Paying it forward, or passing on one's "wisdom," is a given for most successful people, no matter what their profession or field of endeavor.Those who recall the history of the Industrial Revolution remember the role apprentices played in the transfer of skills between increasingly productive workers. Though the concept may have been lost recently, I believe it could make a dramatic resurgence in the years ahead -- perhaps in a way that might surprise us.Though I have often written of the character, integrity and discipline of the stewards of my career whose pictures hang in my office, it is time to say something about the younger set from which I learn something new every day.As I look back on my experiences as an apprentice and then as mentor, there is a question worth asking - when do we stop being a student?What the often overlooked British writer and poet Oliver Goldsmith said in the 18thcentury about mentoring has lost none of its relevance - "People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy." In other words, if we attain success and begin the process of helping those that follow, do we forget to learn?Of course, the easy answer is absolutely not. The harder reality is that atrophy can be easily acquired. This is not just an academic question, however.The concept of reverse mentoring is being taken seriously at a growing number of organizations. An article in The Wall Street Journal late last year highlighted the trend of reverse mentoring, which was championed by leaders such as Jack Welch as a way to combat high-level corporate atrophy and groupthink. The practice of reverse mentoring, in which younger subordinates help established executives understand perspective and aptitude on matters such as technology, social media, and other communications has also become more than a fad for high-profile companies Hewlett-Packard and Ogilvy & Mather.Over the past few years, I've mentored and worked with a considerably younger colleague, Casey Snyder. Casey is carefully and judiciously building an advisory practice for his younger clients. He shares my passion to educate in the new world of the Web, social media, LinkedIn and Twitter while still complying with the myriad rules that affect our profession. As much as he cares to listen, I've shared practical and fundamental lessons learned in almost three decades of serving as trusted counsel to a number of very successful families.After some time, I have recognized that Casey's and my relationship has morphed into one of equal mentoring. He has so much to share as well and, though not yet sprouting his first gray hair, my ignoring his skillset would be foolish.Naturally, I still provide the wizened sage counsel he seeks, while concurrently acquiring the newest tools I seek to serve our growing practice in a rapidly changing world.Profound effectsA similar mutual respect has grown with my 26-year-old stepdaughter. The lessons I shared with her as an 8th-grader on financial literacy have helped to develop a self-reliant and responsible young adult beginning to invest in her own long-term financial future. I like to think I taught her well on money matters, and now both of these struggling young adults are becoming natural mentors to me with their perspective and determination in an enormously challenging economic environment.I sense that they hope not to make the same mistakes of the generation that preceded them.I believe the most obvious, yet powerful, lesson we can all learn is how the generations that follow ours communicate - both with us and with each other.A century ago, the telephone fundamentally changed how businesses operated in ways that could not have been foreseen a generation earlier. Perhaps a century from now, people will look back and say the same about social media, Twitter, Facebook, and technologies yet to be developed. For example, my daughter doesn't call me often, but she does text me frequently. I am used to the spoken word and reading a lot more than just brief sentences dashed off quickly to my smartphone; but I am getting used to, and accepting, this newer mode of communicating.It is a qualitative and quantitative shift that is neither good nor bad, and is clearly the face of change. It's like thewild West in regards to the seeming lack of decorum and how the speed-of-light immediacy of information can lead to social volatility such as the Arab Spring. The impact of social media can't be underestimated. I believe it is the communication equivalent of high-frequency trading - flash mobs and flash crashes are all the same. This more mobile way of communication, thinking and doing, will have a profound effect on the shape of the economy and investing. One wonders when, if ever, the regulatory framework will catch up.For my profession, this means we had better acknowledge and embrace how people communicate today -- not how they did a decade ago, before anyone knew what a smartphone was or how to send a tweet. The generation shared by my daughter and Casey understand the contextual nuance of a world far better (and flatter) than I. If one fails to learn the lessons from the next generation, we might need to dust off our telegraph machines to send out an SOS.Tom Sedoric, managing director-investments of the Sedoric Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in Portsmouth, can be reached at 603-430-8000.
This article appears in the April 20 2012 issue of New Hampshire Business Review