Demystifying Mentoring

I just found the article “Demystifing Mentring” from Amy Gallo on the Harvard Business Review. She points out the following “myths” about mentoring and follows up with some useful do’s and don’ts. Here’s my thoughts on her Myths.

Myth #1: You have to find one perfect mentor

I agree, this one’s a myth! You will find that you many have different mentors as you progress through your career, or you many have one mentor who helps you with some aspect of your development and a different mentor for another aspect. For example, you might have one person who works with you advise you on how to navigate the personalities you work with. You might want to talk to someone outside your organization for advice about your next career move.

Myth #2: Mentoring is a formal long-term relationship

I have mixed feelings about this one. I agree that it doesn’t have to be formal (and I prefer both mentors and apprentice relationships to be casual and friendly) but I do feel that my most significant relationships have been over a long term. If your mentor does not know you well, they’re just providing advice. This isn’t a bad thing, I just see mentorship as going deeper.

Myth #3: Mentoring is for junior people

Yep, I agree it’s a myth.  I seek out mentors in areas where I need to grow, and I am happy to help people who are either older or more experienced than I am in areas where i have something to offer them.

Myth #4: Mentoring is something more experienced people do out of the goodness of their hearts

Again, this one is mixed. I am partly motivated to provide help to people because I believe in the value of Interaction Design and I want to see more people have success in their own practice. That’s a somewhat altruistic motivation. At the same time, my experience has been that I get as much as I give when I mentor people. It’s a huge source of satisfaction for me when someone acquires a new skill they wanted to gain, or when they land that dream job that they felt was out of reach. Pure gold!

And, what do you think?


Let’s talk about apprenticeship at IxDA’11

If you’re going to the Interaction Design Association conference, Interactions ’11, I’d love to meet you!

[posted to the event board]

I’d like to talk to people interested in the subject of apprenticeship and the craft of Interaction Design. Our field is both wide and deep. Even after you gain enough skills to get started, it’s a lifelong journey to explore new areas and become better at what you do.

I believe that we can help each other be better practitioners by providing supportive work situations and by developing professional relationships with more advanced practitioners in the field.

I consider myself both a teacher and a student. I’ve been a mentor to several interaction designers over the past year. I just started a program of study in graphic design. I started a blog on the subject to write about my experiences

Please let me know if you’d like to get together and share stories!

Are mentors outdated?

In a recent Harvard Business Review post, Priscilla Claman writes that the “career strategy of hitching your future to some rising manager is rapidly becoming outdated” because “senior-level managers are no longer the ones with stable jobs.” Instead, she recommends that you form a personal board of directors who can provide a variety of perspectives. She advises that “The people on your board of directors should know more than you about something, be better than you are at something, or offer different points of view.”

I don’t think that mentors are defunct, however I do think the role of mentor has to change to keep up with the times. The structure of work has changed, and we can no longer expect a lifetime career with a single company. It’s much more common that people consider themselves free agents who work with a company for long enough to complete a project, or learn a new skill, and then move on. I’ve often heard people complain that it’s no longer possible to be promoted within a large company, because people from outside are favored over inside people even if they have great ideas. I believe it’s far easier to find success if you appoint yourself as the captain of your own career and establish a plan. That way you can thoughtfully find employment that provides learning opportunities, as well as a paycheck.

In the process of charting a course and monitoring your progress, it is particularly helpful to have a mentor. A good mentor is not necessarily someone who is your professional (or chronological) senior. A good mentor is someone who can help you define your objectives, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, advise you about how to approach work assignments and motivate you as you navigate the ups and downs of finding the right employment on your path. I’d also say it was helpful if your mentor has domain knowledge in the field you want to work in.

So, in summary, I would not say that the role of mentor is defunct, I’d just say it’s changed, as our relationship to work and our careers have changed. Some of my best long-term mentor (and apprentice) relationships were formed with people I met through jobs, and I’d say that our relationship has only improved over time as we have moved on to different work.  I don’t have any objection to forming a board of directors, but that relationship serves a different purpose than a mentor.