Mentoring vs. knowledge sharing vs. little or no knowledge: compare and contrast


By William Seidman

Randy Emelo writes about mentoring in Chief Learning Officer magazine.  He discusses how the millennial generation – people born after 1980 — views mentoring.

Hint: Quite differently from the gen xers, baby boomers and the traditionalists, who each have their own views and values.

The millennial generation wants a more egalitarian and free approach. Accustomed to knowledge sharing and social networking, twentysomethings expect an open and social learning environment. There is resistance to traditional hierarchies.

But is this comfort with, and insistence on, group sharing a misinterpretation of the term mentoring? Is it misuse?

It confuses knowledge sharing with mentoring. One’s peers, in fact, are not one’s mentors.

Many of the examples cited by Emelo are about breaking down the exclusive sharing of knowledge and making it widely available.

I agree with this, though with some caveats. Shared knowledge is better than hoarded knowledge. But simply sharing knowledge is not enough. It doesn’t require, or benefit from, the specific duties of the mentor or the mentee.

I was part of a group of about 12 trainers in a company discussing a need for improved sales training. They were working across a social network designed to share ideas.

Most of the ideas were pretty weak. In fact, the most experienced person in the group had only two years of experience in the field.

The millennial argument is that 12 people with no experience can produce a collective wisdom that is better than one person with 10 years of experience. The process and the fact of the sharing count for a lot.

I see no evidence that this is true. Twelve inexperienced people produce a weak solution, even if they arrive at it collectively.

Think about it:

  • Knowledge sharing works only when the people sharing actually have some knowledge
  • Mentoring is about a relationship that is much more than just knowledge sharing
  • Mentoring does not presume equality between mentor and mentee
  • Even if there is free and open movement of knowledge, this is a very small part of mentoring
  • Mentoring  is about caring, guidance (including being pushed out of a comfort zone) and accountability for learning

The mentor is chosen for sound reasons and can do the job best when those reasons are acknowledged and, then, reinforced by the diligence and sincerity of the mentee.

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