The Power of Pairs: Mentor + Protégé = Genius

03/10/2016 04:43 pm ET Updated Mar 11, 2017
a pair of smiling female...
a pair of smiling female...

When I hear the word genius, my thoughts turn towards divine gifts bestowed only upon a lucky few; That it was written in the stars for geniuses and us regular folk just weren't destined for such great feats.

But with modern science, we now know better. We know that even geniuses in their fields like Mozart and O'Keefe were not divine appointees. Their extraordinary accomplishments were the outcome of intense focus, training, and the mentorship of key individuals focused on their success. Studies and books like Outliers: The Story of Success, show that the best predictors of success are actually not what we might initially think. It's not about what school you went to or your IQ, both of which are actually quite a bad predictor of success. What they found is that rigorous and focused practice is the most influential factor. Although, as with most things, it's not quite that simple. I think very few of the people we think of as brilliant or successful have made it without someone dedicated to helping them get there.

So, consider a story out where a young girl shows an interest and talent in math. Along her path, this girl would ideally meet a woman who has turned her talent in math to a successful career--say, an engineer. This woman would serve as mirror into the future--showing the young girl a clear vision of how her talent can blossom into a full career. It wouldn't be about pigeonholing the girl but showing her one of many possible paths. Throughout their relationship, this mentor would show the girl the variety of options out there, provide continued feedback, open up doors, and challenge her to grow.

This idea of mentorship of our talented young people is certainly not a novel concept. One of the earliest records of this hails from Homer's Odyssey. When Odysseus was in the Trojan wars, Mentor became a surrogate father to Odysseus's son Telemachus. Many other examples from history show that mentors can play a critical role in our lives when we need them most. Some of the brightest minds and most accomplished individuals we know have a mentor to thank. Charles Schwab was mentored by Andrew Carnegie, Walt Whitman was a mentor to Allen Ginsberg and Marc Andreessen is a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg. Unfortunately, despite the documented success stories of mentorship, a recent study conducted by the Levo League found that over 95% of women have never sought out a professional mentor. One of the reasons for this, according to Peggy Drexler in Forbes, is the "Queen Bee" phenomenon:

"those career women who not only have zero interest in fostering the careers of other women who follow, but may actively attempt to cut them off at the pass. Queen Bees exist largely as a result of a still-patriarchal work culture in which comparatively few women rise to the top. And though not mentoring is quite different from actively undermining, both may operate from the same position of fear. And neither benefits the cause of workplace equality."

This is why Mentor Effects and many other organizations have started to bring mentorship into the lives of women. Mentor Effects is a new organization focused on women mentoring women in any field. I'm on the board and cannot wait to usher in a new generation of geniuses, continue my own journey into mentorship, to show that women by no means have to be cutthroat Queen Bees in order to succeed, and to explore the special capacities of women for working together and helping one another. You don't have to look hard to find that behind every scientific discovery, breathtaking song, literary masterpiece, and brilliant mind is a mentor. So whether you're winding down your career or just starting, what are you waiting for? Get into the mentor game! Your mentee might one day have you to thank for helping her achieve her greatest accomplishments.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and 92Y's "7 Days of Genius" Festival, starting March 5, 2016. The festival's intent is to ignite a global conversation to explore the power of genius to make a positive impact on the world. For more information about the festival, and it's schedule of events in New York and around the world, read here. And to join the conversation on Twitter, follow #THATSGENIUS