Mentors Mean Well, But What if They’re Giving You Bad Advice?

Mentoring designed by Irene Hoffman from The Noun Project

Mentoring designed by Irene Hoffman from The Noun Project

It’s the ultimate life-dream: To be taken under the wing of a benevolent, all-knowing, paternal mentor, who will surface your strengths and open the doors for you into success. While mentors are a real thing, the rest of life doesn’t always work that way. Mentors have their own lives to tend outside of their protégés; their own separate goals, motivations, and perspectives. In a new piece up by Robert Sutton at the Harvard Business Review, even Sheryl Sandberg warned against taking mentor’s advice without a strong dose of salt.

Here’s a few of the points Sutton says you need to keep in mind:

Are you straying from the path that your mentor has taken?  Piles of research on “social similarity” or “similarity-attraction” effects suggest that most mentors will have a positive reaction to paths you take that are reminiscent of their own and a negative reaction to paths that clash with their past choices.    So if your mentor spent a year working in, say, China as part of his or her career and you are about to turn down a similar opportunity, don’t be surprised if he or she sees it as a mistake. . . 

Do your peers — and those you lead or mentor — know more about you than your mentor does?   There is a structural problem with many mentor-mentee relationships that I have implied in past writings: A large body of research shows that, in pecking orders of any kind, the people (and in, fact, animals) who have less power attended more closely to and understand those with more power than the other way around (see here and here).  This so called “asymmetry of attention” means that you probably know a lot more about your mentor (who is likely more powerful than you) than your mentor knows about you.   Consider some implications. You may be overestimating how well your mentor knows and understands you as a result (and thus putting too much faith in his or her advice).   Such asymmetry also suggests that your peers, our better yet, the people who you lead and mentor, may give you the best advice.

Read the rest of the tips here.

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The Case Against “Doing What You Love”

Cartoon by Rachel Nabors

Cartoon by Rachel Nabors

Web developer Rachel Nabors followed her passion and was a full-time comic book artist. But an unexpected surgery and a lack of health insurance debunked her plans and given her a new outlook on creative work. Now? She believes that “do what you love” is bad advice.

My first love, comics, gives me an edge in this industry. If I’d just gone straight into web development because it seemed like a money-maker, I wouldn’t be half as excited about what I can do or as interesting to others in my field. I and my community are better for the years I spent making comics, even if it wasn’t a successful career choice.

But, if I’d kept “doing what I love” in the industry that didn’t love me back, I would have never realized that there are other, more profitable, things I love.

Rather than telling you to do what you love, I’d like to say this:

Don’t do something you hate for a living.

There is no glory in suffering. Because you can grow to hate something you love if it puts you in a bad position, this advice gives you permission to move on to greener pastures if what you love is making you cry at night. Whatever you love should love you back. And if it’s not working out, it’s ok to find something else to love.

We all have more than one true passion in us — sometimes it just takes time to find it.

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5-Second DIY: Notebook Index

Photo by Adam Akhtar of highfivehq.com

Photo by Adam Akhtar of highfivehq.com

Adam Akhtar of Highfive has a great—albeit surprisingly simple—tip to add visual tags to your notebook or moleskin for organizing your notes. All it takes is your notebook and a pen:

The back of your notebook will act like a tag list or index. Every time you create a new entry at the front of the book you’re going to “tag” it [in the back]…

Now you’d go back to the first page where the [note] is and on the exact same line as the…label you just wrote you’d make a little mark on the right edge. You’d make this mark so that even when the notepad was closed the mark would be visible. After repeating this for various [notes] you’d now have various tags visible on the notebooks edge.

The process is very easy to use, and can be paired with other “hacks” for an added organizational boost (like using different colors for different topics). If you still use a physical notebook, this is one approach you’re definitely going to want to consider.

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Follow Your “Why,” Not Your “What”

person-question

Question designed by Jessica Lock from the Noun Project

Finding purpose in your work not only benefits your life, but helps differentiate you from others in your industry. Sunny Bonnell, co-founder and creative director of Motto, explains: 

Figure out what you stand for and what you believe in, and use that as your point of difference. In a crowd of designers, how will you stand apart? If you’re guilty of leading with what you do, start with why you do it and articulate that on your materials, website and social channels. Find out where your talents and values meet, and use that to leverage the power of your purpose.

Your “why” is a powerful driving force for your life and career. It provides a common goal that directs your actions and provides the dedication to get there. In addition, passion is contagious. Your excitement will excite others who will want to get involved in what you do. As leadership expert Simon Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

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Share Your Ideas While You Build Them, Not After

talking

Talking designed by Klara Zalokar from the Noun Project

 The sooner you share your ideas, the sooner you will find a solution that works for everyone. Try to collaborate with your clients during the design process instead of simply presenting to them at the end. That’s what digital strategist Michelle Campbell learned during the SXSW Interactive Festival:

At agencies, we’ve grown used to spending weeks on one idea only to have it thrown away at the last minute. If we opened up this process to more sharing — among ourselves and our clients — we’d have more time to build and evolve better ideas.

Your clients may not know much about design, but they are experts in their industries. Getting their feedback early on will prevent you from getting attached to an idea that isn’t going to work. Campbell reminds us:

… we often rely on people with the word “creative” in their title for ideas, but we forget that inspiration isn’t taught. It comes from real life, and anyone can bring that to the table.

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Purge Paperwork with the One Touch Rule

Paperwork by Matthew Hall from The Noun Project

Paperwork by Matthew Hall from The Noun Project

A recent study found that the average worker loses approximately 80 hours per years as a result of disorganization. That’s nearly two weeks of vacation! When invoices, receipts, contracts. and drafts are piled up everywhere, you’re likely to waste hours shuffling papers from one pile to another.

Ann Gomez of Clear Concept Inc. emphasizes the touch it once principle:

Process each task the first time you touch it.

Triage effectively with Gomez’s one touch rule – as soon as you get it, act on it, delegate it, file it or throw it away. And don’t just stop at paper – this principle easily applies to phone calls, emails and social media notifications.

It’s a simple trick to help you batch your work into scheduled, focus blocks: you won’t open an email until you’re ready to give it your full attention, or you’ll decline to accept your coworker’s rough draft until later when you know you’ll have the time to sit down and do it. 

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In Most Meetings, 3 People Are Doing 70% of the Talking

Brainstorm by Garrett Knoll from The Noun Project

Brainstorm by Garrett Knoll from The Noun Project

There are two leading problems with the average brainstorming session, as researchers at the Kellogg School of Management explain :

  1. In a typical six- or eight-person group, three people do 70 percent of the talking.
  2. Early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation. 

One of the researchers (as well as author of Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration), Professor Leigh Thompson, remarks that the dominant people don’t realize that they’re doing most of the talking. “In fact,” she says, “they vehemently argue that meetings are egalitarian.” 

The solution to these lop-sided meetings is brainwriting, instead of brainstorming. Thompson describes brainwriting as “the simultaneous written generation of ideas.” She breaks it down the process as such:

Step 1: Write just one sentence each. For the first five or 10 minutes of your next idea-generation meeting, every team member writes down one good idea or one proposed solution on, say, each of a small stack of index cards.

Step 2: Consider the idea, not the source. When the timer goes off, all cards are submitted anonymously and taped or thumbtacked to a wall for the whole team’s consideration.

Step 3: Put it to a blind vote. Team members signal their interest in an idea by marking it with a sticker or a Post-it note. Everyone gets a limited number of stickers and, if done right, the best ideas emerge quickly.

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