Seori – My learnings on mentoring

Mentoring.

Between you and I, I always feel like the youngest in a group. It may be younger brother syndrome, or from the fact that I don’t want to be an expert because it means I will soon start plateauing. My older brother said something memorable when we were teenagers: if you want to be a good pool player, find the meanest guy in the pool hall and challenge him until you win. Generally, it seems, I naturally gravitate toward being the noob challenger rather than the expert.

Either way, for 2015, I was tasked with doing a bit of mentoring/coaching. *Clap/rub hands* Right, so, where to start?

As usual, I spend 2 hours mentoring/coaching, and 6 hours in introspection, trying to optimize and understand. Exhausting, but interesting.

My first take-away is that I feel I’m not a good mentor. Not for the now anyway. This is a learning curve of my own, but not the topic at hand (i.e. don’t get me started – Yay, I have a new skill i can learn!).

My second is a corollary to the first – as a natural noob challenger, I feel (if solely by experience) that I am a good learner. Which means I should be able to empathize with the poor souls I am mentoring. And like a freshly born mentor, I’d like to share my take on learning, while attempting to not be condescending or lecturing *cringe*.

Enter Seori.

In Korea, there is an old tradition where children steal into the melon farms and take produce. The farmers choose to allow it, and it has become a cultural tradition. I’m not certain if it’s still practiced, but the tradition seems to have roots as far back as the Joseon Kingdom (1392 – 1897), where punishment was stringent and thievery was a really bad idea. I would like to think that the benevolent farmers, law enforcement, and society as a whole, allowed this because those children were part of their community. It might be an act of mischief, but I have the romantic image of starving children (not an altogether uncommon thesis during that era) stealing into a farmers field, gorging themselves while the farmer watched out of his window. I’m sure there are pillars in their contemporary community who look back fondly on this tradition, in some cases surviving by need rather than by law. This is Seori. And your community will support your Seori. They will even celebrate it 60 years later during harvest festivals where your children will re-enact your actions half a decade ago.

What does Seori have to do with mentoring, and learning?

Imagine you are studying a topic, or solving a problem. You can be taught/shown, or you can play with it until you understand it. In my opinion, teaching is not the most efficient way to understand something. Playing with it until you break it down and rebuild it, that is what I think is the critical path to comprehension. Apply a degree to pressure (a time limit, for example), and force yourself to breach each wall of the topic until you can own the core, knowing that you have finite time to achieve your objective. You’ve now turned a difficult topic into playtime – gamification. Not quite Call of Duty, but it’s fun nonetheless.

Imagine learning as growing your own fruit. Having your own farm.

As a learner you are constantly tempted to ask for assistance. You can steal into another’s farm. You can use Seori, and take time (fruit) from another as a temporary salve to your problem. This is an essential tool for a well functioning team. However, you will not learn as much, nor be able to lever that knowledge in the future. Also, you only have a finite number of Seori. If you take enough fruit you may cripple the farm. The farmer may also put up a wondumak (a lookout hut) in their defense.

As a new mentor, I think this is the most hazardous path to tread: over-assisting. Of course, my philosophy on life and learning may differ from another’s, and I get this. Furthermore, I understand there is a balance – assistance is required to get started.

But as a learner I would suggest one thing: become independent as soon as possible. Use Seori only when there is no other option, and never create a dynamic where Seori is your preferred method… Wondamuk’s will abound.

As a mentor: be gentle but firm. Something I am learning.

Lastly, play it forward. These are your team, your community, that you are working with. When they become proficient, ask them to do the same. When they help someone else, ask them to give enough fruit to continue, but no more. Otherwise they will rob the learner of the reward, the confidence, and the satisfaction of figuring it out themselves. That also says they have little faith in them, the shortest path to damnation. I would wager that some people who have worked with me are reading this and nodding their head – Sam can be difficult to work with on occasion. That’s probably true – I’m still learning the art of giving just enough fruit. But hey, we’re all learning 🙂

Just a thought.

– Sam

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