Career Q&A with Ryan Seamons, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Sprintwell (#8)

Our next Career Q&A is with none other than Ryan Seamons, Co-founder and Partner at Sprintwell. There’s a lot of goodness throughout. I’ve always been impressed by Ryan’s commitment to learning and how intentional he is in living his life. Enjoy!

Ryan Seamons is co-founder and partner at Sprintwell. They help teams build habits of innovation without burning out. Ryan believes that everyone can do meaningful work, and that people growth and product growth go hand-in-hand. 

After a decade working in product management, Ryan loves helping others understand the mechanics and mindset that drive great product teams and save companies time, money, and energy. Ryan created the first internal version of LinkedIn Learning and led product teams as Director of Product at Degreed. 

He is passionate about education and family. He and his wife write about intentional family living from their experiences homeschooling their 5 children. He also created the “What do you really want?” newsletter with weekly conversations about getting what you want at work and in life.

ryan seamons

What’s a book that has influenced your career or life, and why?

First, Break All the Rules. This book got me into organizational behavior. It was eye-opening to realize that many people go into management not because they would be good at it, but because of the additional income and power. 

Gallup calls this the “blind, breathless climb”. This explains a good percentage of incompetence and friction at work. Just because someone was a good individual contributor doesn’t mean they will be good at managing other people doing that thing. We promote people just beyond their capabilities. 

That book was the beginning of my finding the problems I care deeply about — the reality that:

  • Most people don’t like their jobs.
  • Many managers aren’t ever equipped and enabled to guide meaningful work.
  • Often companies have no idea how to build sustainable habits of innovation.

There’s a better way. We should all be able to find meaning in our work. Management can be a noble profession. And innovation is more like math than magic. 

Was there an experience you had before age 21 that shaped who you are? What was it?

I served a 2-year mission for my church in Bangkok, Thailand. While the entire experience was incredibly formative, the most impactful part was 9 of those 24 months spent living with native Thai companions (missionaries pairs are called “companionships”). 

It’s incredible to spend 24/7 living with someone from a different cultural upbringing. To speak their language and learn about their country and culture by observing them. I made too many mistakes to count. My world view was challenged over and over again. But not a day goes by that I don’t use the skills of empathy, observation, patience, and compassion that I learned from my time with them. 

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

Lots of failures to choose from. 😂

My favorite failure ended up being the best thing that happened to me. I dated this girl in high school that broke my heart, per my mother’s encouragement (my mother didn’t want me dating seriously so young). I was hurt and discouraged but moved on. 

A few years later that girl and I reconnected, had a quick engagement and got married. We were both a little older and wiser and the time allowed us to both grow up. A decade of travel, entrepreneurship, and 5 kids later I realize the best thing in my life probably wouldn’t have happened had it not ‘failed’ first. 

Thanks, mom. 

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

1) Never stop learning. Most people get stuck because they stop learning. 

2) Spend time early and often deciding what you really want. Too often we choose a path for the wrong reasons. It’s easy to accept the script of others but it ends up being the #1 regret at the end of people’s lives

3) Be Bold. I got my first internship by first being told that a recruiter “wasn’t looking for interns, only full-time”. I was about to leave, but then turned back around and asked, “well, if your company were to recruit an intern, who would I talk to about that?” He sized me up for a few seconds, then handed me his business card with the email of a colleague written on it. That one moment of boldness turned into an incredible experience where I first got exposed to applied bioinformatics, web development, design, consulting, database, etc. Many skills I have used in my career came from that moment of boldness. 

What are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

“The Product Manager is the CEO of the product.” It’s a horrible mindset that leads to a lot of stress and poor expectations. Too many people go into product management because they think they will be in charge or be able to call the shots. That’s rarely the case. 

A product manager is a lot more like an American football quarterback or a pirate captain. You have to be a master of influence without authority. Your job is a lot more about alignment, inspiration, and communication than many expect. The hard skills of market research, analytics, prototyping, etc are important, but if you don’t build trust with your stakeholders and team, you’ll never deliver value to customers in the way you hope.

So many teams grind to a halt because product managers don’t prioritize the people side of product management. 

If you could go back in time to when you were entering the workforce and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Optimize for learning. Learning compounds just like money. Given the choice, choose the opportunity where you’ll learn most.

This has driven my choices in schooling, switching teams/companies, and how I spend a good deal of my free time. More than ever you will stand out by intentionally learning (vs binging on Netflix or social media). There is so much knowledge out there. Spend a few minutes each day consuming in a high-quality way and you’ll stand out with your ability to help others and lead change.

Who is one person, dead or alive, who you admire? Why do you admire them? 

Stephen Covey. I love the stories about how he prioritized his children, even while working hard. I hope to influence just a few people the same way he influenced millions.

What habit or practice helps you manage stress? 

Whenever my wife and I are stressed out or overwhelmed, we have a “whiteboarding session”. 

This is a technique we use in our consulting at Sprintwell to help teams get clarity and alignment. But it works incredibly well for individuals or couples as well. 

We pull up a whiteboard (or document) and go through the following steps:

  1. Write down what’s going well. 
  2. Write down what’s not going well, stressful, or needs to get done
  3. Organize the list, putting like items together and then sorting by priority. 
  4. Make some quick decisions about next steps. 

This always gets us unstuck and facilitates positive conversation and action.

When have you felt stuck in your career? How did you break out of it or push forward?

I had a boss who once told me that I didn’t have what it took in the career path I was hoping for. I remember being devastated. I was pretty mad walking out of that 1:1. I distinctly remember realizing that I could decide how I responded. I decided to ask myself, “what can I learn from this?”

Suddenly I realized how much I could learn. I did have a long way to go. So, I got to work learning. Now, years later, I’m sharing the knowledge I learned with product managers and leaders at some of the world’s most successful companies. I might not have built that expertise if I hadn’t been “challenged” by that boss. 

For more Career Q&As, click here, or you can check out my monthly newsletter.

 

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