15 Jun 2023
As a novice, the greater your mentor’s skill, experience, and knowledge the greater your chances of succeeding become.
The breadth and depth of your mentor’s domain knowledge and expertise dictates the quality of the outcomes you are going to achieve over the course of your apprenticeship.
If their skill and experience is shallow, your learning and capabilities will be shallow too.
If they have never built anything of great value, there is no way that they could teach you how to build something of great value. If they have never solved complex problems, they have no frame of reference to help you learn how to solve complex problems.
If your mentor is locked into a world of deep skill, expertise, and capabilities but doesn’t possess empathy, they are going to be an ineffective teacher and mentor. If they can’t recognize where you are currently at, where you are on the spectrum between novice and master, they have no way of helping you master your current level and progress to the next level.
They aren’t able to design the kind of exercises that will help you master the basics and grow your confidence and skill to the point where you can make the next evolution in your journey.
Remember, it isn’t mastery if it isn’t repeatable.
Someone that is highly skilled but unable to train and mentor another person to their level of skill is called a journeyman. They excel in their work, but haven’t mastered the process or environment to the degree where they can help someone else become highly skilled and competent with the work.
Empathy is key.
Sometimes, learning isn’t as straightforward as remembering the theory.
Often, we need to grasp the deeper meaning of something and deeply understand how that element integrates into other elements to produce an outcome that is valuable.
Often, a great mentor will help you connect the dots through stories, through metaphor, or through an analogy. Something that momentarily takes you away from the point where you are stuck and allows you to see the bigger picture, grasp how things interconnect, and understand how and why that matters.
Knowing the subject matter inside out, as a mentor and coach, is only half the job.
They need to be able to help you, at your level of skill and understanding, understand that subject matter in a way that empowers you to progress on your journey to mastery.
If you’re unable to follow the breadcrumbs at the entry-level of skill and knowledge, it’s unlikely that you are going to master that subject matter later, so your mentor needs to help you connect the dots at each stage of your journey.
The science is clear.
The more stories we hear, the more metaphors and anecdotes that are presented to us, the greater our chances of deep learning and mastering that stage of learning objectives are.
It’s kind of like having a fisherman with a single hook in the river versus the fisherman with 50 hooks in a barrel full of fish. The more hooks, the better our chances of succeeding.
If the instruction we receive does not connect within us, the lesson or learning opportunity can often wither and die. It needs to land. It needs to connect for us to remember and apply that knowledge effectively.
So, a skilled trainer or mentor or coach is going to help you build several connections to the subject matter and ensure that you have the best context for learning and understanding. They are going to draw on all of their experiences, their learning, and the stories of their journey to mastery to help you build those rock-solid connections.
In knowledge work this matters a great deal more than in manual labour.
If you’re learning carpentry, muscle memory and repetition of the basics can help you build those connections and grow your skillset. In knowledge work, you need a different kind of repetition that allows you to understand how the dots connect, why they connect that way, and how you would apply that knowledge in a complex environment to achieve an outcome that is valuable.
A skilled professional scrum trainer helps you understand the subject matter at your level of skill and understanding and presents information in a way that allows you to make the learning your own. To tap into your neural network and ensure that the training becomes useful and actionable in the context of the work you do and the environments you serve.
This is why a deeply skilled, experienced, and capable agile or scrum practitioner, combined with the skillset of a professional scrum trainer, is critical in your learning journey.
The more stories, anecdotes, and problem-solving experiences they have, the easier it is for them to help you connect the dots in meaningful ways.
An inexperienced trainer would ask you to memorize the theory as it is presented in the text book whilst a skilled trainer will make the learning experience visceral. They will design an experiment or a group exercise that enables you to learn the subject matter through the lens of experience and observation.
You know that what you have just learned is true because you just witnessed that concept in action and witnessed several outcomes, from several groups, that make it clear why the recommended tool or process is the correct application of that tool or process.
If we do this, X happens. If we do that, Y happens.
One is a desirable outcome, the other is not, and so the learning sticks.
The more experienced your trainer is, as both an agile practitioner and a professional trainer, the greater your chances are of understanding the material, knowing how best to apply that knowledge or concept, and having concrete examples of that concept in action to guide your decisions moving forward.
If you have the choice of training through someone that has a few years of experience as a trainer and agile practitioner versus a seasoned, deeply experienced practitioner and trainer, my recommendation is that you go with the person who has demonstrated their competence and capabilities in a wide variety of applications, over a significant period of time.
You’re just going to learn more, understand more, and walk away with the competencies and capabilities you need to do your job.
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