As we’re getting into the tail end of the year it’s become apparent to me that one of my themes for this year has been mentoring.
This year, I’ve been doing a bit of mentoring.
- Quite a number of my commercial assignments have had a mentoring ‘skew’ to them – rather than project work, my mission has been to try to impart as much of my knowledge as I can to a person or team.
- I’ve had the pleasure of working with interns on two of my projects this year (which is pretty unique and fortunate for a freelancer).
- I’ve been involved with the Information Architecture Institute’s mentoring scheme (you need to be a member and be able to remember your login) which has given me the opportunity to compare notes with a number of up and coming UXers in the UK.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to be a ‘mentee’ (is that the opposite of mentor?) on several occasions – mostly when I’ve just straight out asked people if I can have some of their time to talk about a topic that’s on my mind and that I could use some extra perspective or experience on. In addition to this, there are dozens of people who unknowingly act as informal mentors to me as they share their experiences on Twitter, in books and at conferences.
What I’ve found really surprising is that in both the mentoring and mentee situation, I feel like I’ve been the one who has benefited.
Obviously, in the latter situation, I benefited from the kindness, experience and wisdom of those who were willing to do a Skype call with me (that’s the usual format of my mentee-engagements). It was where I was acting as the mentor that I was really surprised.
There’s a saying ‘if you can’t teach it, you don’t know it’. I’m not sure it’s entirely true but there is a special kind of knowing you get from having gone through the process of thinking about how to communicate what you know to someone else.
It does something to the way you know things – firstly, it makes you more aware of what you know, which is gratifying and confidence building. I think it also makes your knowledge feel more accessible and more valuable.
If the majority of the learning you’re doing these days is informal and self directed, you may find that mentoring is almost a way to give yourself a mark out of ten, an end of year exam, a sense that you have actually accomplished some learning and know a bit about what you’re talking about!
So, I want to take a moment to thank my mentors, and to ask you to think about how you might be able to participate as a mentor.
Do you have opportunities where you could invite an intern to work with you and gain invaluable experience? Can you offer some time to be a more formal ‘mentor’ to a UX newbie? In my experience, it can take as much or as little time as you want it to and the benefits to all involved are significant.
And yes, you probably do know enough to be a mentor – the best way to answer that nagging doubt is to give it a try. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.