Recently, a local friend asked me if I knew of someone I could recommend who would be a good mentor for her. After thinking a bit about who I might recommend, I came up with an answer she didn't expect: instead of seeking a conventional mentor, become active on Twitter and in LinkedIn groups. Via Twitter and LinkedIn, one can learn a great deal, including information about upcoming webinars, tweetchats, and in-person events -- often low cost or even free -- in which one can participate.
Before Twitter and LinkedIn existed, I contributed to the rise in number of in-person events as BayCHI's Program Chair for twelve years and as SIGCHI's Local Chaper Chair for five years. Today, BayCHI and other SIGCHI chapters around the world have lots of competition. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is something going on of relevance to the fields I care about nearly every day.
I try to take advantage of this fact as much as possible. During the seven day period I'm in the middle of as I write this, I've got an evening design charrette (sponsored by the CCA MBA in Design Strategy), two daytime webinars, two evening talks (one via TEDxBayArea), a Creative Mornings San Francisco talk, and an afternoon design research "whiteboard" on my calendar. And then there are the many new blog entries and a couple of LinkedIn discussions that I'll be trying to keep up with...
Yes, I have other things going on in my life. Hence, I'll probably not make it to everything I have on my calendar (indeed, I've already missed one webinar), and I know for sure I'll fall further behind on the reading I'd like to do, but in today's quickly changing world, ongoing learning (and sharing) are vital activities.
I particularly value the longer participatory activities. The design charrette mentioned above focused on healthcare redesign, a topic of particular importance to me. Last month's two-day SF global service (design) jam and January's one-day Stanford d.school bootcamp enabled me to work with people I wouldn't otherwise, rekindle old relationships and develop new ones, refresh and reenergize, and learn (and try out) a few approaches new to me.
And I'm even continuing to contribute to the list of local events, though less frequently than years ago. An example of this was my 2-hour interview of Don Norman and Jon Kolko on stage this past September at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco; a video of this event is available via YouTube.
During a time when our system of education is considered outdated and otherwise broken, taking and giving advantage of new learning opportunities is important. For a good book on this topic, see A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seeley Brown; I received a copy of this book for free at a local presentation by the second author.
All of this might not completely supplant the guidance of a good mentor, but...