(Hello there, and welcome back to the creative madness!)
The Topic of today is 'How to survive as a Creative Hunter-Gatherer in the age of Homo Deus'.
(Okay, not really.)
…actually, it is Mentors and Industry Partners!
But before we dive in, let’s just take a few seconds to acknowledge the fact that there is like a bazillion articles that stress how important it is for all creatives and non-creatives alike to get a mentor and roughly another gazillion articles that provide tips on how to acquire such a relationship. (Not to mention the steadily growing number of platforms and services that promise to find you a perfect mentor-match.) It is safe to say that most of the ‘mentorship-related’ questions have been already answered. This means that I do not have to drag you through yet another ’10 reasons Why you need a Mentor’ or ‘5 steps How to Get the Perfect Mentor’ article. Really, the only reason why I am here is to offer you my honest recollection of how I acquired my mentors and industry pals for my project (and a few extra thoughts on this topic – like the fact that mentoring is quite a well-known concept amongst students but having an industry partner still sounds a little foreign and out of reach for some – me included).
If you are a ‘green-bean’ (a fairly young and inexperienced fellow) you might think that your mentor or industry partner has to be the complete opposite of you – simply a ‘crackerjack’ (an accomplished professional), which is understandable. However, it does not always have to be that way. Sure, it would be great to be able to sauce out all the tips from an experienced veteran (and If you have such a connection then, by all means, get all the wisdom you can) but there are a few things, which you should consider before you get your heart set on someone (professionally not romantically).
1.) How likely is it that such a successful person would have time just for you?
2.) Do you think that a successful career equals great mentorship skills?
You should also consider that in an industry that moves and evolves as fast as the Creative industry it might be just as beneficial to seek advice from someone who is only a few steps ahead of you. In the end, it all depends on what you want to get out of that relationship. Remember, you are not limited to just one mentor per lifetime… And just to make sure that I am not misleading anyone I’d like to emphasize that I am not saying that having a ‘complete badass master’ as your mentor is not useful (because it is certainly a very valuable connection), I’d just like to shift your attention elsewhere – perhaps somewhere where you haven’t even thought to take a look before – your peers!
(What a revolutionary concept?!)
Chances are that if you are currently studying at a University or if you are a member of a Creative community (don’t worry Instagram, Dribble, and Behance count too) then you already have a large pool of potential mentors and industry partners. If you don’t believe that your equals could help you, then try starting a conversation with someone who is a few years older – I am sure that the next few steps, which await you in your career, are still fresh in their memory + you never know where this conversation might take you (maybe you’ll start a business together in the future, who knows?). Admittedly, this concoction of ‘mentors’ and ‘industry partners’ might be getting a little bit confusing, but I am sure we can figure it out if we define what we expect from each one of these relationships. Since you will most likely need both personas in your life, you should know what is expected from you in these relationships and what are their boundaries.
The mentor in this relationship is a person who provides relevant experience and expertise, constructive criticism, personal insights, a bucket full of enthusiasm (because sometimes all we need is a personal cheerleader), and as a bonus, the mentor also pushes and challenges the mentee to help them reach their full potential.
Meanwhile, the mentees are usually labeled as subordinates (and in some cases, they are even described as passive consumers of wisdom), which might be true for some, but every single relationship is going to be different. If I had to speak for myself, I would say that it depends on the relationship itself and on the attitude of the mentee. I believe that the mentor-mentee relationship can be beneficial for both parties if they are a good match, and if there is trust (and passion for the subject).
So, what makes a great mentee? Well, they are always on time (they value the time of both individuals). They are great listeners (they make notes during meetings). They are not afraid to ask follow-up questions (yes, even the stupid ones). They bring something to the table (they come prepared). They take action (they do something with the information that has been provided) and give regular updates (they stay in touch). And lastly, they pay it forward (they are willing to help others).
Whereas Industry (or Collaborative) Partners are (as the name implies) fellows with mutual interests, who work together as a team to get to their goals (they support each other on the journey - while they may or may not work on the same project).
They offer each other valuable insights (talking things through with someone who knows what is up is always a good idea). They offer each other help (providing resources, contacts, skills, etc.). They keep each other accountable (meeting deadlines and taking breaks) and provide emotional support (they hold each other up, bring each other back down to earth and let each other cry it out as needed).
Overall, having more people on board makes work more sustainable and fun (and it makes trying new stuff less scary)! As a cherry on top, if you branch out of your personal network (your comfort zone) you can make new connections, which can help you in your future career - and let’s be honest here… your exhaustive list of contacts (although very impressive) might not include the right kind of people for that specific project, skill, or career path. So, you’ll have to look for new partners, which is a good thing!
So how did I go about it?
Step 1) Know what you are doing.
This was (is?) a big issue for me because I tend to go quite broad and deep with my projects (yep, I did the same thing when I was finishing up my BA). I can’t seem to settle down on an idea until it ‘feels’ right (or until someone else sits me down and tells me to stop looking around and start doing something). So even though this step says, “know what you are doing” - I did not…
(Just so that you are in the loop on my situation I was exploring communication, truth, meaning, information, and philosophy.)
…but then again, if I knew exactly what I should do - I would not need a mentor or a partner. So, I would say that I had just the right amount of information about the project to know (roughly) who to reach out to.
Step 2) Find relevant people.
This is where my research came in handy. Considering how broad the previously mentioned themes are, I have already put together quite a good list of people who tap into similar issues. Of course, my list also featured a lot of people who are (sort of) out of reach for me – I cannot fathom in what universe I would have to be, where Jenny Holzer or Lawrence Weiner would have the time to respond to me. (That is if my message would even reach them because most likely there is someone else who takes care of the administrative work.) However, there were also a few more attainable options and perhaps even more suitable (because if I got the chance to have a conversation with one of those giants on my list, I would probably just stare at them).
Oh, and I did not stop there! I have also signed myself up for the #30days30works challenge, which might sound like it is completely irrelevant - but it is not (trust me). There are a bunch of other creatives who are taking part in this and the website features a list of all the participants with convenient links (mainly to Instagram) - what more could I ask for?
Then we have the usual suspects like LinkedIn, Dots, Behance, and Dribble… but I tend to use Instagram the most.
Lastly, I also have my own little network of people – the DIBM, the RSA fellows, my buddies from the University of Derby, pals from my Graphic Design studies, and housemates who are enrolled in similar courses like Brand Management, etc.
Step 3) Start a conversation.
Alright, before I even started contacting the people who are on my list, I messaged this one person that I am in touch with no matter what. She is a dear friend of mine and a brilliant mentor. (FYI – female mentors are also called femtors – apparently – but I am not a big fan of that word.) Naturally, she was the first person that I spoke to about my project and this conversation went on for over two hours (we had a lot to discuss), but since we have an established mentor-mentee relationship (and a very good friendship), I knew that this is not really fulfilling what I have set out to do – to find an industry partner. Her advice and insights are always valuable – that will never change – but if I want to grow then I have to challenge myself and get out of my little bubble (but I still thought that it is only right to mention her here because most of the time she is the one who keeps me from drowning in the chaos).
I would also like to point out that I literally walked into this friendship by chance – mostly thanks to the fact that I would spend a lot of my time in the workshops, and I happened to be there at the right time. Only a few days after our first meeting I found out that my new friend is actually a member of the teaching staff. The main takeaway from this experience is that in order to find like-minded people you have to be involved with your craft and you have to stay present. Contacting people is actually not that difficult (Anyone can easily send out 5-10 emails every day while sipping on that morning cup of Joe - and in a week this would amount to 35-70 'contacted' people.) but making a connection, that is a challenge.
But let’s get back to our scheduled program – starting a conversation with potential industry partners. My contacts could be separated into 3 main groups (and the list of names may continue to grow) and one bonus category:
a) Professionals from the Industry.
b) Graduates and Post-Graduates who have worked with similar topics.
c) My course-mates.
+ Unpromted Wildcards
These groups also conveniently correspond with how probable I thought it would be to get a response – from ‘Not very likely’ to ‘Certainly a Yes!’
With the a) group I tried to keep my emails very brief. (I am sure that no one wants to have a copy of my 'origin story' in their mailbox.) I gave away just enough information to spark their interest while I made sure to also include the reasons why I contacted them specifically (highlighting their work).
With the b) group I used Instagram as my weapon of choice (read as 'communication tool'). Again, I provided just a brief overview of the topics that I am exploring and after that, I focused more on asking questions (about their process and projects) as we continued to exchange ideas and insights.
Finally, the c) group did not require any strategic planning or special frameworks. After all, these are my people! It is only natural that we share information, complain to each other (a lot), and just generally work through our projects together (El Mayarah = Stronger Together).
Step 4) Document everything.
Documentation is a continual process and an essential part of my practice. I always make notes during meetings or whenever any ideas, thoughts, or questions hit me! I used to stick to the good old pen and paper, but recently I have made the switch to a tablet (gotta save the trees). For other random note-making, I rely on the Android Notes App since my phone is always close by.
I also tend to keep a Project Log in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. It is not necessarily meant for other people, but it sure helps to have all the work stored in one place in case I need to share it with anyone (or if I happen to fall into a coma or get amnesia – this Project Log should help restart my memory in no time!).
Step 5) Keep it up, buttercup!
“Just keep going.” - this is how my tutors would always end our meetings, so it is only right if I keep that up and continue their legacy.