3 min read

Warm Take: It's Not Really That Simple. May 30, 2021

Umbrellas, people, rainy urban day
Photo by Jack Finnigan / Unsplash

Thinking about writing a new "about" page for On Management, I went back to why I started writing the newsletter in 2014.  I watched emerging managers search the internet for people management answers, often with not-good results.  There was plenty of content to be found, not all of it useful.

I was also inspired by conversation with a mid-career designer.  She told me that she never wanted to have another emerging manager who proposed to implement a new process after reading about it on Medium.

I want On Management to be something different, something that helps you to find useful information.

Your online search for people management advice might surface marketing, misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, plagiarism, PR.

Also, oversimplification.

Screenshot of @sketchplanator tweet, "Two Possible Management Styles: umbrella, funnel."

My first take was, I'm a Sketchplanations fan.  Huh, thought provoking.  Then I remembered working for an “umbrella” manager.

This Umbrella Manager's consistent message:  our team was doing a great job.  Right up until the umbrella failed. The more seasoned among us had heard of political rainclouds, and were unsurprised when our entire 40+ person team was laid off.  Others were completely shocked.

So, a physical barrier, like an umbrella, might not be a good metaphor.  Maybe a manager needs to be a sieve, I reasoned. To separate what’s useful from what’s not.

Nope.  Sieves, umbrellas and funnels are all passive tools.  There had to be better possible analogies.  (Rube Goldberg machines.  Composting.)

Then I stopped reacting to what I had just read.

I searched, finding multiple instances of what purported to be Todd Johnson's quote.  Not in Todd's Twitter account.   Though it could be there; Twitter search is notably not great.

It didn’t take much digging to find an article about Todd's product management “hacks.”

*Be a sh!t umbrella, not a sh!t funnel: You have to be protective of your time and your team’s time. As a PM, you’re in meetings all the time where executives are very blunt and say that things aren’t working at all and the team needs to do a way better job at X, Y or Z. “You have to develop thick skin, and then you need to learn how to translate all of the criticism you hear into something motivating." Top Hacks from a PM Behind Two of Tech's Hottest Products at First Round Review.

In this context, Todd’s advice is nuanced.  Translation is active and relational, not passive and mechanical.  Also, he’s talking about product management, not people management.

I don’t know, though, that this undated article gives the original context for Todd’s thoughts.  Did they come from a conference talk Todd gave?  A blog post?  Did he write or co-write the un-bylined article?  What else might he think today?

Because this is a Warm Take, my research stops here, while I still have some warmish coffee in my cup.

tl;dr:  may you what you read provoke your thoughts, rather than create categories for you to box yourself into.


Wondering about other factors in the above example, I found Attribution Decay by Christina Heady, an Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University's Morris Library.

Were performance reviews awesome last year?  If not, would you like to join a review-themed cohort to get some advice and support?  Reply to this email, and I'll be in touch.

Thank you for inviting me to your in-box, and many thanks to those of you who pay to support On Management.

As a reminder, my semi-regular Warm Takes are like my Sunday morning notes to a friend or mentee, usually about something I've read on the internet, written while I'm drinking my first and only coffee.  As such, there may be typos.

The next full issue of the newsletter will come out soon; I'm going deep on "competence."  And I may do a summer reading issue this year, too.  So send me your questions, comments, challenges and suggestions -- topical or otherwise.

It's Memorial Day weekend in the US.  For those who have lost loved ones due to our endless wars, may you have peaceful remembrance.

And, may you and yours be safe, healthy and free.

Anne Libby

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Sorry not sorry.