The typical answer these days to the question “How do I find a mentor?” is “Network, network, network.” In fact that same answer is used for a lot of startup questions from how to find a partner to how to find investors. But Adam Grant has a much better answer in his New York Times article Good News for Young Strivers: Networking Is Overrated.
Grant is the author of two business books, both of which I’ve read and highly recommend: Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success and Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. Grant has been Wharton’s top-rated professor for six straight years.
Here’s his key actionable insight about networking as it applies to making connections:
It’s true that networking can help you accomplish great things. But this obscures the opposite truth: Accomplishing great things helps you develop a network.
And, of course, mentoring comes up several times in his article on how founders and others should focus on achievements, not networking.
For George Lucas, a turning point was when Francis Ford Coppola hired him as a production assistant and went on to mentor him. Mr. Lucas didn’t schmooze his way into the relationship, though. As a film student he’d won first prize at a national festival and a scholarship to be an apprentice on a Warner Bros. film — he picked one of Mr. Coppola’s.
For entrepreneurs, too, achievement is a magnet to mentors and a beacon to backers
The best way to attract a mentor is to create something worthy of the mentor’s attention. Do something interesting, and instead of having to push your way in, you’ll get pulled in. The network comes to you.
There’s a great saying, “It’s not who you know, but who knows you.” The best way to is to accomplish something of interest to the people you are interested in. And of course you can’t keep it a secret. As Grant writes:
Of course, accomplishments can build your network only if other people are aware of them. You have to put your work out there. It shouldn’t be about promoting yourself, but about promoting your ideas.
So if you are comfortable networking I certainly wouldn’t discourage you, but it is neither necessary nor sufficient to find a mentor, or for that matter a partner or an investor. Start building your startup, even if it’s only a paper prototype and start showing it to potential customers, advisors, partners, and other that may find it of interest.
Finally to quote Adam Grant one more time on networking:
The best networking happens when people gather for a purpose other than networking, to learn from one another or help one another.
Hackathons are a great example of this. So, as another wise person pointed out in a previous post about finding a mentor, is volunteering – helping other people. So if you are comfortable network, go right ahead. But budget your time – you should either be helping yourself, by building your startup or helping others. Then you’ll find mentors and they will find you.