We all know about the concept of mentorship. A more experienced role model steps in to guide the path of and younger professional. We’ve seen it in a million movies and TV shows, many of us have been mentors ourselves. But in the past decade, the idea of co-mentorship has become more prevalent in office culture. With the concept of a reciprocal mentoring process being championed in many workplaces, one has to ask what will evolve out of it. Chicago Innovation thinks it has the answer with its latest intergenerational co-mentoring program, Ageless Innovators.

Creating Co-Mentorship

The concept of co-mentorship itself was pretty radical when it was first introduced. With corporate culture at the time focusing heavily on a hierarchical structure, younger employees often felt as if their opinions were devalued. In an interview with Fast Company, Aaron Perlut, a partner at the marketing and P.R. firm Elasticity, remarked on how out of place he felt in previous workplaces:

“When you are a junior-level staffer at a large agency, you’re told what to do and how long to do it for, and little input is asked for or appreciated…younger employees should be seen periodically – but never heard from.”

Aaron Perlut

It’s this mentality that has pushed many offices to change to a more collaborative setting. So much so that Theory Into Practice, a peer-reviewed journal about education, has published work on co-mentoring and its positive implementation in college and business settings. 

“The interactions we employed in our mentoring relationship included elements of collaboration, shared decision making, and systems thinking. These concepts have become widely incorporated into business and educational organizations as they engage in developing cultures that promote partnerships, mentoring, and shared governance structures.”

Frances K. Kochan and Susan B. Trimble, From Mentoring to Co-Mentoring: Establishing Collaborative Relationships, 2000

The benefits of co-mentorship culture in the office are becoming more apparent as increased collaboration has led to greater success. When people in the office feel like they have a voice that is listened to, it really impact the productivity and innovative capacity of a company.

Experience Speaks Volumes, But Who’s Listening?

Co-mentorship is becoming more and more imperitive in today’s society. As both life expectancy and the economy have changed, the idea that someone is done working by their mid-60’s is less feasible. With older members of society staying in the workforce, the opportunity for co-mentorship has gained more value.

Unfortunately, this is not recognized by everybody. Ageism is still a big problem for people over the age of 65 and they can often find themselves being offered fewer opportunities for advancement and fewer jobs in general. The false idea that a person becomes useless after passing an arbitrary age line makes little sense, but it is a prejudice many people don’t realize they have.

“Agism is prevalent and it’s a serious issue because it’s so latent. Nobody goes up to someone and says ‘You’re too old’, that’s not where we are. But sometimes it can be worse because you might not even know if you’re being ageist.”

Tom Kuczmarski, Co-founder of Chicago Innovation

“Agism is one of the most unconscious of the unconscious biases. But we believe that no matter how old or how young, everybody has something to teach and something to learn. “

Avery Stone Fish, Program Manager for Ageless Innovators at Chicago Innovation
Above and Beyond

Seniors aren’t just experienced worker-bees. As the retirement age is getting older and older, more of them have taken to entrepreneurship. Working in an industry for a long period of time exposes a lot of problems they may have the answer to. It isn’t surprising that people are utilizing their own unique insight to forge a new path.

If you need an example of industry insight paying off, just look at Howard Tullman. In the past he was CEO of 1871 and the General Managing Partner of G2T3V. Recently, he’s moved on to Executive Director of the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship.

“Howard Tullman is 73 now and almost every three years he continues to launch some other new thing. . . I’m just waiting to see what Howard’s going to be doing at 85, that’s what Im interested in. “

Tom Kuczmarski, Co-founder of Chicago Innovation

It’s becoming clear that members of older generations, are not only valuable workers, but have the potential to innovate and revolutionize. It’s hardly surprising that more of these people are looking to make their specific mark on society.

New School Meets Old School

With the advent of older innovators looking to start their own businesses, newer pitfalls are facing them. The layout of today’s minefield of finding investors, doing consumer testing, and working on product design is definitely off-putting to new comers. But members of younger generations who have knowledge of these roadblocks may hold the key to the success of their elders.

“We’ve seen an increase in older people wanting to start their own business. Often times they’ll have come from a large corporation where they don’t have that experience. So if you’re someone who’s now 66-years-old and want to start your own company, there’s nobody better than a 32-year-old who has already done it to help you out.”

Tom Kuczmarski, Co-founder of Chicago Innovation

An intergenerational co-mentorship is the ultimate win-win situation. Older innovators are bringing years of experience in both their industries and office management to the table. Meanwhile, their younger counterparts have valuable knowledge of the landscape of entrepreneurship and available technology.

“One of the benefits to this model is that there isn’t a big disparity in knowledge or expertise, the disparity is in age. So you have you have older adults mentoring younger adults, and younger adults mentoring older adults, and both people are highly accomplished individuals.”

Avery Stone Fish, Program Manager for Ageless Innovators at Chicago Innovation
The Game Plan

Chicago Innovation hopes to encourage these relationships by introducing its new program Ageless Innovators. By playing matchmaker for innovators, the organization hopes to create 20 sets young/old pairs. To do this they’ve partnered with the Village Chicago, a senior citizens program that helps elders live independently, to find the perfect candidates.

“It’ll be a community of innovators and mentors. What’s special about this is the fact that we’re bringing together people across generations in order to share experience and share learning. . . The Village Chicago has been a great partner with us in terms of supporting this cohort of innovators as they navigate their new longevity.”

Avery Stone Fish, Program Manager for Ageless Innovators at Chicago Innovation

In the next year the Ageless Innovators program hopes to prove that each generation has something to learn from one another. There has always been more than one path to success, and it’s possible that intergenerational co-mentorship is one of them.

“We’ve seen an incredible number of people who have applied and shown interest in the program. Additionally, the individuals who have applied have been real leaders within their organizations. We’re going to end up having turn away people who are really impressive.”

Avery Stone Fish, Program Manager for Ageless Innovators at Chicago Innovation

It’s pretty clear that the co-mentorship model is becoming more and more prevalent and has slowly changed workplace culture in a lot of companies. Intergenerational co-mentorship has the possibility of changing that culture even more. Someday it might even impact hiring policies.

Get Involved

Intergenerational co-mentorship opportunities are all around you. You co-workers, neighbors, family members, and friends all have something to bring to the table. Don’t let an arbitrary age line dictate who you can learn from. Now is your chance to make a connection and make your mark on the world.

Sign up for Ageless Innovators here

What are your mentorship experiences? Share them with us in the comments below or on social media!

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