Thursday, October 2, 2014

Not Three Cups of Tea but 1000 Cups of Coffee

Today, I attended a mentoring introduction for the new MHS in health economics class at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  While I now sit at the business school, those of you who have been following this blog for some time know that I was at the Bloomberg School of Public Health previously.  In fact, for 16 1/2 years previously.  That is a long time.  I came back today for the first time in a while.  (Even though it is only about 2 miles across town.)   I said hi to a couple of old colleagues, one of whom told me how much I was missed.  I spoke with a couple of the "cleaning ladies" I had gotten to know over the years.  They have jobs that are considered to be at the "low end" but we could not have a safe and healthy environment to work in without them.  I made sure to speak with them and get to know them a little when I was there.  And I had a good time catching up with the two of them (especially the one who had done my floor and the floor below for years and now has just six years left before she retires) as I had gotten to know them fairly well over time.

But this entry is not just about old colleagues in general and the importance of good feelings and good memories.  No, today's entry is about a flattering comment that a colleague made about mentoring.

Every mentor should be so lucky to get someone to repeat a comment like this one.

I was sitting two seats around the table from my colleague whom I mentored as a junior faculty member for a number of years.  He is in charge of the educational program whose students need mentors.  After introductions were complete he noted that I had been his mentor for years and said that he wanted to share something that I had once told him.  I really don't have a poker face as a staff member across the table said immediately something like, "Kevin must be wondering what he said and how John remembers it."  Well, I was.  But it turns out that I had nothing to worry about.

My colleague pointed out the value of networking.  I had once told him that one of the great things about Johns Hopkins was that everyone was intellectually curious enough that while you might only get on a person's calendar once and it make take three months to get on the calendar, you could count on just about everyone at Johns Hopkins to take the time to have coffee with you.  So, given the thousands of experts around Johns Hopkins, if you really want to find out what is going on you will need to have lots of cups of coffee.  (Of course, at this particular event there was no coffee so everyone immediately joked that I must have switched to cans of Diet Coke rather than cups of coffee.)

Of course, the cultural reference was to 1000 cups of coffee instead of the book title, Three Cups of Tea.  To get to know a complex organization like the University I work for will take a lot more than three of anything--except perhaps years and certainly decades.  But the key is that spending time with people, listening, hearing, sharing, and revealing, all helps to make the world a more accessible place.  A place that I understand better.  A place in which I understand more about what is going on.  A place in which I am understood better.  In other words, a place where I feel more comfortable and can do more to change it and make it better.

Just from sitting across the table and sharing a cup of coffee and some conversation.

Do we necessarily need thousands?  No.  But we certainly need more than three.  A bad rule (aside from the caffeine infusion) might be three a day.  Three conversations each day that I go out of my way to conduct even though I don't necessarily need to have them those days.  I have found over time that I never can predict where a conversation will go.  And that amazes me.  And I find it incredibly valuable.  

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