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What can Product Managers Learn from Stand-Up Comics?


Product Management and stand-up comics may seem like entirely different art forms, but in fact, the parallels in the iteration and user validation process are quite similar. We can explore the path comedians take to honing a new routine, and compare that process to the life cycle of a new product.

While it may not seem evident at first glance, there is a lot we can learn about product management from stand up comics. The process in which a stand up comic builds their performance or does an act on stage is similar to building a product.

Let’s hop on a quick ride of revelations! 😀

1. Stand up comedy or product management, both involve their audience in the process.

In a book by Stephen King called “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”, he talks about his writing process. He mentions that he wrote 2000 words per day for 2 months, resulting in 12 hundred thousand words. Then his wife reads it, his editor reads it, and finally, it gets published.

This process is similar to the general mindset that some product managers already have. You have an idea, you build a product, you launch the product and voila, you find success. However, this is not the case because the product management artform has many more similarities to stand-up comedy rather than literature.

Firstly, writing a novel has no involvement with the audience. You only get feedback after the novel gets published. But in the case of product management, if you wait till the release of the product for feedback, it’s too late.

When reading a book, the readers are getting drawn into the creative or humorous imagination of the author. The audience, even if they do not resonate with the author, may enjoy it.

On the other hand, we find it really hard to appreciate a joke if we don’t resonate with it. If the joke is not relatable, or if it does not connect with you, you enjoy neither the joke nor the comedian.

In the novelist format, the audience fits into the realms of the novel whereas stand-up comedy is about telling a joke that resonates, connects and lands well with the audience.

The same analogy can be applied to products. The product might fail if the product wants the users to learn about it and get a deeper knowledge of why the product is needed in the first place. But it might succeed if it reflects the needs of the user themselves.

2. They both have a niche market.

Stand up comics and products both have a niche market. Comedians will almost always have a certain way of telling jokes, or a certain category of jokes that they are the best at saying. Some may like political jokes, some may like satire whereas some may be more into improv and so on. The point is, it is not about entertaining everybody.

The same thing is applicable to your products. It’s not about solving everyone’s problems but you have to find a certain market, a precise user base for whom you make your products.

Just like someone may not like or even cringe at a hit comedian, they may not like your product. But that just means you have to find the right audience for you. It is more important to have a loyal, niche market rather than a mass appeal.

3. Crafting your stories in either field needs iterations.

The popular comedian Dave Chappelle has an hour-long stand up special on Netflix called ‘Sticks and Stones’. His last show was some time in 2017. In a podcast by another comic, Joe Rogan, he mentioned that even as big a comic as Dave is, he still goes and practices in comedy clubs where he first tests his jokes. If the joke doesn’t land well in one place, he goes to another club and improves that. By the time he visits several clubs, he knows exactly what works and what doesn’t. This implies that he is working with his crowd every step of the way.

During the gap between his last show and the Netflix special, he worked on his performance and delivered a finessed and sharp show in the end. That is how comics craft their story.

Similarly, for product managers to craft their own story, they need to work with their customers every step of the way. Delete the features that have proven to not resonate, and add more valuable ones. Thus, product developers must work with early customers, release often, take feedback, then iterate again and again. Only by communicating with your audience, you can deliver that perfect punchline and make the whole crowd laugh.

To learn how to collaborate with customers in every stage of product development download our “Invincible approach to product development” ebook.

4. Right mindset takes you a long way in both stand up comedy and product management.

Another respectable quality of stand up comics is their ability to let themselves fail in public.That is actually a great mindset to have as a product developer.

Let’s take an example of Dave Chappelle again who is already an established name in comedy. But let’s imagine him practicing his first few jokes on a comedy club. Some jokes are bound to fail in the initial phases but that is necessary in order to learn from those failures. Comics are willing to fail in public in the pursuit of finding their perfect jokes.
There is a lot to learn from this. We as humans will always have a fear of failing which constrains and binds us from reaching our maximum potential. But if you have the mindset to let that happen, the speed of gaining feedback and validation of your ideas will increase. You can learn from your failures and quickly find new and better ideas.

Any product is bound to receive criticism. Especially, if it is a digital product, it is really easy to review it online and criticize it. In fact, there are some platforms on the internet that exist just to find faults in things and there are even people who make a living out of it.

When you build a product from scratch, it is difficult to hear such heckling and receive hate for it. But really it should be something that you’re willing to let get battered and bruised so that it can come out of the other side looking like the best version of itself.

5. Discuss ideas till they become a habit.

Some comics, like Jerry Seinfeld, say that they write a few jokes every day. Correspondingly, product builders must think of new ideas and features regularly. They have to ask themselves: How can I add more value to this product today?. New ideas have to be discussed tirelessly until it becomes a habit.

When someone asked Dave Chappelle if he got nervous on stage, he replied, “Do you think pilots get nervous when they fly planes? You hope not!”.

This makes a really good point because, with enough practice and experience, anyone can excel in their fields. If you do something, again and again, even seemingly difficult tasks like flying a plane will appear smooth and effortless to the viewer. What you need to do is build a routine and practice it over and over, until you can deliver it to perfection.

In conclusion, we can find a lot to learn about product management from stand up comics. The method of working, building a loyal user base, creating a good product story, the breezy mindset, and hustling every day for what you want are some great things, we as product builders and managers can take away.


To unpack more questions related to product development dive into our Product Podcast.

Product Management Podcast

Drishya Bhattarai

Drishya is a Digital Marketing Intern at Leapfrog and is currently a 4th-year Computer Engineering student. She is interested in SEO, Digital Marketing and Designing.

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