Learning about #Hackmentoring

How we think about mentoring and how we practice it  is important for the learning of others and also ourselves. Rarely, however do we really question the dominant view of mentoring or the learning value of formalized mentoring schemes many of us participate in. I’m of the belief we should not only question mentoring, but we should # it.  

Learning about and mentoring

Hacking is a mindset and practice of modifying something through exploration and play to accomplish something that is outside the creators intended application [1]. It is about a way of doing things to explore meaningful possibilities or pushing the boundaries of possibility about something. Hacking or being a hacker or hack is often attributed to a subculture of computer programer or network hackers. While mass use of the term did emerge academia in 1960′s and 1970s associated with computer programming [1], it is also used in other fields like in art and fashion amongst others.

Can we hack mentoring? Why would we?

When we think about mentoring, we often think of it in terms of the Greek Mythological origins of the term Méntōr; and the characteristics of who is portrayed in the myth i.e., Méntōr and Telemachus. We think of a senior, older and/or experienced person (mentor) offering advice and support to a junior, younger and/or less experienced person (mentee). However in this we assume mentoring is about the characteristics of people, and not a practice that people participate in. We also place the individuals involved on some form of a psychological hierarchy at polar opposites of more-less or high-low i.e., senior-junior, older-younger, experienced-less experienced. This is akin to how we treat learning in many formal learning contexts like schools, colleges and universities and mentoring programs created by management [2].

But, the world is constantly changing. How we learn, share and support each other and who participates in the practice of shared learning is evolving. As is what experiences people share and why.

Mentoring is about different experiences, not having more-less or high-low experience.

Mentoring is a practice not the characteristics of a person.

Mentoring is the act of sharing naturally not a formal structured management program.

Mentoring is is something we all do everyday. It is a practice we enact through listening, sharing, advising, celebrating, caring for and supporting people who are different to ourselves in their learning. It is also something everyone can and does practice. Everyone is a mentor, just like everyone learns from others. Our ways of learning and what we learn may just be different.

As the world changes, so must we. It is time to stop using the term mentee for three reason.

  1. Mentor/mentee infers a psychological hierarchy, structure or relationship based on the inferiority of one to the other in terms of position, age, knowledge and/or experience;
  2. The Latinate suffix of mentor -tor is “doer”. The -ee of mentee is “one who has an action done upon them”. This infers that the mentee is passive and that sharing and learning is only one way. That only one party, the mentee learns from the relationship.
  3. It implies that a junior, younger or less experienced person cannot mentor a senior, older or more experienced person. Which in terms of social and digital change and social activism is an assumption that is being challenged in many ways. Someone seen as inexperienced in something may not be clouded by past learning, and thus offer a creative or different way to do, be or share something. A few names spring to mind here: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Temple Grandin, Judit Polgar and Severn Cullis-Suzuki

Everyone is a mentor. Everyone is learning.

As an example of what I mean by everyone is a mentor and learning; and to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) and Women of the World in Wales, for the past 30 days I have shared some of my experiences of mentoring while living in Wales the last 10 years in the Insight Series #WOWWales.

For 30+ days I posted 30 blog posts about different women who have inspired, supported and encouraged me, i.e., mentored me in some way and often possibly without knowing it. I’ve also made reference to some of the men who value and support them.

Not one of these experiences was in the context of a formal structured management program. Different life events and circumstance resulted in our meeting and our shared learning from each other so far.

The important thing is, how we use this opportunity to learn from each other once connected … is genuinely up to us.

#HackMentoring — is the practice of exploring the possibilities for shared learning equitably as mentors; is about discovering creative and unique ways to push the boundaries of how we think about and practice shared learning with/between others and ourselves. It is about co-creating experiences for all to participate in shared learning on their own terms.


[1]. Richard Stallman, On Hacking, Stallman.org

[2] Odiorne, G. S. (1985). Mentoring – An American Management Innovation. Personnel Administrator (30): 63–65.

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