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Are You My Mentor? Here’s some mentor reality…

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Entrepreneurship is learning that never ends. So most entrepreneurs will tell you that at least one great teacher or ‘mentor’ was a key to their success along the way. In fact, even the most accomplished entrepreneurs never stop being on the lookout for new mentors. We should, too.

But what should we be looking for? What you should be expecting when you find one? Here’s what we’ve learned from experience:

You’re not looking for a tutor. The kind of mentor you want–a successful, busy person–won’t be able to give you that kind of time. In fact, some of the people we’d consider our greatest mentors we might have only talked to once or twice in our careers—but the advice was so right at the right time, it caused a critical inflection point. So it’s quality not quantity. A mentor sees what you don’t see, knows what you don’t know—not because they’re smarter–but because they’ve got thousands more swings at the plate than you have. They’ve simply seen more patterns and connected more dots. But most of all–they see your problem from outside—an awesome perspective that you could never get unless you’re prone to having out of body experiences.

Mentors need you as much as they need them. Human beings have an instinctive need to pass the knowledge they treasure to the next generation. Mentors are successful people who are grateful for their success and know they owe their own mentors for it. They’re looking for someone to give it back to. They’re looking for you. So take the pressure off yourself–if you keep looking, asking and talking to people, you’ll find each other.

Mentors don’t work for hire, so you can’t just point and choose any mentor you want. Like any personal relationship, you can’t force it–there needs to be a little chemistry for both of you. It’s one more reason entrepreneurs are always on the lookout because like the loves of your life, the mentors of your life don’t come along every day. But they are there, in places you might never have expected to encounter them. They are always attracted by honest and sincere motives and mission.

Mentors may have great answers and advice—but ultimately they can only give you one kind: their answers—from their lives, their businesses and their unique circumstances. These may or may not prove to be yours. The ultimate answers for you are the ones you teach yourself by doing, feeling and internalizing on your own personal journey. Olympic Gold Medal winner Michael Phelps can tell you everything there is to know about swimming. But you have to jump in and get wet to understand it. A skydiving champion can teach you all about skydiving—but not what it feels like step through your own fear, step out that door into open space, and fly one time. Mentors can guide you and coach you, even save you years of trial and error with a single big bit of wisdom. But only you can truly teach you. Mentors are marvelous. But only motion is magic.

Bloomberg TV Features The UnStoppables and Graham Weston

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July 3: Here’s the whole interview with Graham talking about The UnStoppables with Betty Liu on Bloomberg TV In the Loop, broadcast nationally at 8am EST each day. Graham was UnStoppable as Betty–for good measure– attempted one slight confrontational shot about half way through. Graham caught the ball in mid-air and smacked it down the base line for the score. Made it look easy.

For all of you who plan to be interviewed on national TV someday, the satellite interview format from a remote location is never a piece of cake. You sit in a studio, looking at a blank camera lens with no monitor so you can’t see the host as you would in any normal conversation. You have an earpiece to hear the questions in one ear, that’s all. And there’s a slight delay to boot. They turn on your feed, the inteviewer says “hello” and bam, you’re live! No second takes.

Thanks Graham for showing us all how it’s done. As Snooks Kelley the legendary Boston College hockey coach used to say: “He put on a clinic.”


Risk-Taking On the Wane? Why America Needs the UnStoppables

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Our friend Dr. Jeffrey Zink, a renowned business leadership specialist, told us about this summary of a recent Wall Street Journal cover story he found in the Politico Playbook. Here’s a summary of the summary:

The article was called “Risk-Averse Culture Infects U.S. Workers, Entrepreneurs,” by Ben Casselman. It said: “Fewer Americans are changing jobs. Companies are hoarding more cash. And the proportion of new businesses has fallen. The result? A less dynamic economy. Three long-running trends suggest the U.S. economy has turned soft on risk: Companies add jobs more slowly, even in good times. Investors put less money into new ventures. … Americans start fewer businesses and are less inclined to change jobs or move for new opportunities. …” “For the first time since such records have been kept, the e Census found in 2008 that more Americans worked for big businesses-those with at least 500 workers-than small ones. The trend has continued since.”

Not good. Sounds like “red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” But why should we care if America’s great tradition of risk taking is losing its mojo?

If you think like an entrepreneur, it’s pretty obvious. Like the article says: “Entrepreneurs…create jobs for many others. And just as important, say economists, are small acts of risk-taking: workers who quit their jobs to find better ones, companies that expand payrolls and families that move from sluggish economic regions to ones with low unemployment rates. Multiplied across the U.S. economy, these acts of faith and ambition help speed money, talent and resources to where they are needed. …”

The WSJ article goes on to say that up until the 1980’s the economy used to take about 20 months on average to recover the net jobs lost in a recession. The early 1990’s recession took almost 3 years. The mild recession of 2001 took four years to get back to our employment peak. And four years after the great recession? We haven’t recovered yet. The overall conclusion backed by “a broad cross section of U.S. economists…is that a necessary kind of risk-taking is on the decline” in America.

Whether decline in risk taking is the disease or just a symptom is debatable. There are myriad global forces contributing to economic re-alignment. But the facts cited here do highlight one great big American reality–a central premise of The UnStoppables: We need millions more entrepreneurs if we are going to win the war for the economic future. The institutional status quo won’t get us there. And the need to mobilize every ounce of our Entrepreneurial potential is as vital an issue as any wartime threat we might have encountered in the past. If what it takes is to educate our students in new ways to understand fear, re-frame failure and to undertake the inevitable risks that that go with any achievement–if our society needs to focus once more on the “emotional mechanics” of doing great things, not just the technical mechanics learned in air conditioned classrooms–then that’s problem we have to solve with all the creativity, innovative spirit, energy and character we’ve got.

America can still be UnStoppable– but only if we dare.

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