Choosing a mentor is not necessarily a difficult task…provided you know what to look for.
It goes without saying that your mentor should be knowledgeable and successful in their area of expertise. But, according to Mark Ford, they should also be thoughtful.
Not thoughtful in the sense that they send you a birthday card every year, but thoughtful in their innate ability and desire to challenge the status quo and think outside the box.
Perhaps you’re wondering why this is so important. After all, as long as a mentor knows his or her stuff, you’re all set — right?
Below, Mark explains how a thoughtful mentor can boost your chances of success.
Does your mentor spend any time thinking? If not, should you be listening to their advice?
‘Now that you’re a multimillionaire,’ my friend said, ‘people will think you are smart. Whatever your IQ was a few years ago, it will shoot up 30 points in their eyes just because you’ve made a lot of money.’
As you might imagine, I was half insulted by that. But I knew what my friend meant. There is a natural flaw in human thinking to ascribe superior knowledge to superior performance.
On the surface it makes sense, doesn’t it?
But if you spend 30 seconds thinking about it, you’ll see why it’s wrong.
There is a big difference between being able to do something — even very well — and knowing what you are doing.
You can, for example, become a great singer simply by listening to singers you admire, imitating them, and then gradually developing a voice of your own. After your stint as an opera singer, you may be asked to teach singing. Will you be able to do it?
Only if you are that very rare person who actively and purposefully thinks about things.
Do successful people really know more about the world than the rest of us?
But do they at least know more than we do about how to succeed? Or at least how to succeed in their fields?
The answers are yes and yes, but mostly no.
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When I consider the successful people I know, I’d say that the great majority (maybe as many as 80–90%) have no useful or even realistic ideas about how they achieved their success.
They may have answers — even responses they feel to be true. But if you take the time to consider them, you’ll soon realise they make no sense.
The reason for that is also simple. Only a very small percentage of people — successful or not — spend any time thinking seriously about anything, including what they are doing and why.
They have thoughts like, ‘I’ve got to get into work early.’ Or ‘I have to write a great memo.’
But these are not the kinds of thoughts that lead to knowledge. They are impulses, notions, beliefs and shortcuts that people are emotionally attached to. They may be strongly and widely believed, but they are far from good and useful thoughts.
Does that sound harsh? Cynical? Condescending?
I’m not trying to be. I’m simply saying that having done or being able to do something doesn’t mean you actually know what you are doing.
I should define what I mean by thoughtful. I mean the habit of thinking deeply, persistently and originally. Latching on to existing theories, viewpoints and philosophies in block form — however complex or clever they might be — does not rate as thoughtful in my book. Quite the contrary.
So, can you trust successful people to teach you how to succeed?
The answer is that you cannot trust them unless they are both successful and thoughtful.
Succeeding, in other words, is a necessary but insufficient requirement for teaching success.
The other requirement is thoughtfulness. And very few people, even among the most successful, are thoughtful.
You can identify a good teacher by how many different ways he can explain the same thing, and by his ability to show you how so many seemingly disparate aspects of the skill or knowledge you are seeking are connected in some larger way.
So if you ask a successful person how to do this or that, and his answer is always the same, even though you let him know you don’t understand it, he is not a thoughtful person, and therefore not a good teacher.
Unless the person you are asking is both skilful and thoughtful, the answers you will get will be regurgitated pabulum.
If you’re wondering whether you are (by my standards) a thoughtful person, you can take this 10-question test:
- Do you understand that the world is infinitely complex and distrust easy answers, simple explanations or trite narratives?
- Do you notice and resent others’ programmatic thinking?
- Do you understand that the greatest truths are simple; that even in this infinitely complex world there are fundamental principles that explain and possibly govern everything?
- Do you never allow yourself to believe something simply because you want to believe it?
- Are you sceptical of your thoughts that feel comfortable or intuitive?
- Are you suspicious of consistency of opinions?
- Do you have the ability, as Aristotle said of thoughtful people, to entertain a thought without accepting it?
- Are you willing — no, eager — to think about things outside of your comfort zone?
- Do you prefer the contrarian idea to the conventional one?
- Do you want to understand — really understand — just about everything?
If you answered no to more than a couple of these questions, then you are not — at least in my book — a thoughtful person. That doesn’t mean you are a bad person. Nor does it mean you won’t be successful.
Remember, by my calculation, 80–90% of the successful people I know are thoughtless.
But if you want to learn and/or teach, then you have to at least understand what good thinking is.
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Editor’s Note: Mark has spent more than three decades dispensing wisdom like this…and now he’s compiled it into the most comprehensive wealth-building program in existence…
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