Great PMLeadershipPrabhakar

The shokunin spirit for product leaders

It is mid January.  Are you still looking for a New Year Resolution?  Here’s a recommendation.   Please watch this movie and think about your approach to your craft.  Japanese-English dictionaries define shokunin as craftsman.  After watching this movie, you realize the word shokunin means more than just craftsman.  Being a shokunin is being the best in your craft.

In the movie, the food critic Yamamoto talks about the five attributes of great chefs:

  1. Take their work very seriously and consistently perform at the highest level
  2. Aspire to improve their skills
  3. Cleanliness
  4. Impatience – They are better leaders than collaborators. They’re stubborn and insist on having it their way.
  5. A great chef is passionate

Now, those five attributes could be applied to any great product manager or product marketer.  I have watched this movie five times so far, including once with our baby sitter.  Each time I screened it for an audience the reaction was one of awe and inspiration.  Except once.  And that one time, I heard the objection that Jiro the chef did not spend enough time with his kids in their earlier years and was not setting a good example as a parent [they trained with him later – one joined Jiro in his business and another opened his own sushi place]. This is the kind of half glass empty comment that derails progress. To be great at something you have to give up something too. That is the hard truth. Fortunately for our protagonist Jiro, his sons emulate his father. Jiro actually inspires his kids through his work.

If you want to develop your craft, you have to toil hard and long, and there will be many tradeoffs along the way.  But there is simply no substitute for working hard. Whining about the tradeoffs (whichever may apply to each of us) and resisting change is a path to mediocrity and status quo. Overcoming the situation and becoming the shokunin is the pursuit of excellence.

Prabhakar Gopalan(follow my tweets @PGopalan)