Innovation and Mentorship

An innovator brings to mind someone – a lone warrior surcharged with talent, passion and a burning desire to make his/her way in this world against all odds – one who is working hard, leaving no stone unturned, burning midnight oil, ready to take any risk. The reality has something different to show – innovators are not alone, they have mentors in fact they need mentors. Behind every great leader is a suite of great mentors and advisors. Innovators are no exception. Steve Jobs had Ed Woolard and John Sculley, Bill Gates considers Warren Buffet a mentor, Mark Zuckerberg has Steve Jobs as his mentor.

We have mentors practically in every aspect of our life. Our parents are our mentors. Our teachers are our mentors. Innovation is no exception. Innovation implies that we are making a beginning, we are exploring something new, perhaps we are on our own with minimal resources and support, success is uncertain. Therefore we need mentors all the more. A Stanford University executive coaching survey found 80 per cent of CEOs polled had received some form of mentorship. In another survey, Sage found 93% of small and medium sized business owners acknowledged mentorship is critical to success.

It is said in the great epic Mahabharata, the student attains a quarter of learning happens through experience over time, a quarter from his mentor, a quarter from the study of books and a quarter from discussion with peers.

kālena pāda labhate tathārtha tataś ca pāda guru-yogataś ca
āha-yogena ca pādam cchecchāstrea pāda ca tato ‘bhiyāti  [Mahabharata Udyoga-parva, Chapter 44, Verse 16]

Books are essential and can help us learn concepts and principles. We need mentors to understand how to apply those principles and concepts in our context. In the case of a startup, the road ahead is not straight, the road is not fully clear. There are many forks – we need to make many choices. We need someone who has walked the way and who can help us find the way. This helps us develop confidence and security.

A startup implies that we are starting something new i.e. we are doing it for the first time. It’s very likely we commit mistakes. A mentor can greatly help us avoid mistakes because he is equipped with experience which we don’t possess. He can alert us at the right time. A stitch in time saves nine. But as a matter of fact, mistakes and failures are unavoidable. A mentor can help us to handle the mistakes with courage and not to be let down by our mistakes. He can help us develop the ability to learn from our mistakes. This saves a lot of time, energy and more important stress, anxiety.

Everyone of us need appreciation, encouragement and hope in the path we are treading. When we are trying something new, it’s very much possible that we have to confront a great deal of skepticism, discouragement and apprehension. A mentor can give us the required appreciation, encouragement and hope.

Our abilities, skills, expertise, success, achievements can potentially make us believe that we don’t need a mentor. We are suffiently skilled, competent enough to learn anything and do anything. Pride is a great stumbling block. It makes us over confident, feel invincible, lose our alertness, foresight etc. Titanic is indeed an outstanding example in this regard. Sprituality and spiritual wisdom helps us in detecting pride and dealing with it.

Bhagavad Gita educates us about the symptoms and danger of pride.  [BG 16.4]

Pride is symptomized by anger, harshness and ignorance and leads us to darkness. Gita also equips us with the antidote to pride – real knowledge and life based on real knowledge.

We are by intrinsically fallible as stated in BG 15.16

Our abilities, intelligence  are also fallible. They are also finite. We commit mistakes and we forget things. This proves us being fallible and finite. Gita points us to the real source of knowledge.

Knowledge, remembrance and forgetfulness come from Me.

Understanding this divine and real source of knowledge and regularly reminding ourselves of this truth can greatly prevent us from falling prey to pride. This truth makes us understand we need external help to acquire knowledge, intelligence etc. Gita also educates us on the right way to receive knowledge.

BG 4.34 teaches us that inquiry, receptivity and gratitude are the keys to acquire knowledge. We need to have interest to learn, we need to recognize the superiority of our and respect them by being receptive and we should reciprocate with gratitude for what we are receiving.


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