This is a guest post by health and wellness strategist and digital health pioneer Liz Scherer.
When you hear the word ‘mentor,’ what is the first image that comes to mind? Is it a middle-aged man in a suit, briefcase on a table in front of him and a Mont Blanc pen in hand?
Pretty passé, eh?
Venture capitalist and Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel would agree. In an interview conducted late last year, he says that mentors no longer offer much in the way of value, at least not in the tech start up world.
Thiel adds that entrepreneurs’ focus should be on “doing new things, not copying existing models” and that substantive interest in a particular field is the key to learning, creative thinking and identifying new ways or approaches.
For all intents and purposes then, a mentor would be best described as an individual with both feet firmly planted in yesterday’s innovation and without the ability to drive and effect tomorrow’s change.
Let’s also take a look at what social scientists have to say.
The Conceptualization Belief
One theory in particular supports Thiel’s points, stating that change and innovation occur in “conceptual” leaps and bounds (Kuhn and Hacking, 2012; Olivero 2014) and do not necessarily spring from information that has been collected over a long time period.
An alternate theory — one that I gravitate toward — suggests that when a team (think: two people in the mentor/mentee relationship) ‘jells” i.e. when individuals ‘click’ around concepts or strategies, their commonality in creating something new or in solving a problem can be likened to a attaining the metaphysical or at least a higher level of existence (Novak 1976; Olivero 2014).
In simpler terms, inspiration springs from the ‘click,’ leading to brainstorming, an exchange of ideas and information and an open mind that promotes creative thought and strategy. This may ring truer when the two individuals forming a particular team do not bring the same set of skills to the table.
My personal experience as both a mentee and a mentor derives from two related initiatives in my life.
Giving to Get, Getting to Give
Last fall, I started a new business and recruited a group of advisors – both in and out of my specific field – to guide processes and strategies, challenge my thinking and spur creative development.
In turn, over the past several months I have been lending my time to two incubators that work with healthcare tech startups: 1776DC and Village Capital. My mentoring role is focused on helping these entrepreneurs hone and finesse an element in their pitches that is often missing or ignored: the story.
As a long-time professional writer and journalist, I inherently understand that storyline is often the key to grabbing and retaining an audience.
As humans we all have stories to tell and it is these stories that forge relationships, perpetuate family histories and define our personal fabrics. In business mentoring, the goal of focusing on the story is to help guide entrepreneurs so that they place the correct cart before the horse, i.e. their content.
The trajectory is simple: focus on the story, create the content around that story and insure that the messaging is consistent across the various platforms where that story dwells. Thereafter, we work closely together to identify, create and promote the deeper connections that ultimately inspire investors or customers to ignite the offerings, whether that ignition entails A or B round funding that will catapult them to success.
Mentoring – A Four Letter Word?
The value of the mentoring doesn’t stop there.
Not only am I inspired by the entrepreneur’s passions, but, I am also better able to tap into and ignite my personal creativity in an uncluttered fashion. The ‘click’ goes two ways, leading me, in a mentoring role, to a higher level of existence, and a refinement of my own storyline.
Is mentor a four letter word in the world of tech startups or does it offer an opportunity to transcend the mundane/been there-done that and promote innovative thought and creativity?
I don’t believe it is. If anything, through mentoring, my ‘carbon copy’ becomes firmly planted both in the here and now and beyond, and my story gains a few new transformative threads.
Isn’t that value worth having?
About the author: Liz Scherer is a health and wellness strategist and digital health pioneer with a knack for helping businesses solve marketing, communications and development challenges. When she’s not running Evolution Strategy Group, you can find her mentoring startups at 1776DC and Village Capital or writing about women’s health and gender inequity issues on Medium. Connect with Liz on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or at LizScherer.Co.