business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s little chance you’ve heard of Phyllis Korkki or Talya Minsberg, but I’m betting nearly all MNB readers can learn a ton from something they recently experienced: the power of reverse mentoring.

That’s the kind of experience that becomes increasingly necessary in today’s workplace where the endless arrival of new technologies is overwhelming so many of us. But as you will see it’s a process that requires some bravery, so read on because the lesson is incredible.

I’ll start with Korkki because her perspective and her age (she’s in her mid-50s) are far more similar to mine. She is an assignment editor at the New York Times, a fairly high-ranking position in the newsroom, yet Korkki needed to learn a new and increasingly important skill.

Korkki’s wanted to learn how to use Snapchat, a particularly popular social media app with young adults - a group the Times is trying hard to reach. Korkki sought out a mentor, a wise approach to learning a new skill only her target was hardly usual.

Korkki walked across the newsroom and a few generations to seek out Minsberg, a twentysomething, for help. As the two explained in a recent full-page article, it was a strange moment for both. But they got over the age gap and the fact that a senior employee was asking someone very junior for mentoring.

Instead they approached it as someone lacking a skill seeking help from someone with that very skill and as a result, the Korkki developed some important skills for the new day of business.

Here’s the thing: even though the Times is widely considered the nation’s premier newspaper, it is suffering from the same problem of the entire publishing industry. Younger readers are getting news elsewhere. So put aside whatever you think of the Times editorial positions and admire how an industry leader is constantly looking for reinvention to remain relevant.

And that’s why veteran journalists at the paper are learning Snapchat, to create quick hitting videos to draw readers into stories and to enhance the telling of those same stories. As Korkki explained, Snapchat was harder to learn than some other social media apps, which might explain why younger adults find it so appealing. In short, their parents aren’t following them there as they did on Facebook.

So now bring this story home and think about what it means to you. If you are like Korkki, you are loaded with accomplishment and experience and might correctly question why you need to learn all these new technologies. However, you really have no choice. Like them or not, these technologies are reshaping business and the entire consumer experience.

Simply put, you need to learn and you might be surprised by what you find. Some of these tools could boost productive (yes, it’s not all for fun). Learning these new skills might well make you better at your job and make you and your company more relevant.

But you can’t learn if you don’t ask. That may mean reaching out to younger, less experienced and less accomplished co-workers, which based on the Times article will freak out both of you.

And yes, younger workers, you need to handle these moments properly even if you are suddenly teaching someone your parents’ age. Mentor the way you wish to be mentored with respect and seriousness. You likely will both win from this new relationship.

The journey across the generations may feel strange at first, but apparently it’s well worth taking.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
KC's View: