Last week we spoke about thinking differently and how associations are important to the creative process (see: http://emarketingblog.nl/2015/12/cancreativitybetaught25thinkingdifferently/). It’s the process of association that bring us to this week’s topic: mentorship and why it is so important. When thinking who we base our associations on, the most historic and accurate answer would be a mentor.
Western thought, morality, and philosophy of today is build on Socrates mentoring Plato and Plato mentoring Aristotle. This was 2500 years ago and the foundation these three individuals laid down still forms the pillars of most academic subjects. Clearly, in ancient Greek times this mentoring thing wasn’t too bad of an idea so why don’t we place more focus on it today; especially when it comes to something like creativity?
Monkey see, Monkey Do
For me relating mentorship to creativity has a lot to do with imitation. We as humans live through imitation. We imitate our parents, we imitate our friends, we imitate each other and through this we learn. This is the case with mentorship as well, except mentorship has one distinction: in mentorship there is a difference between blindly copying or aping someone, and mimicking someone.
To try and be the same as your mentor is not the same as mimicking your mentor. If a mentor also allows to be copied this is a poor reflection on him/her. Creativity is, to me, and taking in what we have learned already, mimicking through the discovery of your own voice and style to give meaning and value to what you are trying to achieve.
There is a reason for this. To be really creative, you will have to be able to eventually take distance from the mentor. If someone is a good imitator, it means using associative thinking to mimic his mentor, without just becoming a replica himself.
Instead, you eventually develop your own style and voice. You eventually need room to break through the imitation. The imitation is the starting point off which the pupil eventually leaves the mentorship behind, kicking away the ladder when he doesn’t need it anymore, so to speak.
So does this mentoring thing hold any truth?
Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is that almost every major religion in the world incorporates mentorship in some way or another. Jesus had his disciples who followed him everywhere. Philosophers like Socrates mentored Plato who in turn mentored Aristotle. Buddhist monks, even today, have a ‘master’ they must rigorously learn from in a temple for 30 years of their life – sacrificing time and freedom for knowledge. Hollywood action films usually have a protagonist, who learns from a mentor or master, to eventually surpass him.
Even I had the privilege to do a mentorship under Ge Key, former marketing director to two of the largest advertising agencies in the world, Grey and McCann. It’s this internship that moulded my love for advertising. I also truly see his style of advertising reflected in my own and to me, that is something no book has ever taught me. Ge, as well as every successful entrepreneur I have come across places a massive emphasis not only on having one mentor, but having many throughout one’s life. Richard Branson wrote a short blog about a mentorship program he is starting which might be interesting to look at: http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/the-importance-of-mentoring
What does it all mean…
Did you notice the painting in the beginning of this blog? It’s a painting by Raphael portraying the philosopher Plato and his pupil, a young Aristotle. Plato is pointing up to the heavens while explaining his thought process, where as the much younger Aristotle is pointing down. This might not look like much but this painting is the embodiment of what we spoke about earlier. Aristotle started out mimicking Plato, as a good pupil should, but through growth he developed his own distinctive, and creative, voice which allowed him to challenge his mentor.
What is interesting to note is that in Aristotle’s work he disproves many of Plato’s theories but never refers to him directly, instead he simply refers to “the philosopher”. This is the whole point of mentorship, especially in the creative field – you want to have mimicked someone so well that you cannot disrespect them, but you sure as hell can disprove them. So go out, get an internship, look into mentorship programmes and surround yourself with those who intimidate you and inspire you, so that you can mimic and surpass them.
Next week we will be looking into “un-learning” and “re-learning” creativity. We will see if we can find a solution to the question, “Why do all children see themselves as creative, but not all adults do?”
Blog 4 of 5: Un-learning, re-learning and creativity