Talk About Quality

Tom Harris

Mentoring is Kids’ Stuff

with one comment

Here’s Ron Porter commenting on that 30-to-1 ratio of productivity we hear about. He talks about the top performers bringing the others up to speed. That’s not a way things work — it’s the only way.

In high school I was always on the “B” team in soccer. (Back then I was a 5 out of 30 at soccer.) My best days were when they mixed us with the “A” team — our defense with their forwards and goalie vs. their defense with our offense and goalie. Playing defense with an “A” team around me made me play better.

There are two reasons to try to make the “A” team; together they offer an opportunity for everyone. Either you are really good so you get on the “A” team, or you want to be good so you need to get on the (bottom of the) “A” team so you’ll improve.

Then Daniel Read asked how Ron mentored welders. (That’s what Ron was doing before he was programming, and perhaps before he started building boats.) Ron gave a 3-step program:

1. Stand up to superiors
2. Be willing to suffer ridicule
3. Keep records of everything

That’s my paraphrase — read how he said it: How to mentor a welder.

Ron, you’ve got it exactly right. I can assure you that it is “directly transferable to … other kinds of jobs.” Certainly not just programming. I sometimes think that programming (now called “software development”) is the only profession that thinks it’s so, so different. Yes software is different, but people in it are not.

About whether mentoring works like this everywhere: of course it does. It’s simply called “how people learn”. I wrote about it here. But don’t read me. Read Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society.

When I’m not reading or working, I’m learning to roller blade. A pair of skates, a video here, a website there, and some practice. Gets me to about 1 out of 30. Apply Ron’s rule #2 though, and I go out to the park where all those kids skate circles around me. They’re all 10-out-of-30 going on 20-out-of-30 skill-wise. I watch them and even ask them questions. They’re fascinated for a moment that an adult might ask a kid how to do something. But they get over it quickly — acting like natural mentors. Which they are. And how about that — now I can actually skate around the neighborhood.

Mentoring is no mystery. It is kids’ stuff.


Written by Tom Harris

July 21, 2006 at 12:17 am

Posted in Learning

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  1. […] I am once again making an exception to my rule of not writing posts that are little more than links to other people’s posts.  I stumbled across an interesting post in the Morning Reading Queue™ today, which led me to another post, which then led me to an insightful comment, all of which are related to one of my burning desires and an episode in my past.  Let us begin. […]

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