“Mentor” now chasing “Innovative” as most used and misused business term



I was dismayed by the use of the word “mentor”  in the Business Insider article by Rosalie Chan Larry Ellison says that Oracle was once a week away from not being able to pay employees — here’s the lesson he learned from the experience.

Ellison hosts a cocktail reception to mentor startup founders each year. Last week, he hosted the founders of 22 startups at his San Francisco home — and eWeek was in attendance to report on the advice he gave.

First of all it is impossible to mentor 22 people at once! Second and perhaps less obviously, mentoring is not a one-time thing, it’s relationship between the founder and the mentor that can last months or even years. Larry may well be advising 22 startup founders and perhaps he mentors a handful of them – the article doesn’t say. But mentor is starting to get overused just as the words innovate and innovation have before it. This blog devotes an entire category to mentoring.

However, the article does include two good lessons learned by Larry Ellison when Oracle was a startup, not the behemoth it is today, 40 years later.

First, is to balance doing whatever it takes to pay the bills with whatever it is that you actually want to do. One of my newest mentees is struggling over earning money from a first client, but a client that’s a real outlier on the distribution of target clients. The number one need in all startup is cash. Even if you are sharing an apartment with six other engineers and living on ramen noodles you still need cash. So I totally agree with Larry’s advice – do whatever you need to do to earn cash even if it’s NRE – non-recurring engineering. 

Second, once your startup crosses the chasm and becomes an on-going concern you can’t get complacent. As Ellison says:

The old solution to customers’ problems may no longer be the best solution. When you see that, it’s an opportunity—or a threat,” Ellison said, according to eWeek. “It’s our job as founders and developers to constantly change our companies based on technology available today that wasn’t available yesterday.

And like every other company, Oracle is realizing that AI is not just a science experiment any longer, Oracle has been focusing on its autonomous, AI-powered database and its cloud solution.

As a mentor I hope that the it remains a term of art, unlike innovative, too often used and misused as in “new, innovative” which is redundant, as the very definition of innovate includes the word new.

innovative |ˈinəˌvādiv| adjective(of a product, idea, etc.) featuring new methods; advanced and originalinnovative designs | innovative ways to help unemployed people.(of a person) introducing new ideas; original and creative in thinking: an innovative thinker.

Well I’ve hit my pedantry quota for the day!



Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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