The power of the (right) group is far, far greater than that of the individuals who commit themselves to it. I am not a joiner, nor am I naturally comfortable asking for help. I often joke that "Figure It Out" was the unofficial family motto; in our house, you did your own homework, made your own breakfast and lunch, and always—ALWAYS—looked up words in the dictionary yourself.

This self-sufficiency fostered some fine habits. I love reading. I'm good at research, and I can entertain myself for days on end. If I end up stranded alone on a desert island with nothing but a library to catalog and a looming deadline, I'll be all set. (Provided the island also has a decent motel and Trader Joe's.)

But at a certain point it is helpful to have voices outside of those in one's own head with which to consult. Moreover, when the humans from whom these voices emanate are those one knows, trusts, and does not want to disappoint, the experience can be motivating, as well as clarifying and illuminating.

Mastermind Groups: The basics

The first printed mention of the mastermind group is in Napoleon Hill's 1937 classic self-help book, Think and Grow Rich [public library]; he calls it the "Master Mind" group, and credits his own discovery of it to rapacious robber baron—er, industrialist Andrew Carnegie, some 25 years prior.

While Hill's writing can be turn-of-the-last-century quaint (and his PERVASIVE use of ALL-CAPS, a little ANNOYING), the fundamentals for selecting and running a successful group from the original text translate easily into modern-speak:

  1. Identify people with the skills and drive you need to help you achieve your stated goal(s)
  2. Figure out what skills you have to offer in exchange, so there is parity (we're assuming your drive exists)
  3. Meet regularly and often
  4. Allow no ill will, jealousy, etc., within the group—only loving support

My own experience with groups bears out all four points. If you choose people strictly because you enjoy their company, you'll find yourself stuck at some point; that mix of skills and knowledge is critical (#1 & 2). If you meet sporadically (#3), it's difficult to bond up front and maintain traction later. And if (#4) some kind of resentment crops up—and it can, especially when everyone but you seems to be making gains—things can get really ugly.

So what are some specific things to consider when looking at these four general criteria to assemble your own mastermind group as an actor?

Translating mastermind into actor-speak: the four points

When selecting your fellow masterminders, think like an agent.  Agents want bookers. When they sign talent, they accept that it may take a while for them to actually generate income, but they take someone on based on the strong likelihood that the actor in question will make them money. That means they are looking for actors who can deliver the goods, who take their careers seriously, who have mad skills and are constantly seeking to improve and produce, and so on.

Good agents also don't take on actors who pose conflicts with talent already on their roster. Follow these two simple criteria—don't duplicate types, and go with self-starters—and you're halfway home.

Identify your uniqueness, and come to the table in the spirit of giving. When you're figuring out how to market yourself as an actor, you go through a process of determining your type and the unique gifts collected in the parcel that is you. When you break down a script, you do the same thing for a character. And in both cases, you then figure out what you or your character is bringing to the party.

So when you're assembling your dream mastermind team, don't forget where you fit in. You're bringing an equal percentage of the goods to the group. Maybe you bring experience in the business world, gained from a previous career. Maybe you're kickass at the internet, or getting in shape, or money management. Maybe you grew up in a big family and developed a keen ability to negotiate or facilitate. Hopefully, you have a range of excellent and useful skills. Regard them as gifts you get to share with others to make their dreams come true; don't just look at your fellow team members as sponges you can wring for juicy knowledge and connections.

Don't flake. Show up. Every week, preferably. (Hill even suggests multiple meetings weekly, although I've never heard of a mastermind that meets that often.) If you establish a regular time and format, you have a structure to lean into, and ongoing support you will come to rely on. If you don't, the group will disintegrate. The model is more analogous to an ongoing scene study class than a one-off workshop or a play. In showing up every week, you will build your showing-up muscles. You will also start to become uncomfortable with not getting things done. Inevitably, someone will miss a meeting here or there, but you should all be present at least three out of the four meetings per month for the thing to work.

Don't upstage, sabotage, or in any way stand in someone else's light. Everyone has a part to play, and everyone's time to shine is different. If you don't support the whole by doing your individual best—including your best to support your fellow players—it all falls apart. I get jealousy and envy. But they are poison. My friend Bonnie Gillespie has the best saying (and attitude) about other people's winning: "Any time I see someone succeed I am happy, for it affirms my belief that I live in a world where success is possible." It has been my desktop wallpaper for almost three years now; hewing to it has changed my life for the better. Willfully deviating from it, on the other hand, creates nothing but misery.

I hope I've made the case for mastermind awesomeness. The two groups I've been fortunate enough to be part of have helped me do everything from leaving an unhappy relationship to launching a side career as a speaker to raising $111,000 for a worthy cause. If you have questions about mastermind groups, please email me (colleen AT communicatrix DOT com). And if you have success stories, pretty-please email me. We are absolutely better together, and it helps me to hear how you did that thing you do!

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Books of the Month

As I indicated in the above links, Napoleon Hill's landmark book, Think and Grow Rich, is available on Amazon for an absurdly low price, or in PDF form for the even lower price of "free". It's a little dated around the gender and capitalist edges, and there's some super-freaky passages in there about proper channeling of the (I kid you not) "sex instinct", but if you're interested in starting a group like this, you should at least skim the original text. For my second group, we used a "devotional", page-a-day reader, Think and Grow Rich Every Day, as a kind of focal text throughout the first year. It's an easy, digestible way to stay on point.