Back in April 2011 Steve Jones and I launched The Mentoring Experiment. We had some ideas and some goals, but truly it was an experiment to see what we might do to drive more mentoring and mentoring relationships. We had some success at the experiments we tried, but in the end we found that it is just hard to do – mentoring relationships are absolutely about chemistry and that’s just hard to find, and our very unsophisticated matching didn’t come close to that. What we did find was that for many (even most) people a sounding board/coach/very temporary mentor can help them figure out a challenging issue quickly (a few hours of talking). Career direction, career changes, salary, we saw a lot of common themes and I think our mentors did pretty well at helping the people we matched them with.
It was a hard project because we didn’t have a good way to show results or velocity and that matters, especially when you’re the experimenter and trying to measure success and stay engaged. There’s something powerful about seeing SQLSaturday #318 – it feels like success/velocity. It’s not the same to talk about mentoring matchup #318. It’s even harder because Steve and I are both fairly intense about privacy matters and mentoring falls into that zone – we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) just list everyone who wanted a mentor or who was paired up with a mentor. We tried to figure out a way to inject mentoring into the culture more. I’ve said for a while that the one thing I’d go back and change about SQLSaturday would be to have more focus on networking, and I’d add mentoring to that, but it’s really hard to go back and change a formula, especially when it works. Mentoring is several steps harder than networking, and networking isn’t easy. We just couldn’t find a way that didn’t feel forced and didn’t have the potential to create more problems than it fixed. Think about trying to drive mentoring in a chapter meeting with 10-20 people. It’s just hard.
It’s also suffered from lack of attention over the past six months. Steve and I both have other things going on and as we prioritized, this kept getting pushed down. We wanted to continue, but clearly we were struggling, and we decided it was time to wrap this up rather than let it linger, and maybe we should have done it sooner in hindsight. Not all experiments lead to big victories. This one didn’t. At least for us, but maybe it did change the conversation some and we raised the profile of the topic. We’re grateful to our friends that answered our call for mentors and to those who applied to be mentees, taking a chance on us and an idea, and hopefully they all learned something from the experience.
It isn’t the end of our interest in mentoring. We’ll still talk about it, we’re both still interesting in helping people where we can as we’ve always done – quietly, behind the scenes, in a pay-it-forward kind of way. We’d be thrilled to see someone take up the cause, in whatever shape that might take. If you can find a way to build on what we’ve done, or use it for inspiration, or do it entirely differently and make it work better – do it! There’s a lot to be said for trying to do some good in the world.