If someone you know travels to another continent and gains perspective, it's not surprising.

It's expected. It even borders on trite. 

When Mark Zuckerberg does it, it's big news. Especially if Steve Jobs is part of the story.

"Early on in our history when things weren't really going well--we had hit a tough patch and a lot of people wanted to buy Facebook--I went and I met with Steve Jobs, and he said that to reconnect with what I believed was the mission of the company, I should go visit this temple in India that he had gone to early in the evolution of Apple, when he was thinking about what he wanted his vision of the future to be," Zuckerberg said on Sunday, according to Business Insider. Zuckerberg was hosting India Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a town-hall type of Q&A.

What's interesting about Zuckerberg's explanation is how he fast-forwards right past the "I met with Steve Jobs" part and cuts to the significance of the India trip.

Most entrepreneurs in a rough patch don't have Steve Jobs in their contact list. But they can certainly schedule lunch or coffee with their own mentors. And that small piece of advice--to cultivate your mentor relationships--is, for most entrepreneurs, the more applicable (and affordable) takeaway from Zuckerberg's travel-abroad tale. 

Not long ago I asked leadership expert Bill George (who'd just released the leadership book Discover Your True North, an update to his 2007 classic True North) about how young leaders can gain self-awareness. George, himself the highly successful CEO of Medtronic, a medical device and technology company, from 1991 to 2001, said one key was for young CEOs to find a support team of mentors that they'll actually listen to.

And the first young CEO he mentioned was Zuckerberg. 

In 2005, Zuckerberg met Don Graham, CEO of the Washington Post Company. Graham offered to invest $6 million in Facebook. Zuckerberg accepted, only to renege when Accel Partners offered to invest at a higher valuation.

Yet Graham, rather than feeling snubbed, was impressed with how Zuckerberg handled the situation. Later that year, Zuckerberg shadowed Graham for several days to learn how a CEO ought to behave. The relationship deepened. One benefit? Graham advised Zuckerberg to hire COO Sheryl Sandberg and encouraged Sandberg to accept the position, even though she'd be reporting to someone younger.

Graham--today the lead director of Facebook's board--benefited from the relationship too, learning from Zuckerberg about online initiatives that would engage Washington Post readers.

More than this, Zuckerberg's relationship with Graham formed a template Zuckerberg would rely on in seeking mentorship. Today, his roster of mentors includes Bill Gates and Marc Andreessen. "People always ask, How does [Zuckerberg] have the wisdom of someone 20 years older?" says George. "The answer is, he sought out really good mentors, early on."

And now we know: Another of those mentors was Jobs. 

None of this is to minimize the impact of the India trip on Zuckerberg's career--or Jobs's, for that matter. Zuckerberg visited the temple and traveled around India for a month. He saw how people in India connected with each other--and it affirmed his sense of Facebook's mission. "That reinforced to me the importance of what we were doing, and that is something I will always remember," Zuckerberg said on Sunday, according to Business Insider. 

Likewise, there's no denying the role that Jobs's India trip had on his own career.

"His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor," notes Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson in the New York Times. Jobs told Isaacson that he began to appreciate the power of intuition, in contrast to what he called "Western rational thought," when he wandered around India after dropping out of college. "The people in the Indian countryside don't use their intellect like we do," Jobs told Isaacson. "They use their intuition instead ... Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That's had a big impact on my work."

So if you're an entrepreneur, should you go to India? Of course. If you can afford the trip, you're bound to gain the perspective that anyone would gain through an immersion in another culture. It's a perspective that clearly helped Zuckerberg and Jobs through some rough patches. 

But if you're too swamped in red ink to make the trip, don't worry. For the cost of a cup of a coffee, you can check in with your mentors--or build your support team by cultivating additional mentor relationships. You don't have to cross the ocean to gain insight and perspective. You just have to network with people you really respect. And listen to what they say. 

Published on: Sep 29, 2015