I’m sitting by the fire, looking up English monarchs after having watched The Lion in Winter. I don’t […]

I’m sitting by the fire, looking up English monarchs after having watched The Lion in Winter. I don’t really agree with what the reviewers say the movie is about, but perhaps that’s the sign of a very good movie (or play). I think it’s about the impossibility of replicating greatness– true greatness is always a moment in time, and almost by its nature refuses replication. It’s a surprising leap, and I can’t think of anything much worse than being a child of greatness.

I’m spending a lot of time these days thinking about managing, and mentoring. Most of what I read is balderdash– setting people up for success, rewards, performance reviews, etc… formulas for something that is in its nature endlessly various. Humans. Is it a manger’s job to make it possible to be great, or can you not stop the great ones? The mediocre can probably be helped to be adequate, and potential can be coaxed into good– but the great? Don’t they seem to just appear out of no where, rocket past their peers and shine despite the environment? And as a manager all you can hope to do it hire them when you see them.

Then again, that can’t be true. At some point the great didn’t know what they were doing, or what they should be doing. Maybe if you are lucky you get to be the one to whisper to them their possibility. I don’t know. Thinking about it, as I said.

Maybe management and greatness have nothing to do with each other. Maybe the job is simply to staff adequately, meet goals and expectations. After all, to be great means to take a chance, and a chance means the potential for failure, and failure is worse than moderate success.

For me, a gamble is required. I’m always hoping that the daring will lead to a leap forward. This means failure will always be near. I hate failure. So this monday I’m moody, curled up by the fire, tending it, while Philippe works on his car. Puzzling and wondering where I can get better advice than “who moved my cheese”


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  1. 1

    This really struck a cord with me and suggested something I’d like to see come out of AIfIA: mentors.

    I have a handle on IA, the thinking, the documentation, etc. I think I’m good at it.

    I need a community where I can grow and learn. I have that to some extent via AIfIA and SIGIA. But I also need a mentor, someone who will point out the elephant I’m refusing to notice, someone who will open mental doors that have been closed to me and urge me to wander through.

    I think we *all* need mentors. It’s not just a need I have. It’d be nice if AIfIA could facilitate this process. I’m not sure I know how this could be accomplished.

    Or maybe I should just email some deliverables to you or others and ask for a comment.


  2. 2

    Well, teaching I think is critical to most folks ability to learn. I think the self taught are generally rare, and the early days of the web was a unique case for the self taught really blossoming and outshining others. But I’ve noticed that lots of folks can’t just skim a book and pick out the relevant parts (heck, lots of folks can’t even skim a book). Many people need to be walked through a book, forced to read it (kind of like joining a gym I suppose) have the concepts explained and shown the application.

    Of course, there are a number of courses that teach you things not in books, and there are teachers who inspire as well as explain, but for some the inspiration is innate and the world is sufficient text book.

    I looked for a mentor for a long time, and came to the conclusion that I had to be my own mentor. I haven’t been a mentor to a lot of folks– in my egreetings days I mentored a couple team members, and more recently a friend. Now I’m considering mentoring within my team, and what that would mean exactly. Is it more than suggesting books and reviewing their designs? Is it more than the weekly 1:1s we already have? How can I help them get better at what they do? And once more, I wish I had a mentor… to mentor me in mentoring.

  3. 3

    I think the majority of current IAs have been their own mentors. The nascent, difficultly defined field requires self-starters.

    “Be your own mentor” also suggested a feeling of isolation, an idea that “I’m practicing what I call IA, but I’m not sure it’s the *right* IA.”

    A mentor becomes a safe community where you can post (what you fear are) stupid questions. Thankfully, AIfIA appears it can be such a community, especially when compared to the contentious SIGIA list. It looks like I need to swallow my pride and start posting my questions and thoughts. Like Chris said, you have to seek it.

    But in an organization, I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time mentoring coworkers who lack the skills, or the refinement of their skills, that I need them to have as members of my team. They won’t crack books, read tutorials, and barely listen. Maybe I’m a bad communicator. I mentor gently and encouragingly, not to help them be great, but because my organization needs them to be better than they are. I need them to be adequate.

    So that feeds into the original question of teaching vs. mentoring and greatness vs. adequacy. In organizations, we need adequacy, and if we’re not doing the hiring, or if someone’s role changes after hiring, then we need to mentor our team members to adequacy.

    Everyone has the potential for greatness, given their preferred subject area and the right teacher or mentor, but I don’t think everyone has the time or resources for greatness.

    Maybe a good manager maintains a minimum level of adequacy while leaving the great room to try and fail and try again (and recognizing the failure as gestating greatness).

  4. 4

    I worked with a colleague once where a mentor role was successful. In this case, I think the relationship succeeded because it was based more around making the colleague aware of the implications of what they were doing and what they could do, rather than teaching them a skill or technique.

    This is rather dry, but there’s a model I’ve come across which was useful to me to help understand the role of teachers and learners –

    Unconscious ignorance
    Where someone is unaware of a gap in their understanding and so unable to correct the deficit.

    Conscious ignorance
    Where somone is aware of that gap, allowing them to act to increase their knowledge / ability.

    Conscious knowledge
    A learner who has recently acquired a skill and is able to use it correctly *when they are aware that the skill is relevant to their current situation*.

    Unconscious knowledge
    Where a skill has become innate – the learner will often not consider it a skill.

    (Forgive the use of the word ‘ignorance’ – it’s frowned on where I work for all sorts of valid reasons..!)

    One role of the mentor I guess is to help the learner move from one state to another. This might be by inspiring the learner to learn for themselves (to seek knowledge) or might be by teaching the learner directly. I assume from a business pov, the former must be the most effective. Maybe mentors need to be called Inspiration Managers?


  5. 5

    Don’t [the great] seem to just appear out of no where, rocket past their peers and shine despite the environment?

    Yes sometimes, but I think managers (and co-workers) can help create an environment in which people are encouraged, inspired, engaged and expected to be great. Some workplaces seem to have a general dumbing down effect, whereas others spark people, spurring them to greater effort. Being surrounded by dedicated intelligent people, having those qualities valued and acknowledged – these things won’t enable people to exceed their potential, but might help them meet it, yes? Like how you raise your game when you play an expert.

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