February 7, 2024

Unlocking your superpower: a guide for Product Managers

Olga Shavrina
Do you have a superpower? 100% yes! Wait, don't think that I'm crazy, hear me out. I'm not talking about supernatural powers like shooting lasers from your eyes or the ability to fly. I'm talking about your unique strength that sets you apart from others. Surprisingly, the majority of people don't know their superpower and don't even believe they have one. The thing is, if we don't realize we have a superpower, we can't use it effectively or consciously.

But if you know your superpower:

  • You can clearly articulate what you're good at to other people (e.g., an employer).
  • You know what your strongest weapon is (just make sure you don't treat everything as a nail just because you have a hammer).
  • You can consciously choose endeavors to participate in, based on whether they require your super skills, leading to greater satisfaction and engagement in work.
  • You feel much more confident just because you know for sure that you are great at something.
  • You easily accept your weaknesses as well as imperfections in other people because one cannot be good at everything.

It's especially important for a Product Manager (PM) to know their superpower because this role is so broad, and PMs are so different. I have never met two product managers who were alike. We usually are generalists with a vibrant set of skills and often come from varied backgrounds. It's like you are a Swiss army knife, and it's really great to know what makes you stand out - a saw or a pair of cutters.

It also helps to find the right place of work. If your superpower is strategic thinking, then an early-stage startup might not be the best place for you, as what they need is to quickly get a rough MVP done, iterate, and find a market fit ASAP.

Of course, it's only one piece of the puzzle; there's also the question of what you care and passionate about, what is your 'WHY,' but that's a topic for another post. Let's focus on superpowers now.

How did I come to this?

For a long time, I didn't think about my superpower at all until several years ago I received this question at a job interview and got lost. Since then I made a few attempts to put it together was wasn't satisfied with the result. It felt like I was going to the right direction but far from the result.

Last year I finally made it in just a couple of days and realised a simple thing:

To find your superpower you need motivation!

The thing is, you know your superpower already, everybody does. It's deep inside your head. You just need to realise it, get to this knowledge, and it's really hard.
Temet Nosce - Know Thyself, as Orale said to Neo in the Matrix
What worked for me? My mentor's phrase: 'Write your story and formulate your superpower; once you are ready, text me, and we'll talk.' So, basically, this meant 'we won't talk until you get your sh*t together and formulate your superpower.' I had no choice, because speaking with this woman is a blessing, and I couldn't afford to miss this opportunity.

What is and what is not a 'superpower'?

I believe that a superpower lies in the realm of transferable skills rather than specific professional skills. Basically, it can be applied to any industry or occupation and not tied to a specific job. It's usually something that you started to notice very early in life and apply to various situations, something that largely defines you as a person.

Good examples of superpowers are critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability. On the contrary, professional skills like generating data-driven insights or putting together a product strategy are not superpowers, even though you can be really good at them. Think about it this way: you didn't possess these skills at school, and you won't need them if you suddenly make a crazy career switch. You'll learn something new and be equally great at it.

Superpower is not a talent either. To be honest, I don't believe in talents. Nobody is born a world-class musician or painter, a Formula One driver, or a Nobel Prize scientist. One can tend for something, but without hard work, they won't make it to the world-class level. If their superpower is hard work, though, they have a good chance :)
There's an awesome book, Outliers, written by Malcolm Gladwell that introduces the concept of 10,000 hours. Excel at your skill during this period, and you'll rise to the world-class level. Mozart did it, the Beatles, and even Bill Gates. Actually, everyone can. It's a great read that I highly recommend.

Can you grow and evolve your superpower?

100% yes! We are not stones; we can change and evolve if we want to. Switch on your growth mindset and get started. If you are not familiar with this concept, read this incredible book about a growth mindset. It profoundly changed my perception of how humans function and how our beliefs impact what we achieve.

How did I find my superpower?

I put several things together:
Personality tests
Completed a couple of personality tests (this and this) and read my resulting description, which wasn't 100% accurate, to be honest, but gave me food for thought. Also, I investigated the 5 personality traits concept that set me in the right mood and helped me start reflecting.
Roughly estimated, these personality traits provided me with a fresh perspective.
Listed the things that I love to do in my spare time and reflected on the reasons that drive me.
Childhood Activities
Listed the things that I loved to do in my childhood and reflected on what qualities a kid had to possess to be able to do them.
Family & friends' opinion
Remembered phrases that family and friends say about me like "You are stubborn" or "If you want something, you make it happen". The theory also suggests surveying friends, but I felt too shy to do it for some reason :)
Cooking it all together with ChatGPT
Formulated all the findings in a free form, something like "In situation X, I did Y great," "I'm always confident about X," "I strongly prefer X to Y," "I enjoyed doing X a lot," etc. Then I asked ChatGPT to make sense out of it and suggest what strengths and superpowers I have. It didn't give me a perfect answer right away, but after a couple of days of reflecting and iterating, I got a list of my strong transferable skills, grouped into categories with a clearly defined superpower.
Man, that was a success!
A resulting list of my superpower and key skills, clearly grouped.
I gather it all on my favourite Miro board - the tool I deeply love and use daily.

What has changed?

First, it felt really great to finally close this topic, as it bothered me for years that I couldn't formulate such a simple (oh, if only!) thing. Second, it was awesome to discover something good about myself :) you know, with all this pandemic of impostor syndrome and comparing yourself with others, you can't help but start doubting yourself. But once you realize that you have a superpower, you become way more confident. Fourth, it helped me realize why some things work for me and others don't. And fifth, it helped me tailor my CV/resume and frame discussions with prospective employers in a more productive way.
I believe that everyone has a superpower. Moreover, everyone knows deep inside what their superpower is. The tricky part is bringing it to light. I'm not saying that it's easy, it can be quite hard, but it's definitely worth it. For a product manager, having a formulated superpower is a huge help. It makes life easier, boosts confidence, and helps navigate your career.

There are many sources and techniques that can help you discover your superpower, but what worked for me the most was a motivational push. I hope this helps you on your journey. Just remember, it can take time. But don't be discouraged, even if you don't get a quick result, you'll learn a ton about yourself in the process. And if you are persistent enough, I guarantee that you'll find your superpower eventually.
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Olga Shavrina
Product manager. Human being