Is your Product Mindset “The Explorer” or “The Settler”?

Nick Coster

product explorers and settlers

One of the hardest parts of working in Product Management is the need to be able to shift mindsets from the consideration of a big picture opportunity to sweating over the details of design and execution. In fact, in most cases it can be very difficult for one person to comfortably excel at both of these mindsets at all.

In practice, people who have a strength with their ability to look at the ambiguity of the world and find opportunities are often weak when it comes to delivering solutions that exploit those opportunities, and vice versa.

The difference between these mindsets aligns with the historical Explorers who stepped into the unknown to seek opportunities, and the Settlers who followed who would solve the solve the specific problems of survival while exploiting the new territories that had been discovered.

The Explorer’s Mindset

This Explorer’s mindset must be brave to venture into uncharted territory or to pick over the discarded efforts of others to find the unpolished gem that has been overlooked for millennia. As explorers, we must accept the risk of failure, the risk of taking the wrong path.

But our superpower is also that we have tuned our senses to see over the horizon and to have the patience to see what others have overlooked in plain sight.

But even when an Explorer finds a gem, it is still uncertain. There is a different kind of mindset that is required to exploit the newly discovered opportunity. Now we need to switch to being a Settler, who will approach the new territory with a mix of excitement and trepidation.

Will it succeed? Can we survive here? Is there enough opportunity or have we made a false start?

The Product Management role requires us to look for opportunities that no-one else has seen, to scan the horizons as explorers, seeking the problems and points of friction that have been left untouched until now. What can we possibly find that no-one else has found?

The mindset for this kind of approach requires an openness to surprises, a curiosity to wonder why things are as they are and the desire to imagine that there just might be a better way.

Enter, the Settler

The Settler will dig deeper, look closer and commit to action. What will we do to survive? What are the threats? How will we prosper here?

In Product Management terms, we need to understand if we have REALLY uncovered customer value, and if we have, can we transmute it into the gold that we need to fuel our efforts for tomorrow and our prosperity for the future.

We need to understand if we have REALLY uncovered customer value, and if we have, can we transmute it into the gold that we need to fuel our efforts for tomorrow and our prosperity for the future. Click To Tweet

Then the Settler digs in. We set up our plans and start building the scaffolding that will allow us to fulfil the dream that the Explorer promised. But now every step is a small task. Every action is a small step towards the vision that brought us here. Initially, these small actions can be independent and free form, but soon there is overlap with the actions of other Settlers.

We now need someone to help coordinate the efforts of the individuals into the shared visions of the group. Otherwise chaos rules – which can be deadly.

The Explorer and the Settler are a team.

To bring this back to the Product Management domains that we are more familiar with: the Explorer is the Product Manager mindset looking for new opportunities to create future value for customers and the business. Their superpower is their far-ranging vision and lust for the new. Their weakness is detail, commitment to completion and impatience.

The Settler is the Product Manager who can take an opportunity and see the complexity without fear. They can tackle that complexity one step at a time and deliver fast but “rustic” value quickly before continuing with lesser priorities.

With increasing complexity the Explorer may lead many “Settlers” and help them coordinate their actions to bring them together to reveal the hidden gems that the Explorer spied in their raw, uncut form.

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Nick Coster

Nick Coster | Author

Passionate about building products and services that delight the user and customer. Ask Nick about changing Product Manager behaviour.

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