Episode 31: Johan Cruyff and Product Management w/Maarten Dalmijn

27 October, 2020 / Host: Magnus Billgren

Lessons in Leadership, Innovation, and Creativity

Johan Cruyff was one of the most exceptional football players of all time. He was the best player in the world three times and won the Ballon d'Or, which is awarded to the best player in Europe, three times as well. He was the captain of the Dutch national team and led them to the World Cup final in 1974, where they lost to Germany. He played for Ajax Amsterdam, Barcelona, and the Los Angeles Aztecs, among other teams, and won numerous domestic and international titles.
But Johan Cruyff was not just a footballer; he was a thinker, a philosopher, and an innovator. He was famous for his original quotes and sayings that captured his unique perspective on life and football. One of his most famous quotes was, "Italian teams cannot beat you, but you can lose to them." This quote highlights Cruyff's belief in the importance of playing beautiful football, even if it means taking risks and potentially losing the game.
In this episode, Maarten Dalmijn shares his thoughts on Johan Cruyff, the legendary Dutch footballer, and his impact on product management. Dalmijn highlights Cruyff's ability to think outside the box, his innovative and creative approach to football, and how his ideas and philosophies can be applied to the world of product management. In this article, we will explore the leadership, innovation, and creativity of Johan Cruyff and how these traits can inspire product managers to be better leaders, create innovative products, and think creatively about problem-solving.

Dare to Change the Game

Johan Cruyff was known for his innovative ideas and tactics on the football pitch, and his philosophy of Total Football completely revolutionized the sport. He was not afraid to challenge traditional ways of playing and to experiment with new strategies, which often caught his opponents off-guard.
Product managers can learn a lot from Johan Cruyff's approach to the game. In today's fast-paced business environment, it's important to be able to adapt quickly and to stay ahead of the competition. Product managers who are willing to challenge the status quo and to introduce new ideas are more likely to succeed in the long run.

Team First

One of the biggest challenges in product management is getting everyone on the same page. Product managers need to work closely with cross-functional teams such as engineering, design, marketing, and sales to ensure that everyone is aligned and working towards the same goals.
To achieve this, product managers need to foster a culture of collaboration and open communication. They should encourage their teams to share their ideas and feedback, and actively seek out input from stakeholders across the organization. This helps to ensure that everyone is invested in the product's success, and that everyone has a voice in shaping its direction.
In addition to promoting collaboration and communication, product managers should also prioritize building strong relationships with their teams. They should take the time to understand each team member's strengths and weaknesses, and work to create an environment where everyone feels valued and supported.
Just like in Total Football, where every player had a specific role to play, each team member in product management has a unique contribution to make. By leveraging the strengths of each team member and working together towards a shared goal, product managers can build great products that exceed expectations.

Embrace Diversity

One of the key elements of Total Football was the blending of different roles on the field. Players were expected to be versatile and adaptable, able to play multiple positions and fill in for their teammates as needed. This approach required a deep understanding of the game and a willingness to work together as a team.
In product management, embracing diversity means recognizing the value of different perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. A diverse team brings a range of skills and insights that can help to identify new opportunities and solve complex problems.
Embracing diversity also means recognizing that there may be different approaches to problem-solving and decision-making. A diverse team may have different opinions and viewpoints, and it's important to encourage open and respectful communication to find the best solutions.

Be Creative

Johan Cruyff was a master of creative thinking, and his success on the football field can be attributed, in part, to his ability to think outside the box. In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, it's not enough to simply rely on traditional thinking and methods. Product managers need to be willing to take risks, experiment with new ideas, and constantly push the boundaries of what is possible. By thinking creatively, they can come up with innovative solutions to problems that might otherwise seem insurmountable.

Keep it Simple

Johan Cruyff believed in the power of simplicity. He was known for his ability to simplify complex football tactics and strategies, making the game easier to understand and play for his teammates. This philosophy of simplicity can also be applied to product management.
One way to keep things simple is to focus on the core problem or value proposition of the product. By identifying the essential elements that make the product valuable to customers, product managers can prioritize their efforts and avoid getting bogged down in unnecessary features or functionality.
Another way to simplify is to communicate clearly and concisely. Product managers should be able to explain their product and its value proposition in a simple and straightforward way. This can help build buy-in from stakeholders and customers alike.


  • Embracing diversity in product management means recognizing the value of different perspectives and working together as a team to build great products that meet the needs of a diverse customer base.
  • By approaching problems with a sense of curiosity and a willingness to try new things, product managers can create products that truly stand out in the marketplace.
  • By embracing Johan Cruyff's philosophy of simplicity, product managers can simplify complex problems and solutions, leading to better outcomes for their teams and customers.

If you are interested in developing your product management skills and becoming a certified product manager, consider enrolling in The Productbeats Product Management Certification Program. This program is designed to provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in the field of product management and take your career to the next level. With a focus on practical, hands-on training, The Productbeats Product Management Certification Program can help you gain the confidence and expertise needed to become a successful product manager.
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