As a young entrepreneur I would mentor one of the 'establishment'. In my case it was to be Leslie Evans, Director General for Learning and Justice at the Scottish Government.
I realised this could be a real chance for me to challenge preconceived ideas about the strategic role of young women in Scotland's future, and learn more about the machinery of government. I think Leslie was equally curious about how this might work, especially as she mentors (and is mentored) along more traditional lines.
We first met in November 2012 and try to meet every six weeks. As well as the age difference we have different skills, perspectives and experiences. From the start we made a deliberate decision to disregard boundaries of hierarchy, age and stereotype and focus instead on our ambitions for the future - personal as well as professional.
It was clear at the outset that we represent a bridge between two very different worlds, but we immediately identified our shared values of openness and creative thinking and the different but complementary roles we each play in creating opportunities in Scotland. We spotted similar challenges in our respective leadership roles, albeit in very different settings and with different goals, and this led to insightful conversations about our roles as relationship builders, networkers and negotiators, nurturers of talent and how this impacts on the delivery of our business.
We have exchanged approaches to communication, swapped examples of creativity in the business environment and new ways of solving problems, including the use of visual and digital tools. We have shared our experience of different business models and of women's leadership and career paths. This has led to a relationship that is underpinned by balance and equality. We respect each other as leaders and recognise our common goals and ambitions. Leslie values my energy and creative thinking, and I appreciate her ability to make sense of complexity and listen without casting judgment.
Mentoring is built on the idea of learning from someone with more experience than you. But reverse mentoring is very much about two-way learning. In order to gain the most out of it both partners need to be committed to continuous learning, and prepared to hear and appreciate alternative perspectives - often by those operating in and experiencing a world very different from yours. Be prepared to challenge and be challenged (especially those of you with 'years of wisdom'). This takes courage, confidence and curiosity and also relies on a chemistry between the two participants. We found that early on. And a good sense of humour and sense of proportion are essential ingredients to make the process productive.
What have we learned so far? Leslie has gained insight into the challenges facing young business women, the relentless drive and energy required to build and sustain a small company, creative ideas on the quality and accessibility of public services using digital tools and some frank comments on support for young entrepreneurs from government, both national and local. This learning is informing her leadership and strategic policy-making roles in the government, and she is applying fresh techniques in communication.
I have found a new perspective on, and unique insight into, government business and systems, politics and the public sector landscape, and I am learning how to work with the system as opposed to challenging it, or at least how to chose my moments more wisely.
Leslie is from the generation of radical thinkers, consumers and travellers known as baby boomers - recognised for challenging power structures and 'the way things have always been done'. Some of these radical thinkers of the 70s are now in positions of power and influence - who is left to inspire them? I am from Gen Y, a generation reliant on technology that grew up with immediate information at our fingertips. Now I think it's time for these two generations to work together, combining our unique experiences, skills and perspectives, to resurface radical and creative thinking and drive change in Scotland.