Editor’s note: We’ve asked a handful of design leaders to respond to prompts each week. This week’s prompt was “What’s the best advice you’ve received from a mentor?” Check out Andy Budd’s answer below, and submit your own response to our Medium publication.
As a business owner, the advice I get from my mentors tends to be in the form of specific questions. A few examples:
- Have you considered this particular share structure or financial reporting system?
- Have you spoken to that lawyer, solicitor, or consultant?
- Are you aware of this new organization process or trend?
Asking broad questions often results in the sort of aphorisms that would make a good motivational poster or trending tweet. But when someone who’s dealt with the issue you’re facing asks you really pointed questions, it helps you dig into the details, get exposed to new ideas, explore the opportunity space, and weigh the options.
A good mentor doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do. They don’t give you advice, either. A good mentor helps you think through problems based on their experience so you can come to your own conclusions.
“A good mentor doesn’t tell you what to do—they help you think through problems.”
I’ve had conversations with numerous people over the years who I’d consider mentors. Agency founders who’ve shared their growing pains, challenges, and opinions in a way that’s helped make my own agency more resilient—and more aware of the potential pitfalls that could be heading its way, and how to mitigate them. You may be looking for a different type of mentor: somebody to provide feedback on your work, help guide your career, or make better leadership decisions.
Whether these people would consider themselves mentors is an interesting question. My guess is that many wouldn’t.
Instead, I imagine they’d see themselves as peers, sharing their experience with somebody yet to tackle the issues they wrestled with a few years before. Paying it forward and passing their experience on.
“The best mentor relationships are born out of friendship, trust, and respect.”
I think the best mentor relationships are born out of friendship, trust, and respect—not out of obligation or necessity. These sort of relationships tend to be fairly fluid, ducking out of a conference to grab a coffee, or catching up over lunch when they happen to be passing through town. Somebody you know you can chat with when you’re mulling over a thorny question, but who you don’t overburden with your problems.
So the best advice I’ve had from a mentor isn’t important. The important thing is having those people in your life in the first place.
That’s where the real value lies.
Join the conversation
Write your own response to the prompt “What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a mentor?” on Medium, and submit it to our publication.
by Andy Budd
Andy Budd is one of the founding partners at User Experience Design Consultancy, Clearleft. As a leading authority on interaction design, Andy is a regular speaker at international conferences like The Web 2.0 Expo, An Event Apart and SXSW. Andy curates dConstruct, one of the most popular design conferences in the UK. He's also responsible for UX London, the UK's first dedicated Usability, Information Architecture and User Experience Design event.