Saturday, 3 May 2008

Mike is My Elephant*

Mike Harris is my elephant*. Not yours. His ears** belong to me. Not you. So the fact that he has written an excellent book, Find Your Lightbulb, telling all the other entrepreneurs out there how to build great companies from scratch, and thereby giving you all the benefits of having Mike as a mentor without the effort of hunting him down is just not fair :-(

(elephant* = mentor)

(ears** = knowledge and wisdom)

(so, why not just say mentor instead of that ridiculous elephant nonsense? See below)

And not only are you going to be able to read and learn everything that Mike knows about building entrepreneurial companies in a few hours that I have had to eak out of him bit by bit over the past 10 years, you won't even have to bother reading my blog anymore. You can skip the middleman and go straight to his blog instead. Outrageous!

So, where do elephants and their ears come in to all this? Well as an entrepreneur having the right mentor can be hugely beneficial and I have been lucky to have Mike as my mentor at Garlik and before for a number of years. But finding a mentor can be a bit like elephant hunting for pygmies. Pygmies are small. Elephants are big. Elephants can squash pygmies without noticing. So you have to proceed carefully. And the one thing you don't do if you are a pygmy is go straight up to the elephant, wave your spear in front of its face and say "hey, come over here".

When I was about ten years old a safari holiday took me to a Pygmy village on the Kenya/Tanzania border. The elders told us how pygmies actually hunt elephants. Apparently when they hear that there are elephants in the area, two pygmies team up and off they go, with short, sharp spears. First they look for some fresh elephant dung and roll around in it. Elephants can't see terribly well but they are good at smelling something that doesn't smell of elephant. The dung-covered pygmies then sneak up on the elephant and rush underneath it. One climbs on the others shoulders. He stabs upwards into its soft underbelly. Climbs, yes, climbs inside it and stabs direct at its heart. Very quick. Very, very quick if he's got any sense. As a prize the two hunter pygmies are awarded an elephant ear each and are carried shoulder high (after a long bath, I believe) through the village.

If you are a start up entrepreneur and you want to get a big, serious industry figure as a mentor you never go straight up to them and say "Be my mentor". You hunt them. You gradually get to know them. It takes time. You do genuinely useful things for them to help further their agenda, not yours. You don't ask them for anything. Any mentor worth his or here salt is too busy to be a mentor whether they want to be or not, so you have got to be useful to them before they will be useful to you. Have you done five helpful things for them yet? Ten? Then you are nearly ready to ask them to be your mentor.

Then when you are ready to ask them to be your mentor - DON'T. Don't mention the "M-word" to a serious industry figure. It's scary. It says "be with me for every more, in sickness and in health" and they just can't make that commitment to you. Why should they?

So, you say "can I buy you lunch in a few months time, at a nice restaurant? I'll pay". And if you have a good chat you say "I'd love to do that again, perhaps in 6 months time? No pressure". But you actually organise it for 3 or 4 months time. Plus, when you do see them you do two useful things for them for every one pearl of wisdom they give to you.

Finally at some stage, 2 years later, you strike. You make your specific request. Short, sharp, very clear. In and out. Still no mention of the M-word. Will you be chairman? Will you invest? Will you join advisory board? Whatever it is, you know already what the outcome will be because you have worked at it for months or years.

If you have really invested, really understood your elephant then you get the big prize. The Ears. You and only you get the ears. Hahaha! That is, until he publishes everything you'd ever want to know as an entrepreneur in a book that's available in all good bookshops!

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