What have you learned from mentors?

The most important lesson my mentor ever taught me: 

We went to a client to work on Problem X. He quickly determined that solving Problem X would achieve nothing. Problem Y was the real problem, but was way outside our areas of expertise. 

So what did he do? He slept 4 hours a night for the next 2 weeks studying everything he could find about Problem Y. He reviewed reports, industry literature, called experts, and talked to as many people in the company who knew anything about that subject area. Within 2 weeks, he presented a brilliant solution that no one had ever considered but was instantly understandable by their experts. (That solution included work done by us and we had a great client relationship for years.)

Later, I asked him why he tried to accomplish something so difficult with such a seemingly tiny possibility of success. I’ll never forget his reply… 

“I didn’t know that I couldn’t do it, so I did it.”