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Wired for 2020: Mentoring Minnesota’s youth

The world is shifting from serial and linear processes (which can be easily outsourced) to one rapidly moving toward higher value being created by those people who can deal with the flood of information and ideas coming at us in parallel by making new associations. Any of us who care about our kids and the next generation of workers and leaders intuitively understand the value of mentoring. This past weekend’s Wired for 2020 event was solely dedicated to mentoring, and I was delighted to have had a small involvement in this worthwhile venture.

Wired for 2020 is the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota‘s year-long engagement campaign to get more mentors involved with youth in Minnesota. Its mission is to interest caring adults in becoming mentors who are willing to help young people spark their future career interests and expand their possibilities.

Sponsors included such names as General Electric, Best Buy, Target, Federated Insurance, Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota Interactive Media Association, Qwest, the Science Museum of Minnesota, 3M, Thomson Reuters and many more.

You can bet that with a daughter in college and a son in high school, I care deeply about the future of education and work and the world they’ll inherit from us. There is value we can add to kids if we can help them locate their own personal spark and help them to see possibilities and opportunities that match their dreams.

In a world where high-paying yet low-value jobs can be done elsewhere at a fraction of the cost of labor onshore, the challenge is in coaching our youth on how they can strive and focus on higher-value work and how they can, in fact, invent the future. It won’t be easy as global competition continues to grow.

When it came out, I immediately devoured Thomas Friedman’s book “The World Is Flat.” There was one concept that leapt off the pages at me: that even Ph.D.-level, linear and serial processes could (and are) being outsourced because they are defined and understood. I thought about the profundity of that reality and realized that once a process is identified and mapped out — regardless of how sophisticated — it can be handed off to people elsewhere in the world who are willing to do it less expensively.

So do we want to focus our youth as innovators of tomorrow — and mentor them as such — to be more-efficient linear and serial thinkers and laborers? I don’t think so, and neither do others.

“A Whole New Mind: Moving From the Information Age to the Conceptual Age” by Daniel Pink accelerated my thinking along these lines about creativity and innovation with his premise: “The era of “left brain” dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which “right brain” qualities — inventiveness, empathy, meaning — predominate.” In this book, Pink describes a new era beginning to take shape in the global economy. This new economy calls for skills and talents that, historically, have been largely discounted in the workplace — creativity, empathy, intuition and the ability to link seemingly unrelated objects and events into something new and different.

Seeing in parallel — making associations (i.e., connecting the dots) — is a skill our kids must have for the future. While they will certainly need to understand how to link seemingly unrelated objects and events, that’s pretty useless if they lack the skills to communicate the idea, the innovation or the vision they have for an outcome. Our youth will need to understand how to grab all the relevant pieces coming at them in parallel, package them up and communicate them to people whom they may never meet in person but, rather, only virtually through some online venue.

Talk to anyone spending any time on the Internet — looking at news, information and Twitter, or just trying to keep up with their friends in Facebook — and you’ll hear things like “river of news” or “I’m drowning in a tsunami of digital stuff” or “everything is getting a lot more complex” as we struggle to keep up with the flow of data that comes with online participation. Dealing with all of this in parallel, and drawing associative inferences from it or finding nuggets of gold within it, is already a skill most need but few possess.

Though my session was titled “Creating Online Content: Why You Need a Blog,” it really wasn’t solely about either content creation or blogging. Instead, the themes that ran through it were the imperative that mentors get their heads around the concept of dealing with the online world in parallel and engaging in social participation. This means exploring why all of this is so potentially empowering for youth and a must. That’s especially true in how we all are experiencing online media, news and information at different times of the day or night (vs. the old “water cooler talk” from pre-Internet days when we walked in to work the next morning after seeing some live show broadcast, and we commiserated with our colleagues about that shared experience).

My overall point: The only real way to understand this new realm of streams of information and social connection online — and to have consistent and ongoing shared experiences today, especially between a mentor and mentee — involves actually trying some of them. Each of us needs to try participating online within a social network, uploading photos to Flickr or videos to YouTube (or their equivalents, and then sharing experiences — while participating at different times of the day or night or even within a week or two.

The skills that both the mentor and mentee learn by participating online to create and deliver their own content are invaluable (and there is no question that the mentee may become the technology mentor!). I can’t tell you how often I sit with age 40-plus people who want to know “the process of how to Twitter” or “what’s the workflow in publishing to a blog” or “if I do this participation thing, what’s my return?” as if they were still living in a linear, serial world where Step 1 leads to Step 10. Most savvy online participants are involved with the social web and online pursuits in a highly parallel way, connecting dots on the fly and being very fluid with their creation and delivery and connections to other people. Which is precisely the sort of behaviors that come naturally to youth today and will be a skill set necessary as a worker going forward.

What struck me about Wired for 2020 was how many of the people associated with the event — the organizers, volunteers, speakers and workshop creators (i.e., TEL.A.VISION and see this post on the Wiredfor2020 blog) — down to those responsible for the Interactive Lab in which I participated (Mark Kurtz VP of New Media, Gage Marketing Group and someone with more energy than a bagful of bobcats, Wendy Meadley, from WM Consulting LLC) — completely understood that there is a shift going on in the world. And they are completely geared toward ensuring our youth are ready to confront the challenges and opportunities facing them in a connected world with ideas and information moving around it at the speed of electrons.

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