I was looking for any previous post I’d made about stealth mentoring, so I could refer to it in a post I was writing, and I couldn’t find it. It’s a concept I refer to often (and have to give credit to my colleague Jay Cross who inspired the thought), so here’s my obligatory place holder.
When someone is thinking and learning ‘out loud’, e.g. putting their deeper reflections on line via, say, a blog (er, like this one, recursively), they’re allowing you to look at where and how their thinking is going. When they also are leaving a trail of what they think is interesting (e.g. by pointing to things on Twitter or leaving bookmarks at a social bookmarking site), you can put together what’s interesting to them and what their resulting thoughts are, and start seeing the trajectory of their thinking and learning.
In formal learning, we can think of modeling behavior and cognitive annotation, the processes covered in Cognitive Apprenticeship as a development process. In a more informal sense, if you had a leader who shared discussions of their thinking with you, you’d consider that mentoring.
Similarly, here, with a difference. If they’re blogging and tweeting, or otherwise leaving tracks of their thinking, they can be mentoring you and not even know it. You’re being a stealth mentee! So, if you can find interesting people who blog and tweet a lot, and you follow their blogs and tweets, they can be mentors to you!
I strongly recommend this path to self-development. One of the ways to accelerate your own growth, part of your personal knowledge management path, is to mentor folks who represent the type of thinking you believe is interesting and important. By the way, don’t just consume, interact. If they say something you don’t understand or disagree with, engage: either you’ll learn, or they will.
And, as an associated caveat, I strongly recommend that you also similarly share your thinking. You can be not only stealth mentored, but folks who read and comment become actual real mentors for you, shaping your thinking. The feedback I’ve gotten through comments on my blog has been extremely beneficial to improving my own thinking, and I’m very grateful.
I really do think this is an important opportunity for personal self-development, and it’s a benefit of the increasing use of social media. I hope you are practicing learning out loud and leaving traces of what’s interesting you as you wander hither and yon. I think it’s something an app like Tappestry could provide as well, leveraging the Tin Can API, where you might more explicitly see a richer picture of what someone’s doing. But I’m getting into the weeds here, so I’ll simply point out that there’s an opportunity here. You owe it to others to think and learn out loud, and then can take advantage of others who do so with a clear conscience.