Mentoring: How to Help Others Be the Change You Want to See in the Industry

1/21/2015
Over a holiday visit with neighbors, the mother of a Georgia Tech grad I had helped asked me about mentoring. I have mentored students at Georgia Tech and have spoken to college classes but generally, I could and should do exponentially more.

Why? One article I read about college today argued that it wasn't the school that mattered, it was the mentoring while there that gave the student the insights, secrets and confidence to declare a career direction.

One Georgia Tech student I mentored majored in ceramic nanotechnology. He walked out of the woods of North Carolina in bib overalls and became a straight A rock star at a very demanding school. After he realized AAPN was a network, he was curious about similar organizaitons in his industry, ceramics. I told him we should research every college, magazine, trade show, association, lobby, government office, major player, big personality and so forth in the industry of ceramics. It wasn't easy, but the answers were out there.

So, what's the message? It's that kids need to know that others aren't smarter than them, it's just that they work harder. And they need to know that growing up takes time and then suddenly one day, you will realize who you are. Consider the following examples.

Catching a wolf
I once opened a talk to 200 college students with a story. It was a passage from Cormac McCarthy's book, The Crossing. In it, a rancher is losing calves to a wolf. It just keeps happening. He sets traps for the wolf and when he returns, the trap has been destroyed and another calf killed beside it. Finally he hires this grizzled old cowboy famous for being able to catch wolves. The cowboy proceeds to capture the wolf.

"How did you do that?" the rancher asked. "Well," he replied, "trying to catch a wolf is like trying to catch a little kid. It ain't that they's smarter than you, it's that they ain't got nothen else to think about."

The point was, don't fear China or anyone else. They just work harder than (us/you). They ain't got nothen else to think about but work.

When the puppy became a wolf
About wolves. There was a TV documentary on dogs. You see, we buy these big dogs bred to kill herds of deer and we keep them in the house all of their shortened lives and wonder why they are so lazy. The reason is, they realized they were one thing but were never given the job.

Take the sheep dog. This is a very smart dog bred to herd sheep and to protect the flock from predators. In a sense, the sheep dog thinks it is a wolf because it will go after wolves to protect the sheep.

This particular documentary showed various breeds as puppies. The sheep dog puppies were very active and actually played with and ran with lambs. Then, one day, and this was filmed very clearly, came the nanosecond when this one little sheep dog puppy realized it was a wolf.

It went from playing to a dead stop. It went rigid and zeroed in on the lambs suddenly seeing them not as equals but as something to be steered, herded, forced and overwhelmed.

This is what happens to college grads at some point during their first real jobs. One day, one nanosecond, they realize that all of this mentoring, all of this homework, all of those teachers, all of that advice suddenly has come together and they are grown ups and they can do something.

More about wolves
Dogs descended from wolves. How they evolved into all of these shapes and pedigrees is beyond me. Still, in their core, they're wolves. And wolves work as teams.

As Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Law for the Wolves" goes, "the strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf." Wolves chase challenges together, they surround opportunities and they succeed as tribes. So do we humans.

There is a saying about groups: if you want to walk fast, walk alone but if you want to walk far, walk with others. Those of us from the West, from Europe and the Americas are, relative to Asia, lone wolves. Asians accept the need to organize industrially as a requirement of their culture. We fight just as hard to remain fragmented.

In Asia, it's about us. Here, it's about me. Looking at the recent history of our industry, what works better: Resetting every quarter or taking the long term view? Competing as a company or as a chain? Hunting for success as a lone wolf or as a pack?

Information is not the same thing as knowledge
Taking that question further, who knows more about the issues and opportunities today, each of us alone or more than 600 of us together? The wolf or the pack?

We can find streets, and lists, and photos, and answers, and sayings and more from our cell phones. This is information, not knowledge.

We can describe ourselves, we can subscribe to things, we can connect to pages and we can be found. This is linking, not networking. This is waiting, not marketing.

So, tell kids they have to join packs of people, they have to meet, they have to show up, they have to know their value and be willing to share it. Of course, they are "too busy," and think that networking and forums are "just another meeting." They have their career to worry about alone which is perfectly Western and totally wrong.

Your mind shines best when it is rubbed and polished against the minds of others, especially those you might otherwise never meet. Marketing is a contact sport. It's team play. To be a player, do as Coach Bill Parcells preached, "blame nobody, expect nothing, do something."

Do mentor students -- while they're puppies!!


Mike Todaro is managing director of AAPN.
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