Picture 6I had the pleasure of speaking at the launch of the AIGA Minnesota MNtor Program on Monday night, where roughly 40 designer mentors and mentees began (at least) a 4-month process of sharing experiences and helping each other make sense out of the design profession. I had participated as a mentor in two previous incarnations of this program, and have built lasting relationships with the mentees I met then.

I have always seen the design profession as having a particularly strong and unique culture of mentorship—even without the structure of an excellent program like this one. There is an unspoken understanding among designers that we work in a young, growing profession and that giving entry-level designers the best possible chance at a successful career will ultimately make our profession stronger—benefiting us all in the long run.

But the mentoring relationship is not just a “top down” contract—the best relationships will have an equal exchange in both directions, and benefit both parties. Now more than ever, we all—regardless of where we are in our career—need to be expanding our networks. Indeed, with the rapid pace of technological evolution, including new opportunities/challenges in social media, one could make the case that the mentor has as much to learn from the mentee as the other way around.

So how does mentorship relate to entrepreneurship? The same principals I describe above apply to designers becoming entrepreneurs. We need to seek out key people who have skills and knowledge that we don’t yet have—in finances, strategy, operations—in order to build truly viable businesses (that’s what Merge is all about).

Incidentally, AIGA—if you’re not aware of it—is the largest association of design professionals in the country, with more than 20,000 members in more than 50 local chapters, including AIGA Minnesota, one of the largest and most active chapters. I’ve found AIGA to be a remarkable vehicle for building my professional network and for growing as a designer. Special thanks to Seth Johnson and the MNtor committee for including me in this great event!