Blog Feature

Mentorship Networks: Pay Innovation Forward
By Wendy Beecham

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve continued to think about Professor Andrew Hargadon’s work on the power of building networks to foster innovation – idea networks and action networks. Andy is an engineer and social scientist, as well as the author of How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate. His position is that to become more innovative, you need to tap into what others are doing in order to learn from them. You’ll be able to adapt their ideas into something that will make a difference for you, your customer, and your organization.

“In short, innovation is about connecting, not inventing. No idea will make a difference without building around it the networks that will support it as it grows, and the network partners with which it will ultimately flourish.”

A few days ago I came across a great article in Inc.com, “Mentor Like You Mean It.” The article describes the exploding startup scene in Boston: the inclusive and supportive atmosphere, and the level of creativity and innovation coming out of that community.

The authors credit the bustling community with two critical behaviors: Spiderweb mentorship, where successful entrepreneurs and executives actively push people up and into the ecosystem, and horizontal entrepreneurism, defined as collaboration across companies, with entrepreneurs enthusiastically supporting each other.

I was reminded of the blog I wrote recently on innovation networks, and the role of the group in developing innovative ideas. In that blog, I was thinking primarily of networks within a company, where teams of individuals play a role in evolving an idea into a more improved form. I also considered the personal network, where the individual with a concept or idea would ask specific people in their network for feedback and support.

The authors widely use the term “mentorship” to describe the action of support between groups and individuals, where I used “networks” in my blog, focusing on the relationships themselves. Every entrepreneur or executive should seek to adopt the same practices and spin their own supportive web of mentorship networks. Don’t forget—when it comes to paying it forward, don’t hesitate to think big!

Here at UC Davis Executive Education, we’ve seen individuals from the same company grow their networks as they engage with people they don’t normally work with during our interactive customized programs. Whenever you have the opportunity, engage with the people around you whether its at work, a networking event, or at the grocery store—you never know who might be able to help you come up with a bigger, better idea. It’s all about looking up and out.

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