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A Brief History of the Mastermind

As you’ve seen, masterminds have deep roots in history, going back to Ben Franklin and the founding of the United States. But Franklin wasn’t the first—or the last—to understand the secret power of the mastermind group. Let’s take a look at a few other examples.

Homebrew Computer Club

Gordon French was the co-founder of the Homebrew Computer Club. Gordon was a computer hobbyist living in Menlo Park, California, and he hosted the first meeting of the club in his garage in 1975. This club met regularly until 1986 and included some of Silicon Valley’s most successful and famous computer entrepreneurs, such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

Many digital historians believe that this club became the “crucible for an entire industry.”

What’s interesting about the Homebrew Computer Club is that it functioned much like a modern-day mastermind group. Gordon French and Fred Moore came up with the concept while they were experimenting with the Altair 800 Home Computer.

According to Thomas Fisher, one of the participants, the meetings had two components—a more formal session followed by a late-night, swap-meet session, which was more relaxed. Like most mastermind groups, sessions were used to accomplish multiple goals.

In the mastermind groups that I’ve run, I prefer to split the time between “craft” and “career” so that the conversations focus on core competencies and also the struggles that people might have on the business or publishing side of things.

Also, like some of the masterminds I’ve participated in, the Homebrew Computer Club had many spin-offs, members forming their own groups, some of which continue to meet up to the present day.

The Vagabonds

The Vagabonds consisted of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Warren G. Harding, and Harvey Firestone. This group of twentieth-century economic powerhouses created a mobile mastermind group, famous for taking their cars on long road trips together, usually led by Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.

They would spend weeks out on the road, without any of the distractions of their businesses where they could discuss whatever they wanted. These men shared their successes, their failures, and undoubtedly sought advice from each other.

It must’ve been difficult for someone like Henry Ford to find another person who would give him advice, but being within a small group of like-minded people with similar goals and aspirations had to have helped. Using the collective wisdom of the Vagabonds, Ford accessed the knowledge he needed to become one of the most successful businessmen in the world.

Whether the bond is formed during a road trip or simply created by the mastermind leader, the ability to share and grow with a small group of people who are in similar circumstances has always been a powerful learning modality.

The Chicago 6

The Chicago 6 was a small mastermind group of six men who started with nothing and became millionaires within a few years. William Hertz and Charles Wrigley were the two most successful members of this mastermind group.

The Inklings

The most famous and relevant mastermind group as it pertains to authors was known as the Inklings, a discussion group out of Oxford, England, that met in the 1930s and 1940s with a focus on the writing of fiction, especially fantasy. Some of its most famous members included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Warren Lewis.

Warren Lewis said the Inklings was neither a club nor a literary society, though it partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections.

Although less structured than a more contemporary mastermind group, the Inklings clearly functioned as one. The Inklings met in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College on Thursday evenings and also on Tuesday mornings, gathering for food and conversation at 49 St. Giles, the Eagle and Child. The men met to share their writing with each other, often reading sections of text aloud for critical feedback from the others. It is believed that Tolkien first read the Lord of the Rings to the Inklings.

Other works read aloud at the meetings included C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and The Screwtape Letters, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Charles Williams’s All Hallows’ Eve, Warnie Lewis’s The Splendid Century, medical papers by Havard, and Owen Barfield’s Medea, Tolkien’s first full-length novel, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.

In The Fellowship by Philip Zaleski, he says, “The novelist John Wain, a member of the group who achieved notoriety in midcentury as one of England’s ‘angry young men,’ remembers the Inklings as ‘a circle of instigators, almost of incendiaries, meeting to urge one another on in the task of redirecting the whole current of contemporary art and life.’ Yet the name Inklings, as J.R.R. Tolkien recalled it, was little more than ‘a pleasantly ingenious pun… suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink.’”

Zaleski argues that although the Inklings hadn’t taken their work too seriously, they made a serious impression on “imaginative literature (fantasy, allegory, mythopoeic tales), Christian theology and philosophy, comparative mythology, and the scholarly study of the Beowulf author, of Dante, Spenser, Milton, courtly love, fairy tale, and epic; and drawing as much from their scholarship as from their experience of a catastrophic century, they had fashioned a new narrative of hope amid the ruins of war, industrialization, cultural disintegration, skepticism, and anomie. They listened to the last enchantments of the Middle Ages, heard the horns of Elfland, and made designs on the culture that our own age is only beginning fully to appreciate. They were philologists and philomyths: lovers of logos (the ordering power of words) and mythos (the regenerative power of story), with a nostalgia for things medieval and archaic and a distrust of technological innovation that never decayed into the merely antiquarian. Out of the texts they studied and the tales they read, they forged new ways to convey old themes—sin and salvation, despair and hope, friendship and loss, fate and free will—in a time of war, environmental degradation, and social change.”

The Junto

As fictionalized in the opening of this book, Benjamin Franklin started the Junto in 1727. Also known as the Leather Apron Club, this informal mastermind group lasted for 30 years, and its popularity led to many other groups, including the Dry Club and the beginning of the American Philosophical Society.

Franklin recognized the power of small group meetings of like-minded people to further everyone’s aims. He knew that by sharing experiences and attending regularly scheduled meetings, growth in any particular profession or industry could be accelerated.

When designing my mastermind group, I used the tactics created by Franklin, hearkening all the way back to the Socratic method developed by the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates. By understanding how and when to ask questions, learning is much more beneficial.

Franklin wrote about the Junto in his autobiography. In his own words:

“I should have mentioned before, that in the autumn of the preceding year I had formed most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the ‘Junto.’ We met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of morals, politics, or natural philosophy, to be discussed by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and, to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.

“Our club, the Junto, was found so useful, and afforded such satisfaction to the members, that several were desirous of introducing their friends, which could not well be done without exceeding what we had settled as a convenient number, namely, twelve. We had from the beginning made it a rule to keep our institution a secret, which was pretty well observed. The intention was to avoid applications of improper persons for admittance, some of whom, perhaps, we might find it difficult to refuse. I was one of those who were against any addition to our number, but, instead of it, made in writing a proposal that every member separately should endeavor to form a subordinate club, with the same rules respecting queries, etc., and without informing them of the connection with the Junto.”

Think and Grow Rich

Napoleon Hill, in his book, Think and Grow Rich, defines a mastermind as the “coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.”

A titan of industry, steel baron Andrew Carnegie “stated that he, personally, knew nothing about the technical end of the steel business; moreover, he did not particularly care to know anything about it. The specialized knowledge which he required for the manufacture and marketing of steel, he found available through the individual units of his MASTER MIND GROUP.”

Hill suggested that before joining a mastermind, one should consider the skills or benefits you can offer others. He believed that meeting once or twice a week was optimal and that all members should be people who are not afraid to fail.

“Take no one into your confidence, EXCEPT the members of your ‘Master Mind’ group, and be very sure in your selection of this group, that you choose ONLY those who will be in COMPLETE SYMPATHY AND HARMONY WITH YOUR PURPOSE.”

The benefits, according to Hill, could be economic and psychic. The economic benefit was, “any person who surrounds himself with the advice, counsel, and personal cooperation of a group of men who are willing to lend him wholehearted aid, in a spirit of PERFECT HARMONY. This form of cooperative alliance has been the basis of nearly every great fortune. Your understanding of this great truth may definitely determine your financial status.”

When Hill talks about the “psychic” benefit, he’s speaking mostly about spiritual energy. “When the minds of two people are coordinated in a SPIRIT OF HARMONY, the spiritual units of energy of each mind form an affinity, which constitutes the ‘psychic’ phase of the Master Mind.”

Using a battery analogy, Think and Grow Rich details how our brainpower can be leveraged when working with other people, a group of batteries rather than a single one.

“There follows, now, another statement which will lead still nearer to an understanding of the psychic phase of the Master Mind principle: When a group of individual brains are coordinated and function in Harmony, the increased energy created through that alliance, becomes available to every individual brain in the group.”

Hill even discussed how to run a mastermind group.

“The procedure is very simple. We sit down at a conference table, clearly state the nature of the problem we have under consideration, and then begin discussing it. Each contributes whatever thoughts that may occur. The strange thing about this method of mind stimulation is that it places each participant in communication with unknown sources of knowledge definitely outside his own experience.”

But I did more than simply read about the mastermind groups of history. After spending years testing the educational modalities as a classroom teacher, I also spent time as a participant in many types of mastermind groups spanning several decades. The benefits of mastermind participation have made an exponential difference in my success. Find out how next week.

Want to take your writing chops and business savvy to the next level? Check out The Author Success Mastermind group at https://theauthorsuccessmastermind.com/join/

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