Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The Shelf Life of Advice, or the Mentoring Boomerang

I had a wonderful opportunity this morning, thanks to my friend and blogging colleague Steve Goldberg, to publicly sound off on some interconnected subjects about which I care deeply. They include business journalism, supporting entrepreneurship, breaking through the noise and fog to find stories that matter and just generally translating between two often warring camps, company owners/founders and the media. But I get ahead of myself...

Steve has been a key force in organizing one of the latest--and dare I say most promising--additions to the regional lineup of grassroots entrepreneurial support organizations, NeoBio (website coming soon, so check back). It's designed, among other purposes, to communicate to the region and its media and other players that there are actually a whole lot of interesting companies in this space that you may not have heard about, although you should have. And the group's kickoff, a panel discussion with local business writers and editors, happened this morning in the University West building, home for well over a decade to a dense web of business incubation and other programs such as Enterprise Development that support and nurture promising start-ups.

In moderating a panel of representatives from all the major business print media (with but a single exception, more about which later), I had several pleasant surprises. But perhaps the most gratifying of all involved having some mentoring advice played back to me in public after several years.

Dustin Klein, executive editor of SBN, in talking about his approach to story selection, was kind enough to dredge up some advice I had imparted when we were staff colleagues, and which I had completely forgotten (but which nevertheless sounds like something I would have said). I apparently tossed off an observation that when you (as a writer or editor) hear about a new upstart company for a third time in a brief span, that probably means it's time to write about that person or company.

About three years ago, I had a similar but even more touching experience of boomeranging advice. My good-friend-bordering-on-third-brother Anton Zuiker--who was the very first blogger I personally knew, having figured out the technology way before any other writer of my acquaintance (with the possible exception of that human exception himself, Jack), and who's now in North Carolina pursuing the twin curricular tracks of new fatherhood and master science writer, invited me to his 30th birthday party.

Anton's an impossibly warm, sentimental and grace-struck guy, and so his brief welcoming remarks to his guests in the lovingly furnished starter apartment he and Erin had at Shaker Square were just like the guy. I was bathing, even marinating, in those words, when suddenly he veered off and hit me with the verbal equivalent of a ton of bricks. He recounted how I had told him, back when we first met and he was a stunningly successful undergraduate editor of the school paper at JCU, that would-be writers should use the decade of their 20s for intake (to live, travel, read, drink in people and events and experience) before getting serious about their output, the writing, in their 30s. And here he was, newly 30, and thus he was prepared to really write (in truth, he cheated, having written lots of splendid articles before hitting 30. To at least begin to get your hands around his entire ouevre, as the French would say, click here AND READ IT ALL).


These almost theological moments of affirmation, hitting with stunning force that the then-fledgling was not only listening to one's blathering but remembering and putting it into practice years later, are simply reminders of what every teacher has always known: be mindful of the seeds you plant and the words and examples you use. Because those bits of advice and examples and words will one day sprout into fully formed lives of wonderful people, in ways you simply can't begin to grasp. And for my part, there's simply no telling how much "generative" fulfillment (excellent word choice, Barb!) that can provide to the boomerangee.


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