Babylon to Steve Jobs: 4,000 years of Mentorship

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Michelangelo Illustration

In 1718, a 12-year-old Benjamin Franklin was indentured to his older brother James to learn the printing business. Indentured servitude was an early form of mentorship in which young children between the ages of 10 and 14 worked alongside a skilled craftsman to learn a trade. In return for the cheap labor, the master craftsman would provide the apprentice with food, lodging and training for seven years or more. Up to two-thirds of white immigrants arrived in the American colonies as indentured servants between the 1630s and the American Revolution.

Hammurabi CodeOne of the earliest known records of mentorship is referenced in the Code of Hammurabi (see left), an ancient Babylonian code of laws that dates back to 1772 BC. While the Code of Hammurabi gave young apprentices the right to take their teachers to court if they failed to teach them the craft, the modern equivalent, interns, have far less power. It seems most organizations see interns as cheap labor suitable for only the most mundane of tasks, yet for thousands of years, apprenticeship was a core thread in the fabric of society, ensuring that vital skills were not lost.

While working at Endeavor, I saw firsthand the power of mentorship in action. Only about 2.5% of the applicants from Endeavor’s 20 country offices get into the program. The entrepreneurs that make it are truly some of the most talented entrepreneurs in the world and yet there is still a lot they don’t know. The power of the Endeavor model resides in its global community of mentors. No matter what an entrepreneur is struggling with, there is someone within the Endeavor community who has the answer. For some questions, a simple one-hour mentoring session with an expert can clear the fog. For more strategic challenges, Endeavor assigns entrepreneurs an advisory board, which includes seasoned experts who can walk alongside the entrepreneur and guide him or her. These gentle (or sometimes not so gentle) nudges can truly make the difference between success and failure.

Robert Noyce, Co-Founder of Intel, was one of Steve Jobs’ mentors. Jobs in turn, mentored Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg and Google’s Larry Page. Not only does this mentor-mentee circle form the core of entrepreneurial ecosystems, it also provides the foundation for a model that successfully rehabilitates ex-convicts.

Delancey Street Foundation was started in 1971 with four residents and a $1,000 loan. Today, it has successfully graduated over 14,000 ex-convicts through a program that Dr. Karl Menninger, an American psychiatrist and grandfather of the American mental health movement, called “the best and most successful rehabilitation program I have studied in the world.” Founder Mimi Silbert, has noted that most convicts enter the program with an expectation to receive. They quickly realize that to excel at Delancey Street you also have to give. The entire program is built around a ladder of mentorship. When you enter the program you start at the bottom, but are assigned a mentor. While you may only have a sixth grade reading level, you can still teach the next guy who can only read at a fourth grade level. As you move up the ladder, your knowledge increases, as does your capacity to teach.

One of the characteristics of the greatest values-based companies is they understand the value of growth. Whether professional, physical, emotional or spiritual, growth is critical for human health. Did you know that excessive reliance on GPS can actually lead your brain’s hippocampus (responsible for spatial memory) to atrophy? Attending a conference once a year is not the same as learning from an expert every week. If mentorship is good enough for Silicon Valley’s great entrepreneurs and the country’s ex-convicts, what are you waiting for? Do you have a mentor? Are you mentoring someone else?

Photo Credit: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, Claude Valette

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One Response

  1. Evan
    | Reply

    Love it.

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