A mentor is a wise person who sits beside you waiting until you turn to them for support, facilitation or commentary.
A mentor is available if you have any questions. A mentor facilitates you allowing you to discover the solution yourself. A mentor is not a coach who tells you how to do your job better.
A mentor can pass on to you explicit knowledge – knowledge you can readily understand from verbal or written explanation.
Much more valuable is tacit knowledge – knowledge which exists at a gut level – knowledge that cannot be simply or directly conveyed in words.
It must be conveyed through many examples, case studies or past experiences. These multiple instances of the knowledge allow you to extract the common elements of the examples and thus identify the tacit knowledge behind them.
This is known as reification – after the Egyptian sun-god. Complex ideas arise out of the common elements of many specific cases. Many observations are classified into several abstract ideas. If we can classify a new example then the abstraction tells us how to handle this new case. The sunlight shines through – the solution is clear and transparent. Tacit knowledge is abstract and in your head – it just needs to be applied.
In practice mentoring may simply be a chat about some critical issues ranging over the factors that may influence the final decision.
A mentor might read and comment on reports you have received – the mentor may raise points he feels have not been adequately addressed – point out poor arguments – or unsupported conclusions – or other factors which do not appear to be thought through or researched.
A mentor nudges you towards a conclusion which is gradually coalesing in your mind.
Mentors bring you many examples of brilliant successes. Mentors bring their scars with them – what experiences they have had of things that did not work – what allowed innovation and brilliance to flare – why simple jobs failed – what nobody else could see.
Experience brings an ability to spot risk – what can go wrong – and how to eliminate or reduce those risks.
So why not set up a weekly chat session where you can review a few things that are rattling around in your head. Often your attempts to verbalise your gut feelings with a peer can allow a flash of clarity to show through. Talking, hand-waving, white-boarding – any way of trying to express your gut feelings – may lead to a personal enlightenment.
Give IT a go!