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Wednesday
Aug142013

Learning From Near Peer Role Models

Last Friday, the New York Times published an article "Sometimes Second Best Makes a Better Role Model" written by Alina Tugend.

In her piece, Tugend looks at on the perceived value of choosing role models who are the best at their chosen profession and why this may not be a good idea. The article references a piece titled "How to Choose a Role Model That Will Really Motivate You" and builds upon behavioral science research from two European business school professors, Chengwei Liu and Jerker Denrell. Professor Liu and Denrell's research finds it may be best not to focus our aspirational attention - from role models to mentors - on exceptional or extreme performers. In short, it may not be helpful for you to focus on learning from the best or trying to take inspiration from the best.

One particular quote caught my attention.

"While admiring those at the top of their game isn’t necessarily bad," Professor Liu said, "a better idea might be to look to those in your own circle who are just one or two steps ahead."

This really resonated with me because this concept is the foundation of Capture Your Flag and its Near Peer Learning model for personal and professional development. 

In his recent blog, designer and educator Joe Houde shares why this is so important.

"[Capture Your Flag] takes advantage of a phenomenon called Near Peer Learning. In studying how learning happens in multiple contexts, Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger discovered that most learning occurs not from an expert, but from someone who is a little more experienced than, and slightly farther down the career path than you. Part of this is accessibility. We can access people who are close to us in development – we are more likely to be doing similar work and to be working together. But another part of the draw of near peer learning is that the expert, executive or exemplar may have made the same decisions you are contemplating, but the context was very different due to the time that has passed since they made those decisions."

Capture Your Flag exists because finding those in your own circle is not as easy as it sounds. When seeking advice and role models, it is far easier to turn to direct peers for advice or to look to experts for their nuggets of wisdom. Finding a Near Peer role model can be a bit trickier to come by at the time we need it. There are two reasons for this. One, we do not always know people just like us who may be one or two steps ahead and, two, if we do know someone one or two steps ahead, they may not feel they have accomplished enough or, here's the rub, are "expert" enough to be confident in giving the advice or sharing the knowledge.

So while you may want to follow Professor Liu's suggestion to find more approachable role models, you might get stumped when actually trying to find them.

Capture Your Flag is determined to change this. The people whose stories we capture in our short-form videos are not the experts in their field - they are probably a lot like you, but perhaps one to two steps ahead in their career and their lives. These interviews collectively form a reference library you can use to learn from and turn to at any time. Consider it your virtual mentor network and know that we will bring back our interviewees year after year so we can support you on your journey. 

- Erik

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Reader Comments (19)

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August 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMebel Jepara

A fantastic article which I would completely agree with through experience. A particular point I would like to add is that learning from somebody just a couple of steps ahead of you is always more achievable / it isn't overwhelming. I see it as a small milestone in the bigger picture. All these small milestones will result in bigger achievements over time. Big tasks are always easier to achieve when broken up into smaller tasks

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