A Dutch nursing home lets university students live rent-free alongside the elderly residents, as part of a project aimed at warding off the negative effects of aging. In exchange for small, rent-free apartments, the Humanitas retirement home in Deventer, Netherlands, requires students to spend at least 30 hours per month acting as “good neighbors.” It is an excellent example inter-generational co-operation. The old folks need companionship and help getting onto Skype. The young people need accommodation and can hear some old tales. Each can learn from the other. This is reverse mentoring in a social context.
In a discussion on innovation at a recent Gurteen Knowledge Cafe, the need for reverse mentoring in business was raised. It means that an older executive in an organization is assigned a young person to work with who will help them better grasp issues such as mobile apps and social media. The youngster is a ‘digital native’ who grew up with today’s technologies and is completely comfortable with them. The senior executive has a wealth of business experience to share. Each can help the other.
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, helped to promote the idea of reverse mentoring. In the 1990s he realized that GE management had much to learn about the Internet. He encouraged top executives at the company to adopt a reverse mentor and he led by example by taking one on himself.
Provided that both parties approach the relationship with an open mind and clear expectations then there are considerable potential benefits in reverse mentoring. The important thing is being ready to listen and learn. It can help senior executives understand the mindset of younger customers and employees as well as teaching them fashionable cool technologies. The young person gains a sponsor and contact at a senior level who can give them invaluable advice and guidance.
Pablo Picasso said, ‘It takes a very long time to become young.’ We all need to stay young if we are to innovate.
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This post was previously published on Destination Innovation.
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