Does Mentorship Accelerate Success?


There’s a terrific book out there called “Smartcuts, How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success” by Shane Snow. Shane attempts to provide answers as to why and how some individuals end up having a shorter path to success. Typically, the “normal” path to create your own success is by working hard and climbing the proverbial ladder. Mr. Snow thinks there’s a hack to this “normal” path of success, which is mentorship. In the book he gives quite a few real life examples of individuals that have significantly cut the time it would normally take to create success by having a mentor. One real life example is Louis C.K. and Justin Bieber. I know, it’s a weird combo. Louis C.K. did stand-up comedy for over 15 years before catching a break and finally hitting it big with his own T.V. series. Justin Bieber on the other hand shot to super stardom in about a year. Yes, there’s some luck involved, but there’s something more to this whole concept.

For the first 15 years of Louis C.K.’s career he created his own path without any help from anyone. Then two years prior to his breakout T.V. show he met George Carlin. As Louis C.K. talks about his path to success, the biggest single turning point in his professional career came from meeting Mr. Carlin. For those two years, Mr. Carlin took Louis C.K. under his wings and provided him with advice and creative feedback. Throughout the time they worked together they formed an amazing friendship and lasting bond. When Louis C.K. is asked about his time with Mr. Carlin you can see the emotion on his face and the appreciation he had for Mr. Carlin. Louis C.K. has become one of the funniest, most successful comedians on the planet. His staying power is almost unparalleled to any other comedian in his field.

Now, let’s take Justin Bieber’s meteoric rise to fame. Justin was found on YouTube. With the help of R&B megastar Usher Raymond and successful manager Scooter Braun, Justin rose to stardom in a year. Mr. Snow states that Usher and Braun pulled Justin up the ladder where he could be introduced to a wider audience. Without the help of Usher and Braun, Justin would’ve been playing road shows for years to come. The problem is that Justin’s rapid rise was followed by a rapid fall with Justin getting in increasing amounts of trouble. Why did Justin fall after having one of the best mentor’s in the business help him along the way? The answer lies in Justin never forming the type of relationship with Usher that Louis C.K. formed with Mr. Carlin. This begs the question of why history is full of people who’ve been lucky enough to have amazing mentors and a rapid rise to fame, but have stumbled along the way where others have succeeded for years to come?

In Mr. Snow’s book he gives an answer based on a young psychologist’s mentorship research. The psychologist’s name is Christina M. Underhill. This answer points to a difference between structured mentoring programs and mentorship that happened organically.

“In fact, one-on-one mentoring in which an organization formally matched people proved to be nearly as worthless as a person having not been mentored at all. However, when students and mentors came together on their own and formed personal relationships, the mentored did significantly better, as measured by future income, tenure, number of promotions, job satisfaction, work stress, and self-esteem.”

Mr. Snow backs up this data by stating that the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, dedicates an entire chapter in her book to this concept: “asking someone to formally mentor you is like asking a celebrity for an autograph; it’s stiff, inorganic, and often doesn’t work out.”

Mr. Snow’s answer to why some mentorships work phenomenally well while others fail is Vulnerability. Charlie Kim, founder of Next Jump, states that this is the key: “Developing a deep and organic relationship that leads to journey focused mentorship and not just a focus on practice. Both the teacher and the student must be able to open up about their fears and that builds trust, which in turn accelerates learning. That trust opens us up to actually heeding the difficult advice we might otherwise ignore. It drives you to do more. The best mentors help students to realize that the things that really matter are not the big and obvious. The more vulnerability is shown in the relationship, the more critical details become available for a student to pick up on, and assimilate. 

Mr. Snow goes on to say:

“The reason…successful mentees…succeeded in the long run is that mentors who were invested in their success, who showed vulnerability and cared enough to tell them what they didn’t want to hear when they needed to hear it, forced them to examine success-crucial details more closely than they might have on their own.”

This concept is very important to think about in the financial world. Whether you are a trader or investor mentorship can be a HUGE benefit in cutting your learning time down to a fraction of what would otherwise be years of painstaking work. The problem is many individuals seek out their mentors without ever thinking about the issues laid out above. The huge failure rate of traders and investors can be attributed to the lack of vulnerability in the mentee-mentor relationship. There’s no personal connection and therefore, no vested interest in whether the mentee is successful or not. Mentorship does accelerate success, but it can also create failure in the wrong situation.