Why listen to Forrester for product management advice? To answer the question, let’s return, for a few minutes, to our salad days as college undergraduates.

In at least one introductory course (Philosophy 101, Western Civilization 101, etc.), we were all introduced to Plato and Aristotle. In the small section of Raphael’s The School of Athens shown here, Plato is to the left, pointing upwards to the realm of the ideal. On the right, Aristotle is gesturing down, to the realm of the real.

Plato thought that the important questions, such as what is the best form of government, could only be answered through contemplation of abstract concepts. Aristotle, on the other hand, thought that scientific inquiry was the better path towards useful knowledge.

Who was right? According to Plato, the best form of government has a philosopher king making all the important decisions, because he was the person who had the most time and training to understand how the world should work. Plato’s Republic was a pretty dull place, in which the state shoved you quickly into your class and job, where you were stuck for the rest of your life. (In Plato’s view, everything and everyone needs to be in its place, like the flatware on your dining room table.) To maintain this regimentation, the good citizens of the Republic need to discard every possible distraction, such as poetry, that might lead to dangerous, undisciplined, unguided thoughts.

Ugh. Unfortunately, echoes of Plato’s idea–put the smart people in charge, and everything will be OK–still has resonance today. A lot of start-up companies begin with this philosophy, and they fail if they don’t discard it. But that’s a topic for another day.

In contrast, Aristotle focused on how city-states in the real world governed themselves. In some cases, you might naturally have a single ruler, a ruling class, or all citizens in the best position to make important decisions. All three forms of government had their good and bad versions. An enlightened elite might make an excellent aristocracy, but it also could devolve into a selfish oligarchy.

How did Aristotle arrive at this conclusion? By studying Greek history. Since there were dozens of cities, most with a history stretching back at least a century or two, Aristotle’s data set was fairly large. Not only did the data help make Aristotle’s arguments more convincing, but it also made his advice more useful. Plato’s Republic is a fairly useless guide to anything but his perfect society. In the real world, people need more practical advice, based on a broad range of experience.

That’s why I’m at Forrester. There are plenty of professional exhorters, who can tell you what you should be doing. They’re often right, but they’re limited to the narrow slice of their own experience. I’d rather help product managers be successful, no matter what part of the technology industry they occupy, not just the companies that resemble the ones where I’ve worked.

Not only does Forrester cast a wide net to gather evidence, but we also make the raw data available with the research. You’re welcome to scrutinize the information we’ve collected, to see if we’re really justified in reaching the analysis and advice we publish. If you’re a Forrester customer, I hope you take advantage of that opportunity. It can only help to give you extra confidence in how we arrive at our conclusions. It’s not enough for an analyst to be smart.