It’s never been easier to surround yourself with thought leaders, experts, and virtual mentors to help you navigate a world you didn’t know exists

Front-loaded education creates a knowledge gap that widens over time as technology, exponential growth, and capabilities across different fields converge. In 1994 I conducted a survey that proves this point – a search for well-known consumer product companies including FORD dot com returned an error message. Their site didn’t exist. People preferred the Minnesota Gopher Network, data was still shared on paper, and pagers outnumbered mobile phones 10:1, and pay-phones were still ubiquitous.

In the mid-90’s devices were built for one purpose and many services we depend on today did not exist. Communicate, record, photograph, send, catalog, play music, and so on, all single function devices. As those machines merged, apps have exploded; review the catalog of software and services launched in the last decade: Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Zoom, Dropbox, Uber, Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, Siri, Airbnb, Tic Toc, Instagram, YouTube, and countless social media apps.

This has created an impossible situation. People don’t have the bandwidth to sift through the data explosion around them. We all need teachers, guides, virtual mentors, actually “Digital Mentors” who can help us make sense out of the massive information cloud and explain it to us in simple terms. We need people who can teach us how to use it.

Experts have good instincts about what to keep and what to ignore in their domains. It’s easy to find opinions, but it’s difficult to uncover insights, since noise is increasing faster in our omni-connected world. This is a challenge.

Experts flag actionable insights, deliver them in a consumable way, and provide a framework to help us remember what they just taught us

How many devices have smart phones replaced? Pagers, address books, cameras, CD players; and all the physical devices and furniture they rendered obsolete – film, phone books, compact discs, the jewel cases that housed them, countless CD albums to hold discs, albums to hold photographs, and bookshelves to hold the albums. Smart phones vaporized entire industries. Here’s my digital mentor, Robert Tercek, explaining how everything that can be vaporized, will be. His trend-spotting work has enormous implications for companies that ignore innovation and the employees that choose to work for them.

Tercek

Consider the CEO’s of major corporations. They are supported by executives who lead armies of people and systems committed to solving enormous problems. The leader has predictable data streams flowing to them and people to focus attention on specific signals. They also have a Board of Directors – a team to coach the CEO and executives who manage the financial markets, strategic risk, innovation, talent, and new products and services.

Individuals advisers too – experts in different domains who provide new ideas, new methods, and new fundamentals to keep a CEO relevant. Digital mentorship democratizes knowledge since ambitious young leaders no longer need to invite an executive or thought leader to lunch to collect wisdom and hope senior leaders can coach them from the minors to the big leagues. Insights are accessible to anyone. Technology changed the world – and a little planning can help you uncover the contemporary experts all around you. Google’s and LinkedIn’s algorithms offer a great starting point.

The recipe:

Create a knowledge framework that bins insights among a few domains. Broadly speaking consider: People, Process, and Technology. Then add a few layers – including a “future” component – combine trends, and convergence, and call it Innovation. Then sprinkle in thought leaders in your industry and your profession to end up with about ten categories.

Your list provides a solid starting point. Begin to identify a few people in each category through google searches for each domain you selected. Capture their names from keynote speeches, Ted Talks, interviews, books, and other sources; then examine their work, follow their blogs, their LinkedIn articles and their Twitter feeds. You’ll uncover excellent work – papers, talks, books, and posts. As you learn more from your digital mentors you’ll become their digital protégés.

Here’s a simple vetting process:

  1. Is your prospective digital mentor an expert?
  2. Do they provide sufficient evidence to support their beliefs and insights?
  3. Do they share knowledge freely?
  4. Are their ideas original?
  5. Do they curate content from many sources?
  6. Are they good story tellers?
  7. Can their observations and ideas be applied to your situation?
  8. Is their material helpful and actionable for other people?

Life is short and the world is big – if you can’t answer “Yes” to every question keep looking – the rewards are great once you do, and every leader in the list below passes my test.

  1. People & Leadership: James Citrin, Amy Cuddy, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Matthew Syed, and Bob Sutton
  2. Process: Alan Weiss, Charles Duhigg, Jason Womack, Keith Ferrazzi, and Larry Keeley
  3. Technology & Innovation: Peter Diamandis, Robert Tercek, and Brian Krebs
  4. Sales & Marketing: Tony J. Hughes, Craig Elias, David Meerman Scott, Bryan Eisenberg, Jim Stengel, Robert Cialdini
  5. Economics: Kyle Bass, James Rickards, and Nassim Taleb

Check them out and let me know who you’ve picked to be your Digital Mentors.

 

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