The First Half of Life Relies on Personal Abilities, the Second Half Relies on Teamwork

Success often lies at the intersection of our talents and interests.

For product work, if a product manager has talent but no interest in the industry or product, they will lack motivation and are unlikely to succeed in their career. Conversely, having interest without talent can also make it difficult to achieve true success. But even when talent and interest overlap, it still takes a long time to truly succeed. This is known as the “10,000-hour rule.” Yao Ming was much taller than the average person and had exceptional talent, as well as a love for basketball. But before he became an international NBA star, he trained for over 10 years.

The “10,000-hour rule” tells us that even if you have talent, it still takes 5-10 years to succeed in a field. Therefore, opportunities in a person’s life are limited. Different professions have different ages at which talent manifests. At age 4, we have our first opportunity; most musicians start playing instruments such as piano and violin at this age. This is when their talent begins to show. Around ages 7-12, athletes’ talents begin to show; they must discover their favorite sports during this age range. Then, between ages 12-18, learning ability and IQ advantages gradually emerge; academic excellence allows some to stand out and enter top universities; genius scientists will show their talents in the next 5-10 years. After age 20, engineering talents begin to show; those with creative talent and effective training become excellent engineers. Many artists, such as painters and writers, even start engaging in art and achieving success at an older age, such as Qi Baishi. So although we don’t have many chances for success in our lives, there will always be one or two opportunities that we can seize.

But compared to other positions, product positions – even most management positions – have their own unique characteristics. This is because management positions are highly dependent on leadership. Some people show signs of leadership potential during their teenage years. But leadership and other management abilities are comprehensive; most people only start managing for real at ages 25-35 – facing real danger and responsibility. And since leadership-based management ability is comprehensive, it is more difficult to cultivate than abilities in other fields; managers often need to hone their management skills over the next 10-20 years. In fact, most corporate managers only really start managing after age 35. Especially top entrepreneurs; during their forties and fifties they are at the peak of experience, knowledge, physical strength and ability overlap; their successful products all start at this age range; only then can they truly be said to have achieved enlightenment.

Take Steve Jobs for example; he can be considered a benchmark and spokesperson for product managers. Although he started his business while still in college. But his true masterpiece: the iPhone was not released until 2008 when Jobs was 53 years old. Looking back now, although Jobs had many products, the iPhone was his first truly world-changing product. In contrast, Jobs’ early products were breakthroughs that showed his unparalleled talent but did not truly change the world. The personal computer is considered Apple’s earliest product but it was the IBM PC that truly changed the computer industry; Macintosh was the first operating system with a graphical interface but it was Microsoft’s Windows system that truly changed the industry.

So Jobs was actually quite frustrated in his youth and was even swept out by Apple’s board of directors. It wasn’t until Jobs returned to Apple that his life began to take off. The iPod was his first truly successful product after his return and also the first successful product of his later life. But the iPod could only be considered an industry-changing product. The iPhone and iPad truly changed the world and changed the way people live and work around the world. It’s a shame Jobs died too early or he could have brought us more truly great products.

Now Elon Musk is really carrying the banner in America’s product field. But although Musk is very popular he hasn’t yet reached Jobs’ level of greatness. His current products can only be said to have changed industries but haven’t yet reached world-changing levels. But we can see that even Musk is the same; Tesla and SpaceX were both projects started after he turned 40. Of course this also means he still has room for development; maybe he’ll bring us more surprises in the future.

Why do product managers often succeed later in life? This is because the core ability of product managers is “product leadership.” Many young product managers focus on honing their personal abilities without realizing that “product leadership” is the real key to a successful career. Often it takes being educated by various setbacks before one realizes this point. Even if one is fortunate enough to be enlightened by a mentor and learns the importance of “product leadership,” it is a composite ability. According to the  “Product Leadership Compass” theory, the internal components of the “Product Leadership Compass” are vision, values, decision-making, team, trust, and opponents. Therefore, “product leadership” is not just about improving the leader’s personal abilities but also about improving the team’s abilities. What’s especially important here is that their team also needs to be trained using the “10,000-hour rule.” Therefore, product managers often succeed later in life. It takes the product manager and their core product team and follower team all growing to a certain extent for leadership to be tempered and undergo a phase change. Only then can product managers rise from the ashes and achieve true breakthroughs and success in their careers.

Therefore, product managers should not change jobs lightly. There are two meanings here. First, be cautious when looking for work. Don’t easily go into fields where you are not skilled or interested. We don’t have many opportunities in life to waste. Second, if your current job allows you to use your talents and is in a field you’re interested in, don’t change jobs lightly. Especially don’t change jobs just because of temporary differences in salary. In the long run these are all secondary and not worth it.

A person doesn’t have many opportunities in life; most people can only truly seize two or three. For product managers, the first half of our lives relies on personal ability while the second half relies on teamwork. Therefore learning and practicing “product leadership” is the real way for product managers to break through the “35-year-old phenomenon.” The fact is clear: if a product manager truly has product leadership then there will be no “35-year-old phenomenon” in your life!

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