Ace your PM Interview: What is the future of X?


Product Management interviews are not easy.

Each PM interview quizzes you not only on your product “spidey senses” and general business intuition, but often includes questions testing design, PR, marketing, entrepreneurship, leadership, and engineering skills.

What is the future of x?

“X” can be an industry like wearables or libraries. “X” could be a location, like airports or coffeeshops. Heck, “X” could even be non-technical, like a wrench or a carpet.

This is one of my favorite product management questions — you get free reign to rave about the awesomeness that is our future. But, that freedom is daunting without a coherent structure and knowledge of the industry or product (when’s the last time you’ve used a wrench?). Luckily, there’s a straightforward organizational method to ace this interview question.

 

Step 1: Have a Big Ideas List

Craft a list of your favorite ideas of how the future will radically transform the present. Need inspiration? Browse the latest tech/science news, or pick up a new science fiction book. When you start thinking, I’ll bet you can’t stop: flying cars, robot assistants, hyperloop-style teleportation. Pick 3–5 of your favorite and really study them up well. Know the pros, cons, go-to-market strategy, major startups, major industry discussions, etc. Let’s call this your “Big Ideas List.”

Step 2: Apply your Big Ideas

When you hear the question’s product, service, or industry, think about which ideas in your “Big Ideas List” apply to the product. Take out 2–3 of these ideas and think critically about how they relate to the product. How will this product look differently in 10, 20, or 30 years, with my vision of the future?

Step 3: Use your structure and critically answer the question

Now, you have a solid structure. “I think <Big Idea #1> will change the future radically. This is how it will affect X. I also think <Big Idea #2> will revolutionize how we view X…” Don’t just talk about the awesomeness of the future — also talk about some risks and tradeoffs. After all, if you really understand these future ideas, you’ll realize that there’s always a tradeoff.

Example

Ok, here’s an example. Let’s say your interviewer asks you a question that boils down to a “future of libraries:”

  • “What is the future of libraries?”
  • “How will we consume books in the future?”
  • “How would you improve the library system?”

They’re all the same question, essentially!

Okay, now I’ll pick two “Big Ideas”: context-awareness and the sharing economy. Keep in mind the answers below are simplified.

Context Awareness + Libraries

Context awareness, or the ability for technology to understand a user’s context and alter its services accordingly, will radically change the future, especially libraries. Currently, when a “user” walks into a library, they have to search the catalog for their desired books, often failing to find something that you need, or missing an opportunity for getting a book you would have otherwise loved.

Imagine a future where, when you walk into libraries, you’ll be able to scan a unique user-identification barcode at a terminal, which will allow the library to recommend exactly what you should read. This will be based on your schooling, current interests, and possibly even your browser history (if you opt-in). The library then can essentially personalize its information to match your interests, instead of showing you a bunch of advanced accounting books that you have no interest in.

Of course, libraries are also about exploration. The algorithms that suggest content should still suggest fresh, new information. There are some big risks here with user privacy and over-learning on someone’s interests, which we should make sure to address…

The Sharing Economy + Libraries

Another important way I believe libraries will evolve: the growing principles of the sharing economy. There are an incredible number of physical books sitting at people’s houses, that are growing dust in bookshelves. There’s huge untapped potential here for sharing and being more sustainable.

In the future, the sharing economy will help us share not just our homes or our cars, but also our personal possessions, like books. Imagine a future where, if you want a book that’s unavailable at your library, you can instead exchange books with your neighbor, who has a copy.

This “decentralized library system” will bring tons of personal, social connections across communities. One issue with this, however, is that cataloguing all these books will be hard work. Advanced OCR technology may be able to help with this. If a user takes a picture of their bookshelf and all of their books get catalogued for them, but the technology isn’t quite there yet…


There you have it! A solid starting point for answering one of the more common PM interview questions. Any questions? Thoughts?

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