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On Character

Why Join a Mastermind Group?

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The idea of a Mastermind group was popularised in Napoleon Hill’s iconic Think and Grow Rich. It is defined as: “a coordination of knowledge and effort [...] between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose”. I think the term itself is irritating and misleading: it puts up unnecessary boundaries. If you talk about being in a Mastermind group, it’s going to be tough not to come across as pompous. On the flip side, if you ask someone to join a Mastermind group, they’re going to feel intimidated, and probably like they don’t want to be the kind of presumptuous git who trumpets their “mastermind” status.

Yet from the definition above, it should be obvious that Mastermind groups needn’t be composed of “masters” – they can just be a group of professionals discussing a problem, two people meeting to study, or anything in between where a group shares their knowledge in order to do something. I think something like a “thinking group” would be far more helpful, but I guess we’re stuck with the term until this blog gains some serious readership…

There are numerous examples of highly successful people who attribute their success in part to having joined a Mastermind group:Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Oprah, Richard Branson. All the writers on LLB are part of one Mastermind group, and I attend another group about once a month.



So what specifically is the value of such a group?

  1. Expertise:I like the Einstein quote: “The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know”. A good way round this frustrating problem is to leverage other people’s expertise.
  2. Accountability: Regular meetings will offer an additional incentive for you to do something. Even if you are already incredibly motivated, meetings create deadlines, and deadlines force you to take action. These groups are ideal for natural procrastinators.
  3. Networking: Self explanatory.
  4. Inspiration: Hanging out with people who are trying to get shit done lights a fire under your arse, and exposes you to new ways solving your problems. It’s great.
  5. Support:Sometimes things are not going your way. Talking through your options with smart people who’ve been there is helpful, so long as you don’t behave like too much of an askhole (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=askhole)

There are a number of things I can point to which I suspect I either would not have done, or would have considerably delayed doing were it not for the influence of my thinking group, such as:

  • Trading stocks and educating myself on the markets
  • Using a virtual assistant
  • Creating and committing to a financial plan to put me on the path to buying property
  • Joining stratfor: http://www.stratfor.com/
  • Getting a mentor
  • Attending other mastermind groups
  • Writing for this blog

It’s also worth mentioning that my appreciation of fine wine has increased as a result of the group’s influence. We’ve had a mix of meetings, from the super fun to the downright laborious, and we trust each other more for it.



What are the pre-requisites?

You must respect the people with whom you meet. If you think they lack character or will not able to offer *anything *of value, then your feelings of accountability towards them will be diminished, and you will feel less bashful about showing them sub-par work because they probably won’t even know the difference. That is not to say that they need to be more intelligent than you. Indeed the concept of “intelligence” can be unhelpful since there are many people who would score low on an IQ test who will be more comfortable telling you that you’re full of shit, or people who have never read a book but can tell you that your website design sucks, or people who can’t look you in the eye, but speak 10 programming languages. You get the point. So long as you feel accountable to them, they offer value.

So should you join a mastermind group?

As with most things, it depends. Bluntly: If you’re ambitious and want to kick-start a project, or just shake your life up a bit, it’s a great thing to do. If you’re content and don’t feel the need to achieve much more in life then don’t…and please leave a comment explaining how you reached such an enviable state.

Once you’ve decided you want to give it a whirl, it’s important to actually think –I’d advise writing down- what you want to get out of meetings, and how much time you’re willing to commit to such a group. Figure this stuff out, and then start searching.

If you have some friends who already have a mastermind group – great, ask to join (slightly more likely is that they may know someone who they can put you in touch with). Let’s face it though, that’s pretty unlikely. It may have to be you who instigates. It’s possible you will feel uncomfortable asking people if they want to join some kind of geeky sounding personal development group. You will think that you will look like a fool. Once the group has formed, you may feel uncomfortable taking the lead role, or worry about “nagging” people to come along. There are two remedies to this, which should be exercised in equal measure:

1) Choose the people you ask carefully, use your discretion. The person in the canteen who talks about X-Factor every lunch has other things on their mind (though be certain you are not pre-judging someone who is actually just an ultra-smooth social chameleon). The person who studies a language outside of work/study, or who is glued to stock charts at lunch…those are the ones with whom you may have more luck.

2) Get some balls.

The final option is to seek out a group online. Whilst a Google search reveals an array of mastermind groups you can join (a site like http://www.meetup.com/ might be a good place, though I’ve not tried it), some of them look like a load of guff. Going through some of the groups’ websites can reveal photographs of people who look like they are just a bit too shiny, and who look like they might kill homeless people for fun. The question is really: What are your alternatives? Have your attempts to marshal your smart friends or colleagues failed? If you’ve had no luck with your social circle, then suck it up and join one you find online. Something like 1 in 7 American couples who married in 2012 met online: if they can find someone they can tolerate living with for the rest of their lives, you can find someone who you spend a few hours with every month. Ask your virtual assistant to find one for you. It’s a simple risk to reward ratio: worst case you waste an evening, best case you encounter a group of people who have a lot of character.