Managers have bosses. Bosses cannot be leaders because they have nothing to lead.

The problem with this hype thrown at “leading” is that everyone wants to be a leader. No one wants to manage anymore. But in reality there are 2% opportunities to lead and 98% opportunities to manage.

Look inside your company: how many ground breaking, industry changing, growth hacking, 10x improvement projects are currently happening now? Well, my guess is not many. How many customer-centric, feature-centric, technical debt fixing projects are currently happening? My guess is many.

Leading and leadership are awesome.

You know what company I like to work for? The one where I feel like I am my own leader and the manager does his job well and gives me confidence.

Confidence first.

Freedom from everything else that prevents me from doing my job. And in doing my job, I can be my very own leader. And only when I wonder about where are “we” going, should the leader in my manager take the stage and tell me about it.

Most companies are not Amazon, Microsoft, Google or Facebook. Most companies are Automattic, 37Signals or lower. And that’s counting success only. In the mundane, boring “normal” companies management is key and leadership is a day to day activity included in the normal manager role.

It is not manager vs leader, leader vs boss. It is good manager versus bad manager.