The Eagle and Child pub is similar to many other pubs in Oxford. It’s dimly lit, serves beer at room temperature, and cider is an easy find. They have fish and chips along with other pub food. By all accounts, it’s just another common place in one of the greatest college towns in the world. Except for one thing…
You see, in the 1930s and 1940s, a very special group used space in The Eagle and Child to challenge and support one another while offering criticism on their best work and generally having a good time. The group would go on to produce some of the most read fiction and non fiction works in all of the world.
J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and several others formed a group called The Inklings, who used the pub as one of several locations for their mastermind meetings. Whether directly or indirectly, this group pushed each member to create their best possible work. They pushed one another to reach their full potential and hone their writing to make it the best in the world.
While the 1930s may seem like a lifetime ago (it is) and the members of The Inklings may seem larger than life (they are), this group forms the perfect case study for why so many of our community members identify “people” as the single greatest factor holding them back from more purpose and fulfillment in life.
Mastermind Groups are the single most effective way to regularly surround yourself with remarkable people
Deep down, we all want to be pushed. We want to be challenged to put our best work into the world. We want to be understood, supported, listened to, encouraged, called out, and loved by people that care about us. We want to be the average of five incredible people with whom we constantly surround ourselves. We want these things, and yet so many of us lack the right people in our lives to make it happen.
The real problem here is that our relationships early in our lives and careers are largely a function of our location. We go to high school with the people who live in our neighborhood. We go to college with the people admissions officers decide are qualified to be in our class. We join a company based on incomplete information and a general lack of direction upon graduating from college. And one day we wake up realizing that the people we spend the most time with are not necessarily the ones that we want to be influenced by.
It’s a scary realization in that it leaves us feeling completely subject to chance. For a period of time, we wander around lost in thought trying to understand our alternative options. Eventually, we reach a decision point.
Do I settle into a life of complacency and empty dreaming? Or do I do something about my dreams and find the people who will help me reach them?
People who read this site have this in common: we do something about our dreams. And today, I want to introduce you to the concept of mastermind groups, which are a little known, but incredibly effective way to help you reach your potential. Let’s dive in.
What is a Mastermind Group?
A mastermind group is a collection of 4-8 creative individuals (we’re all creative) who meet on a regular basis to help one another reach their fullest potential.
I think that’s a pretty good definition of a mastermind group that allows for the flexibility to fit most people’s needs. To get a mastermind group together, you’ll have to find 3-7 other people who will be as committed and dependable as you. They’ll need to be creatives as well, which simply means they’re dedicated to achieving their dreams (and yours) through creative problem solving, goal setting, and accountability. Finally, everyone in the group needs to be willing to meet on a regular basis to help you and the other members reach their fullest potential.
This sounds simple enough, but there’s much more that goes into forming a successful group than just understanding a common definition. In fact, mastermind as a term was defined and popularized as long ago as 1937, when Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich was originally published. So, if the concept has been proven to help millionaires make their fortunes and it’s been around for nearly 100 years, why aren’t we all in a group yet?
Because it takes real work. But the rest of this post will help you take action to successfully form your own group as soon as you’re ready.
Step 1: Know what you want (and need)
In my post recapping World Domination Summit 2013, I mentioned three questions that Donald Miller recommends we all answer in order to reach our dreams:
- Who are you?
- What do you want?
- What did it feel like when you went for it?
By answering these three questions before you ever get started with a mastermind group, you guarantee yourself that you’ll seek out the right people to help you reach your goals.
Who are you?
There are four essential aspects of who you are that you’ll need to consider:
- Purpose: why on Earth are you here on Earth? Why do you do what you do? What are the beliefs you hold to be absolute truths in the world and how do they affect your words and actions?
- Passion: What are your interests? Which of your interests inspire you enough to become the best in the world? That last part is the key: what do you care enough about to become truly great? That is the only way passion can play a role in your life.
- Values: What are the 3-5 ideals or short phrases that describe the way you live your life, make decisions, and want other people to think about you? What values have you demonstrated through your actions in the past? What do you need to start doing, stop doing, and keep doing to make sure your actions reflect your values?
- Strengths: What are your innate talents and tendencies that you were born with? How do you do your best work? What are examples of situations in the past when you were at your best and how can you replicate those situations in the future?
Get to the bottom of each of these questions on some level before you try to setup a mastermind group. Without this information, it will be hard to know what type of people are most likely to align with who you are to help you reach your goals.
What do you want?
Again, like knowing who you are, there are four essential levels on which you can consider what you want:
- Vision: Your vision encompasses the complete picture of what you want your life to look like. It includes how you want family, friends, and colleagues to think about you when you reach the end of your life. Most importantly, it includes the aspects of what you consider to be a fulfilling, impactful life.
- Long term goals: Your long term goals, or BHAG, paint a picture of your next 10-25 years. How will you know you are on the path to a life of fulfillment and impact over that timeframe?
- Short term goals: Over the next year, what do you need to accomplish or maintain under each of the seven fulfillment factor categories in order to remain on track to reach your long term goals and life vision?
- KPIs: Under each of the seven fulfillment factors, what daily, weekly, and monthly practices or habits will allow you to reach your short term goals? The seven fulfillment factors include: career; financial; relationships; faith & spirituality; health & fitness; mental & learning; travel & adventure.
Establishing a full breakdown of what you want will help you communicate how your mastermind group can help you reach your goals and ideal lifestyle. Without a clear vision, it may be difficult to effectively use your group to your advantage. Our goal setting course in the Impact Toolkit helps you establish each of these levels of goals.
What did it feel like when you went for it?
This one is actually pretty straight forward and helps you form the mindset and motivation necessary to go for what you really want in life. Take the time to imagine exactly what it will feel like when you reach your 1 year, 10 year, and lifetime goals. How will you feel about yourself when you make them happen? How will your family, friends, and colleagues feel about what you’ve accomplished and the way you’ve lived?
The answers to these questions form the basis for the motivation you’ll need to take on the tough daily tasks to help you reach your goals. That includes the process of seeking out and forming a mastermind group.
Step 2: Seek out people with similar goals and experience levels
Alright, you know who you are and what you want, and you’ve got the motivation to make it happen. You know that other people can help you reach your goals faster and with more creativity, now what?
You need to locate “your people” aka the people who will form the core of your mastermind group. This is partly an exercise in trial and error, as some people are likely to come and go from the group. However, the more intentional you can be at the beginning, the more likely you are to form a core group that stays together for many years, just like The Inklings, who met regularly for nearly 20 years.
You’re looking for people who have three key characteristics:
- They seem to have answered Donald Miller’s 3 questions
- They have similar goals to yours
- They have a similar experience level as you
I’ll use a personal example to illustrate this step and then give you a couple of methods for finding your right people.
I’m in a mastermind groups with three inspiring, creative, and dedicated individuals. We’ve accomplished a lot together, which I’ll cover in more detail later, but for now, how did we find one another?
Well, we all met at World Domination Summit, which is a ready made gathering of people who share alignment of values and a common desire to live remarkable lives. From there, it was simply a matter of finding other individuals with similar goals and levels of experience.
So, how can you find the people who will make up a great Mastermind Group? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Attend “networking events” in your area. Have as many conversations as possible, and take notes on the ones that are most interesting and engaging.
- Attend conferences that have messaging and storylines that appeal to you.
- Ask your mentors, family, friends, and close contacts for recommendations of people that meet the three key characteristics from above
- Search for blogs that seem to contain similar messaging, goals, and mindset as you
Once you think you’ve found the right people, you’ll want to have conversations with each one individually over Skype or in person over coffee to see if they’ll actually be a good fit.
Step 3: Create a proposed structure
Once you have a solid group of 3-7 other individuals, take some time to create a proposed structure. There are many formats that can work for these meetings, so you’ll have to try different things out, keep what you like, and discard what you don’t. However, in my group’s weekly meetings for the past year, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all benefitted massively. Here is a list of some of the group’s accomplishments this past year:
- Six figure ebook launch
- Launching 1,000 member membership site
- Creating an iPhone app
- Landing $100,000+ in funding
- Features in Smashing Magazine, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur on Fire, Blogcast FM, and more
I would bet large amounts of money that as a group, we would not have completed as many exciting projects, made as much money, been featured around the web, or, most importantly, impacted as many lives without our weekly meetings. So, based on our experience, here are a couple of ideas for meeting structure that have worked for us:
- Have regular meetings, preferably every week or every other week
- Hold the meetings at one consistent time that works for each person in the group
- Expect each person to attend unless they tell the group ahead of time
- Meeting in person is best, by video chat is second best
- Set specific goals at the end of each meeting and write them down on a shareable document
- Give each person the opportunity to update the group on their progress as compared to their goals at the beginning of the meeting
- Each week, focus intently (20-30 minutes) on one person’s specific challenges or goals by offering feedback, advice, and criticism to help them create even better ideas or solutions
- Respecting a time limit usually means that more gets done, but if the group is crushing it on a particular problem by building creative solutions, then don’t stop the flow
- Coming prepared makes for a more productive meeting — if someone needs the “hot seat,” as we call it, on a given week, they will get better feedback by sending out reading or materials for which they want feedback ahead of time
If you put these structural pieces into place from the very first meeting, then you’ll be off to a great start. Once you choose which elements you think will work best for you and your group, be sure to send the proposed structure out to the group. Ask them to offer feedback and suggest alternative options. Incorporate everyone’s thoughts so they feel ownership of the group as well.
Step 4: Advanced strategies for compelling conversation
In addition to the regular practices we’ve put into place, I’ve also found several other methods for creating compelling conversation during your mastermind meetings through my coaching, consulting, and research. Many of these are based on an educated hypothesis that they’ll work well in a group, so be sure to try them out for yourself before promising their rainmaking potential.
- The Inklings had a really interesting practice wherein they would write pieces of literature or non-fiction and then read them aloud at the group meetings. The criticism and feedback in return was raw, substantial, and sometimes harsh. But through this continuous sharpening of the expression of complex ideas, thoughts, and stories, each member became ever better at their craft.
- Craft annual plans at the beginning of each year (or every 12 months), ask for feedback, and check in every quarter or half year on progress. By stating your biggest goals for the year out loud, they immediately become more rule. By being held accountable for those goals, they become much more likely to be reached.
- Create bucket lists or impossible lists that you read out loud to the group. This will allow the group to get to know each other better. It will also allow your peers to push you towards your real dreams rather than allowing you to settle for second-tier dreams because you’re scared of failure.
- Undertake common readings (books, periodicals, or blogs). You can take this in many different directions. You could spend the first 15 minutes of each meeting in a book club type format. You could pick one periodical or blog article per person per meeting and discuss them for the first 15 minutes.
- Discuss real life case studies. Identify specific examples of excellent, inspiring performance within your industry or area of interest. If we were going to do this in my Mastermind Group, we would take on comprehensive studies of specific, successful blogs and communities. Then, at our meeting, we would discuss the most compelling successes and failures of the community, pulling out the most important insights and applying them to our own blogs/businesses.
- Conduct 30 minute “workshops.” If you get the right people for your group, each one will have a unique skillset that you could learn from. Once per quarter, someone in the group could give a 30 minute workshop or walk through of a process or skill that has helped them reach their goals. For example, in our group, we have informally learned a ton about web design from Nathan, video editing from Caleb, and copywriting from Krista.
- Get together in person once per year. Getting together in person changes everything about the dynamics of the relationships within your Mastermind Group. Working relationships turn into friendships, and the creative ideas that come from the meeting are even more impactful than over video chat. Work hard to plan a specific group retreat or plan to attend a conference where you can all meet up.
These are just a few ideas for taking your mastermind group to the next level once you have it up and running. You are equally capable of brainstorming creative and compelling sparks for conversation within your own group. Try different strategies and see what sticks. Different people will respond to different stimuli, but you can be sure that you will learn from each passing experience.
Right now, take the time to answer the 3 questions from Donald Miller and then look up conferences, networking events, or specific people you believe might be great for building your mastermind group. You are in control of both of these actions, so schedule a work period on your calendar to make it happen.
Mastermind Groups are a concept that can work for anyone with ambitious goals and dreams. Whether you’re a young professional just kicking off your career, a new business owner, or a seasoned career veteran, you can benefit from surrounding yourself with incredible people.
What are you waiting for? Get going.
If you’re interested in learning more about Mastermind Groups, I did a decent amount of research before writing this post to learn from the experiences of others. Listed below are second-level research that may be helpful, in order of return on time invested.
- The Mastermind Group Workbook by Scott Dinsmore and Liz Seda
- High Profile Mastermind Groups Throughout History
- How to Start a Mastermind Group from Lifehack
- How to Find a Mastermind Group from Pat Flynn at Smart Passive Income
- The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry (Affiliate) – This one will require the most time, but will also provide the most spark for creative practices in your career, both within your Mastermind Group and elsewhere. Specifically, chapter 5 on “Relationships: Being Brilliant Together” will help in your MM endeavors.
Photo: The Eagle & Child by Gashwin on Flickr