In this livestream, Seth Godin dropped this line as a quick aside:
“Mentorship isn’t scalable.”
He’s right. It isn’t. But in the context of his talk it sounded as if that was a bad thing. It isn’t scalable, it takes a lot of time and resources to do well, it asks for personal connection. It is not efficient. This is a horrible business strategy for todays market.
My experience with mentorship (in tap dance land) differs from what I think is the current common understanding. Here’s how.
- No one ever requested mentorship when I was coming up. Your mentor found you and chose you and brought you into their world.
- Mentorship was personal. It wasn’t just skills based, it was you-and-your-mentor based. You learned their personality and their craft.
- Mentorship was a gift. When someone who dedicated their life’s work to a particular craft decided to share their wisdom with you, money actually demeaned the exchange. It was always more relational than transactional.
In the best of experiences, mentorship is born out of love. It is a gift that is given to you specifically for reasons you may never fully know.
Today there is a lot of conversation around doing good work, work that matters, work that will change the world. All of that is good. But I wonder about the context. All of that good work is framed in the context of the market. If we are to succeed, our market culture says we must scale. We are measured by numbers. The inefficient act of mentorship is poor strategy.
Mentorship can be fraught with many challenges, and in the worst cases even abuse. So it makes sense that we would search for a better system. One that provides the transfer of skills, an increase in human capacity, while keeping a safe distance. But we lose something.
We lose the personal touch. We lose the gift of being known and knowing one another. We lose the seed of love that says, “I see something in you and I want to give you what I have for you to grow it.”
I hope that as we continue to try to do good work in the market, we can remember that some things don’t scale, and that doesn’t make them any less valuable or important.