Mentorship at Scale

For some time now I’ve heard many people talking about the importance of mentorship programs and how mentors can have a defining impact in your life. Although I think that this is for the most part true, I think there’s one problem with the idea of mentors and it’s that it doesn’t scale very well. This has several ramifications including:

  1. Mentorship can’t be universally accessible: for every mentee that a mentor has it means that they can spend less time with someone else. Mentor/mentee relationship are based mostly based on proximity or affiliation rather than highest utility for both parties. It’s highly inefficient and some might argue unfair.
  2. Mentorship is a synchronous activity: although you can have a mentorship via email, mentorships that are in-person or via phone/vc require both parties to take time out of their day. This means that the mentee has to make a ton of effort to make the most out of their mentor’s time. Sometimes the mentor/mentee might have nothing to talk about but they might still meet in order to maintain a regular cadence. There are endless thing that can happen but in the end it all boils down to the same thing – there’s friction in synchronous communication.
  3. Mentorship favors known unknown: If I am a mentee I will ask my mentors about the things that I know that I don’t know. For example, I might be thinking about starting a career in law (e.g. definitely not my case lol) so I will ask my mentor about law school because that’s something that’s top of mind for me as a junior or senior in college. However, I might not ask them about the best firms to go to if I want to be a corporate attorney because that’s not something that I know is important. This a hypothetical case because I know nothing about law but the point still holds. Occasionally a mentor might surface something that was unknown to the mentee but for the most part things will stay in realm of what’s known to the mentee.

Now it seems that I am complaining but I am really not. I am just trying to point out what I think can be improved about mentorships. In my own case I’ve moved towards a different model of seeking mentorship. I’ve realized that mentorship can come through many different forms including books, videos, podcasts and many more. Through these pieces of content I can learn exponentially more than what I would pursuing 1:1 ad-hoc mentorships. Do they completely replace in-person mentorships? Probably not but in general I’ve realized that they give me a lot more leverage.