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Intellectual Curiosity: The Superpower You Need to Succeed as a Product Manager

Unpack intellectual curiosity and how it can help you stand out as a Product Manager

One of the qualities that make a great product manager is the pursuit of knowledge, which Mohan Sawhney, the Professor of Technology at the Kellogg School of Management, termed “Intellectual Curiosity”.

He broke this down by saying, “You need to always be learning, exploring, and asking questions. Find out what’s going on in your industry. Talk to engineers, customers, and channel partners.”

When you work in Product, you never know what challenge you'll face next. Complex problems and rapid innovation are often the order of the day, meaning you’ll always be required to approach problems more creatively, think divergently and come up with innovative solutions that deliver the highest value.

The best problem-solvers are curious people. They are eager to keep learning, never jump to conclusions without diving deeper, and are committed to asking questions like “Why?” and “What if?”. Why are things done this way? What if we tried something different?

Being intellectually curious is a valuable trait in product teams and in this post, we’ll explain why intellectual curiosity is a superpower and how you can cultivate it.

What is Intellectual Curiosity?

Intellectual curiosity is the pursuit of knowledge based on a genuine interest and love for learning. It involves persistently seeking answers to things you don’t know and choosing to explore topics deeply based on your interests. This is a muscle that needs to be put into practice and we see get to see every day how the Fellows in PMDojo Product Accelerator are honing this skill.

Watch how one of the Core Track teams in PMDojo Product Accelerator demonstrated this skill during their final product demos when they launched a mobile app to help people make meaningful connections.

The Benefits of Being Intellectually Curious

Curiosity is the engine that powers growth at companies like Google, Atlassian, and others to drive experiments that help the business align its products with users’ needs.

Being intellectually curious helps you understand how people use your products, uncover interesting patterns in user events, and figure out why something didn’t work and how to fix it.

The key benefits of being intellectually curious are:

You achieve product expertise

“Product is all about continuous learning”, says Alicia Dixon, Senior Product Manager at Hilton Worldwide.

Each phase of the product lifecycle requires a knowledge acquisition mindset and if you’re committed to inquiring, discovering answers, and using insights to take action, you’ll quickly build expertise and become the go-to person for your product.

You develop better problem-solving skills

According to this SAS survey, 62% of managers said that curiosity helped employees come up with new innovative solutions.

Intellectual curiosity helps you think outside the conventional product box. You’ll train your mind to explore new concepts and search for better alternatives. You’ll become more resourceful and explore solutions until you figure out the most ideal or unconventional one.

You build more collaborative relationships

Aristotle aptly stated that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, meaning some things are much better together than when isolated.

By demonstrating a willingness to learn and admitting when you don’t know something, you can connect and build relationships with people who have similar interests, or goals. This brings your team closer, helps you understand each other’s perspectives, and sets the precedence for future collaborations.

Watch how one of the Industry Track teams in PMDojo Product Accelerator was able to solve a really complex problem for a real company in the health tech space helping drive strategic impact.

You gain a deeper understanding of your environment

Being intellectually curious puts you in the position to make meaningful connections between what’s happening within your product team and the company’s broader goals.

You gain a deeper understanding of the competitive landscape, who your stakeholders are, what problems you’re solving for them and what your product roadmap should look like based on the information you gather.

5 Practices for Cultivating Intellectual Curiosity

People say that curiosity is a natural trait we all possess as children but tend to lose when we become adults. This is only half true.

Intellectual curiosity is like a muscle that gets stronger the more you exercise it. So, as long as you keep practicing these five things, you’ll never lose that trait.

1. Ask deeper questions in order to understand

Curious product managers seek to understand by asking good questions.

Talk to customers, converse with cross-functional teams or go directly to your engineers if you need to. Be inquisitive for the purpose of learning and better understanding. The strongest pillar of an intellectually curious mind is asking questions.

2. Read widely to stimulate your mind

Read widely, not just deeply. This helps stimulate your mind and gives you enough of a baseline understanding to ask intelligent questions. Make a conscious effort to take notes you can return to and look for patterns in the information you discover.

3. Listen intently with your ears and eyes

Listening sparks curiosity because it calls your attention to things you might have missed. Effective listeners pick up the small details both in conversations and in observed behaviors.

Pay more attention to what’s happening around you, start a conversation with someone new, ask people about their interests and really listen when they speak.

4. Work with people who are curious

The people you spend time with will influence your habits. Working with product team members who are also intellectually curious will help you cultivate it. Together, you can explore topics outside your vertical, engage more in intellectual conversations and participate in discussions with industry thought leaders. A good way many people develop this skill is to join PMDojo and gain real-world and industry experience.

5. Approach learning like a beginner

Put aside your expertise and experience for a short while and admit that you don’t have all the answers. Acknowledge that there are things you don't know and take action towards exploring what you need to learn about. This is a big reason why at PMDojo, we do not start the learning journey with frameworks or templates.

“I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious”. –Albert Einstein

Intellectual curiosity is the secret sauce to becoming not just a better product manager, but a better person.

There’s a lot to learn about users, the market, existing problems and potential solutions. Being constantly inquisitive puts you in the position to challenge the status quo, uncover opportunities and solve important problems that result in a stronger product and positioning.

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Want to get better at intellectual curiosity and gain industry experience by launching products in a cross-functional team? Join the PMDojo accelerator program.

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