How to Augment Your Cognitive Capacity and Intellect

by nils  - February 26, 2014

Here’s another excerpt from my upcoming book on implementing a product management system. Please sign up for my mailing list to see and comment on early drafts and to keep up to date on the book’s status.

A good (product management) system can augment your capacity and your intellect.

Augmenting Yourself

Like all knowledge workers, our most precious resource is cognitive capacity, and we lose it constantly throughout the day. ([tweetthis]In #prodmgmt our most precious resource is cognitive capacity, and it’s draining constantly [/tweetthis]) If you’re like me, you end up handling 15-20 different activities and interruptions every day. Each of those requires a mental context switch, and context switches are expensive. Typically, you can’t avoid them, so anything that makes them easier will make your life easier. A good process, and the associated tooling, will do that.

There are three main ways process and tools help product managers out with the cognitive load problem (and help you seem smarter – thereby achieving a personal goal!):

  • Offloading memory
  • Enabling deeper analysis and investigation
  • Offloading process steps/status

Offloading memory

The less I have to remember – why a particular feature (“chunk of value”) is important, who suggested it to me, who made the most recent comment about it, even the reason we’re scheduling the next release – the more cognitive capacity I have left for doing the more interesting parts of the job, like creating more value, defining market positioning, or talking to customers.

As Amy Hoy ( says:

  • Almost all productive people are far too busy to remember everything they do each day because they’re Getting Shit Done.
  • Almost all people are numb to their own pain.
  • Their most dangerous problems aren’t the minor irritations that sting, but the dark shadows that lurk below the surface, unsaid, unnoticed, unmanaged

Enabling deeper analysis and investigation – making you smarter

And it’s not just your memory that benefits, but your intellect as well. Even a simple and obviously valuable query like “what features were requested by both customer X and customer Y?” is typically beyond the capacity of a normal person’s – even a PM’s – memory.

But if that information is in the system, and it’s easy to retrieve, I don’t have to remember it. And, as a bonus I can use it for analysis and investigation that I couldn’t do if the information were all in my head. That means I’m smarter.

Offloading process steps/status

Tools also help you with processes, per se. For example, if you’re developing your product in a traditional manner, you spend months building it, and then a few weeks launching it. Every few months you have to remember how to do a launch, remember what went wrong (or well) in the last launch, and decide how you’re going to do it differently this time.

A system that not only keeps a list of the steps required for launch, along with who is responsible for each, and a history of what happened last time, means you don’t have to invent this every time, and you can learn from history. Again, you’ve offloaded the process into the tool, leaving more room in your brain for the good stuff.

(Stay tuned to the mailing list for more information on the book. As a mailing list subscriber you get to see early drafts and provide feedback to me, giving you a lot of influence over the direction I take and the topics I cover.)


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Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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