For the past few years, I have been reading biographies of the US Presidents in chronological order. I started doing this to read more, but also to learn more about US history and presidential leadership.

Four years ago, I posted insights from Part 1 of my journey, which spanned the first 15 Presidents. I started in 1788 (Washington’s election) and ended in 1860 (Buchanan leaving office). This post is Part 2 and I will start with Lincoln (elected in 1860) and end with Coolidge (left office in 1928).

Note: A number after the name of a President signifies their number…

My favorite pair of shoes are these beautiful brown brogues from Johnston & Murphy. Not only are they super comfortable, but they have lasted for years. This is the story of how, after years of use, I wore them out in a single day.

But first, a diversion.

I have been thinking a lot about what makes product teams in large enterprise settings successful and where they struggle. I believe that, without a doubt, what these product teams lack the most is a connection to the end user. To make up for that lack of contact, product managers commission market…

This article is the second in a series about building world-class product management teams. The first installment about becoming a more customer-oriented organization can be found here.

A defining characteristic of strong product managers is a really strong antenna for what happens outside their walls. They are obsessed with customers and their needs, competitors and their actions, and the evolution of the overall market. In our team, we ask product managers to hone their ‘market orientation’ antenna as part of our overall talent management framework.

Understanding the market and competitive dynamics

Strong product managers have a deep and sophisticated understanding…

There’s something common about all the places I’ve worked in my career. And as I reflect more upon that common thread, I am starting to realize something important about myself.

I tend to gravitate towards organizations that exude a strong sense of purpose in everything they do. I am realizing that when my internal drummer is marching to the same beat as that of whatever organization I am in, I find it much easier to get out of bed, go the extra mile, and instill motivation in my teams. …

A lot of organizations struggle with getting product managers to think about the customer. It’s easy to get fixated on internal constraints, such as cost, schedule, and capabilities, and lose sight of the customer’s job to be done.

We define being ‘customer-oriented’ in product across three dimensions. These dimensions work across many industries and types of product organizations, because they focus on developing the right mindsets in product talent.

Being Responsive to Customers

Customers who care the most about your product are the ones most excited to share feedback. Strong product managers see this as a gift, not a burden…

What seems missing in all the writing about product culture

Hundreds of product leaders have written articles about how to build a strong product culture, but there are very few examples of failures. To really understand what it takes, we need to learn from successes as well as failures. In that vein, I’d like to share an example from my own experience.

Our team of product managers work on delivering critical education technology for hundreds of thousands of learners around the world. About a year ago, one of my product managers left because she felt disillusioned with our way of operating relative to what she had read about in other…

Many years ago, I got to know an organization that had grown rapidly in the first few years of its life. When I met them, their leadership had decided that — before pursuing further growth — they would try to get their house in order. They reoriented their top team to trim costs, design more efficient processes, and document protocols for everything from recruiting to operations.

The pivot was sudden and changed the culture and dynamics of the company. Top talent left. New market opportunities were left on the table. …

There are 14,000+ school districts in the United States, each with their own approach and philosophy on how to improve student outcomes. Within each of those districts, there are dozens of classrooms each with a teacher with their own approach and philosophy.

Usually when I attend a presentation on the “state of American education,” the speaker will cite these statistics to explain why it’s so difficult to drive change in education. Wouldn’t it be easier, they say, if we were like Finland or Singapore where the government could decide policy and implement it consistently?

I usually flip that question on…

A girl entering school this year will likely be entering the job market in 2030.

What jobs will be available to her when she graduates? Will there even be such a thing as a job? Will her education have prepared her for this job? What about the next job? Or the one after that?

Earlier this month, I moderated a panel about the future of jobs based on some research we are conducting at Pearson. It was at SXSWedu 2017, a conference focused on educational innovation that attracts a broad audience.

While the future of jobs is a topic often…

For the past 8 months, I’ve been reading biographies of the US Presidents in chronological order. I started doing this to read more, but also to learn more about US history and presidential leadership.

Given that we are a few days from an historic election in the US, I thought this would be a good time to write a synthesis of my biggest takeaways from my readings so far (Washington to Buchanan).

NOTE: A number after the name of a President signifies their number in the order. E.g., John Adams (2)

Partisanship might seem annoying, but it can be a…

Amar Kumar

Founder, KaiPod Learning. Dabble in educ investing. Passion for turning ed into outcomes. Former teacher, principal, consultant & coder.

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