Imagine holding handfuls of puzzle pieces that you are trying to assemble, without having access to the box that illustrates the finished picture. Around you are others who find themselves in the same predicament. You all hold pieces of each other’s puzzles. And you also have the ability to help each other tune into what the finished image looks like.
Though this may seem more like nothing more than an amusing simulation, it is quite fitting as a metaphor for the power of connecting with other minds.
It took me awhile to recognize and utilize this power myself. Many of us have been conditioned to believe we must figure everything out on our own, work independently, practice self-sufficiency. But over the years, I’ve become more and more convinced that working with others in groups allows us access to answers we would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
The other day I mentioned to a Fortune 100 client that I had just returned from a three-day mastermind event. His response, “What is a mastermind?”, reminded me of the fact that until I became an entrepreneur, I wasn’t familiar with the term (or the benefits of) masterminding either.
Napolean Hill is among those who made popular the concept of the mastermind. He defined it as “two or more people who work in perfect harmony for the attainment of a definite purpose.” Hill went on to say “It is the principle through which you may borrow and use the education, the experience, the influence and perhaps the capital of other people in carrying out your own plans in life. It is the principle through which you can accomplish within one year more than you could accomplish without it in a lifetime if you depended entirely upon your own efforts for success.”
Masterminds can take many forms.
- They can be large and formal (like the one I attended a little over a week ago), or small and intimate (like engaging in a conversation with a coach, mentor, or trusted colleague).
- They can be organized around a specific concept or theme, with the intent to delve more deeply into specific concepts and glean insights into their application, like the mastermind meetings I facilitate in my Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive Program.
- They also can be created to solve a specific problem, or to provide people the opportunity to work together to collectively solve a variety of problems.
The benefits of a mastermind are worth exploring, and its power is often overlooked and unfortunately untapped. Below are three pitfalls many executives unwittingly fall into that engaging in some form of masterminding can help you to avoid.
(1) Getting so entrenched in problems that you cannot see the solutions.
The pace of business has many executives running from one thing to another in a hopelessly reactive state that often keeps them from pausing long enough to recognize what is really going on and what must be done to address it. In a rush, solutions are often devised to address symptoms without getting to the true root of the problem. People fall into a state of autopilot that has them acting operationally instead of strategically. As a result, solutions are short lived and run the risk of causing more problems than they solve.
This is the equivalent of trying madly to put puzzle pieces together that simply don’t fit.
The benefit of utilizing a mastermind to identify solutions is that it allows you to connect with people who can help you snap out of a frenzied, somewhat unconscious state to ask the right questions, consider the best approaches to truly understanding the underlying dynamics of a problem, and benefit from perspectives different than your own. This allows you to see what you previously missed, and provides the space necessary to drop into a richer understanding of what must be done.
In pausing long enough and looking deeply enough to ensure you have the right pieces, your puzzle comes together in a way that is functional and sustainable.
(2) Failing to recognize and work through the resistance that keeps you from taking necessary action.
Sometimes the best solutions evade us because we hold assumptions that keep us from believing they are possible, or that we have the ability to execute them. Our beliefs about what it will take to succeed can keep us from even entertaining the possibilities before us. In short, the solutions may be right in front of us, but we don’t see them because we are in a state of overwhelm, frustration or doubt that obstructs our view.
This is the equivalent to not being able to envision what the completed picture looks like and not recognizing that you hold in your hands the pieces necessary to assemble it.
When you mastermind with others, they approach the problem/opportunity without any of the emotion, drama, and limiting assumptions that come from being entrenched in it. As a result, they are able to see clearly and point things out for you that you cannot see on your own. They can ask you questions and offer observations that help you cut through the clutter that obscures your view and help you see the irrational nature of assumptions you may not be willing to challenge on your own.
With a clearer view, you are able to discern a better visualization of the picture your puzzle is designed to create and recognize that you have the very pieces you need. You also gain the support and courage necessary to lay them down and piece them together.
(3) Wasting time and experiencing unnecessary frustration working in isolation to figure things out.
Regardless of what problem or opportunity you are facing, there is someone, somewhere who has been through something similar, who knows something you may not. And yet many of us insist on doing things ourselves, reinventing the wheel, and failing to leverage the knowledge, experience and insight all around us. This can result in countless hours, weeks, months and even years of time spent doing something that could have been solved or created in a fraction of time, without the whopping pain that comes from repeatedly banging your head against a wall.
It is the equivalent of failing to recognize that others hold pieces of our puzzles that they would gladly offer up, if only we had the willingness to ask.
When you mastermind with others, you not only gain access to potential solutions, approaches and tools you didn’t previously have, you also benefit from learning lessons others gained through mistakes – without having to make those mistakes yourself. Additionally, you will benefit from honest, supportive feedback provided by people who will tell you what you need to hear (information others may not feel comfortable sharing) in a supportive way that allows you to course correct before any damage is done.
You gain access to other’s puzzle pieces instead of trying to fabricate your own – as well as information that helps you put those pieces together efficiently and effectively.
In summary, masterminding can allow you to see beyond constraints that keep you from rising to your most pressing challenges and promising opportunities, produce solutions to problems that previously eluded you, and save you countless hours, weeks and even years of wasted time and unnecessary frustration.
In addition to avoiding each of these pitfalls, Napoleon Hill spoke of another benefit of masterminding that is worth mentioning. He is often quoted saying “When two (or more) people get together, a third mind, the Master Mind, is created, becoming a separate force in the conversation.”
I believe this separate force is a higher mind – a source of universal intelligence, the stuff utilized by the greatest inventors, scientists, leaders, writers, artists, and geniuses of our time. Putting our heads together in this way allows us to go beyond the limited database of our brains to access this higher mind in a way that can potentially resolve even the most pressing of problems, for us as individuals, organizations, communities and societies.
Now that’s a puzzle worth assembling.
If you are interested in experiencing the power of a mastermind first hand, check out The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive. Though the fall program has filled, you can sign up for the waiting list to be the first to get information on the next session, as well as first dibs on the limited seats that will become available.
One day when my son Ryan was eight years old, he came home from summer camp with a riddle.
“Mom, pretend you are in a box that is sealed shut – air tight – with no doors and no windows.” OK,” I replied, picturing walls on all sides of me.
“How do you get out?” he asked.
I offered some lame solutions, each of which compelled him to roll his eyes and shake his head. When I saw that he could no longer take it I said, “I give up. How do you get out?”
“You stop pretending!” he said with a wide grin spreading across his face.
This little riddle has profound implications for all of us.
Because we have a way of creating our own boxes every day of our lives. Sometimes we do it when we wake up with preconceived ideas of how our day is going to be. We do it when we make a judgment of whether or not we believe people will come through for us, or whether we will be able to come through for ourselves. We create boxes that keep us walled off from our greatest potential and the myriad of possibilities that exist all around us when we believe that the chances of achieving something are less than optimal.
We are often told that being truly creative requires that we “think outside of the box.”
And I believe this is true. Perhaps we can also increase our creativity and effectiveness by recognizing the ways in which we create our own boxes to begin with so that we can prevent them from reigning us in altogether.
Anytime you believe an assumption, you’ll tend to act in ways that validate it.
If you believe you are not capable of doing something – speaking in public, taking a stand, initiating a conversation with someone, pursuing some kind of opportunity – with the belief that you don’t have what it takes to succeed, you’ll behave in ways that make that assumption true. As the saying goes, “you can’t win if you don’t play.”
You may believe we cannot do something because there is no evidence that suggests you can.
But the lack of evidence is a direct result of believing something about ourselves that is based completely in conjecture. Many times the only real evidence we have is actually a lack of evidence.
Our beliefs can impact people around us too.
When you believe an assumption about others that suggests they are not capable of achieving something, you may well act in ways that can bring out their insecurities and doubts, thus inhibiting their performance. It is not uncommon for people to be accomplish amazing feats in front of some audiences and become all thumbs in front of others.
But there is a way out of that trap.
When we find ourselves being intimidated by others who may have doubts about our abilities, we need to be aware of the fact that their doubts are not what is inhibiting us at all. Their doubts are only triggering the stories of inadequacy we have about ourselves – and that is what gets in the way of our ability to do any given task. When we begin to pay attention to what it is we are believing, we can question the validity of our assumptions and take steps to disengage ourselves from beliefs that keep us reigned in.
The key is not to simply get rid of our assumptions.
What we really need to do is replace our limiting beliefs with empowering truths. Rather than focusing on what’s going wrong, we can focus on what’s going right and build on that. Instead of beating ourselves and others up for our seeming shortcomings, we can appreciate our strengths and the progress we have made and go from there. We can move from the improbable to the possible and look to the talent we and others possess that will help us to achieve it.
Action follows thought.
Our doubts are like the walls of a box that keep us from seeing and acting on the array of possibilities all around us. The truth about who we are and what we are capable of dissolves those walls and allows us to bust out of our boxes so that we can experience life as it is truly meant to be lived – unencumbered, limitless, and free.
So, if you find yourself in a box, remember the advice of an eight year old boy – and STOP PRETENDING.
One of my favorite places to go on holiday weekends is Prescott, AZ. On one such trip with my mother and daughter we walked through an art festival in the town square. The place was dotted with people and their dogs, meandering from booth to booth, admiring the wares and taking it all in. White tents and tall, willowy trees sheltered artisans and their customers from the bright sun and intense heat.
There was a lot of jewelry, handmade signs with clever quotes, t-shirts (for people and their dogs), hand crafted furniture, blankets, tablecloths, framed photography, bird houses. If you could think of something that could be artfully designed and hand crafted, there was probably a booth for it in the Prescott square that weekend.
Some of my favorite booths were the ones with food in them. Freshly dipped caramel apples rolled in peanuts or toffee, kettle corn popped in large copper drums, homemade tamales, chocolate dipped cheesecake. And, oh, the best freshly squeezed lemonade ever, made with generous portions of sugar and large juicy lemons whose rinds floated in the clear plastic dispensers.
I was standing in a rather long line for one of those lemonades when I became acutely aware of the presence of swarms of bees flying around me and everyone else, hovering over people’s cups and food, and even landing on shoulders, arms, and clothing. People squirmed in their shoes, swatted them away, and some ran out of the line altogether.
I turned to see an older man with a closely trimmed white beard and long white eyebrows. His eyes twinkled and dimples appeared below his cheeks. I looked at him and smiled.
“Don’t be afraid,” he continued. “Bees only sting when they sense fear.” He rocked back and forth on his feet, with his fingers wrapped comfortably around the straps of his faded overalls. “It’s true!” He insisted.
Hmm. What an interesting thought. Is it true? I don’t know. I wouldn’t doubt it.
It got me thinking about fear in general, and the correlation it often has with unfortunate circumstances. Fear is widely considered to be the effect of an unpleasant and often painful stimulus. But the cause?
Could it be true that fear itself could bring about some of the unfortunate circumstances that we are often most afraid of?
I think so.
When we are afraid, we get consumed with thinking we need to protect ourselves, have the last word, save face. We become far more occupied with getting than giving. We can panic and engage in irrational and even hurtful behavior. A fearful response is often an overly aggressive one – one that can create more problems than it solves, and one that might otherwise be deemed as unnecessary. We say and do things we later regret. And we cut ourselves off from the wisdom and insights we would otherwise be able to tap to constructively resolve our differences and creatively rise up to our challenges. Our solutions tend to be half baked and often unsatisfying – as well as short lived.
But how do you override that somewhat instinctive and often knee jerk, fear filled response to what you believe could hurt you?
“Don’t be afraid,” the white haired man said. Easy for you to say, buddy. He obviously sees bees differently than I do, or at least have in the past.
And maybe that’s the answer.
Maybe it’s about learning to see things differently. Maybe it’s about questioning what we’ve come to believe and learning a different response – one that is more grounded, centered, and thoughtful. Perhaps it’s about trying something we’ve never had the presence of mind to consider.
The woman behind the counter handed me my lemonade and a single bee came along for the ride. It followed us throughout the square, from booth to booth, hovering around the large waxy cup that contained the sweet, refreshing liquid we waited in line for over ten minutes to receive. At one point, it landed on my shirt sleeve. I felt my blood pressure rise and took a deep breath. What if I get stung? I tried not to think about it. It flew away and came back a few seconds later.
We couldn’t help ourselves. We shooed it away with our napkins. It kept flying back. We tried hard to stay brave and calm, but we kept our napkins unfurled and continued to flap them around whenever the bee got too close.
We made it home without any bee stings. But the wheels in my mind are still turning at the thought that there may be some kind of insight or lesson in that experience for me. Have I grasped it? I don’t know.
One thing is for sure. The next time I begin to feel that familiar rush of adrenaline, you can bet I’ll think back to that white-haired man in his frayed overalls, with a large grin on his face and a quiet wisdom in those sparkling eyes. And I’ll do whatever I can to see things from another, less fear provoking perspective.