I got this strange idea in eighth grade. To run for student body president is not a surprising decision for most outgoing, popular students. But I was neither. In fact I tended to daydream, read books that were not on the required list, and sit in the table at the far corner of the cafeteria with the only two friends I had, Denise and Janice.
What unfolded within two months led me to discover the single best method to succeed (sometimes) in new endeavors. Perhaps more importantly, looking back, it enabled me to savor my life with some remarkable and remarkably diverse people who became my friends.
After graduating from college I returned to that school to visit the only teacher I really liked, Mrs. Dodge. She taught English like it tastes good. Even she did not recall my ever raising my hand to speak in class. Every school has a girl with the flawless hair style, perfect-in-front-of-adults manners, the tight clique of “in” friends and decent grades. In my school her name was Claire and she kept bumping into me in the hallway. At first I thought it was accidental but accidents don’t happen with such regularity. At least twice a day she knocked me aside, then gave me a tight, apologetic smile. I don’t know how I provoked her but she motivated me to sign up to run against her for student body president. Or rather she motivated my two friends to sign me up.
My friend Denise’s sister was a sophomore at Harvard, a world away from Maplewood grade school in Portland, Oregon. Over Christmas vacation, she’s told us how she’d been invited to join a mastermind group that met regularly to support each other in their study goals and their plans for who they wanted to meet at school. Denise decided we should form a mastermind group to get me elected. We met everyday, right after school, reviewing a list of students. We brainstormed reasons why each one might want to vote, in their own interests for me or (more likely) against Claire.
We created cascades, a term we learned from Denise’s sister. It meant that we looked for students who were most likely to influence a cascade of other students. Those are the people that one of us approached first. So, while Claire (and her parents and friends) conducted a very public campaign with posters and parties, we worked quietly, one-by-one, under the water line of public attention at our small school. My narrow victory was a surprise to many including, frankly, the three of us. My victory speech, in front of the entire student body, was the first time I had voluntarily stood up to speak in front of more than two people, and that was to my five cousins at our family reunion.
At Janice’s suggestion, I thanked my opponent for her gracious manner in the campaign, alluding to the main trait she had not exhibited. “Look to their positive intent, especially when they appear to have none,” my behind-the-scenes campaign manager, Arne (aka my Dad) had advised in an early meeting of our kitchen (literally) cabinet.
That’s how I got my first taste of the power of what’s now called Collective Intelligence. With the right model for how we interact and support each other or co-create, we become more valuable together than apart.
I’ve often feeling like the odd duck among others in the jobs I’ve had, from reporter to corporate executive to government policy wonk to author/speaker. With each career shift, the most meaningful way I’ve created a tight-knit community of work allies and friends has been through starting a mastermind group of my peers, as you may want to do. Napoleon Hill was the first person to describe a “mastermind alliance” in his timeless book, Think and Grow Rich.
When a group commits to supporting each other by meeting regularly and abiding by mutually agreed upon Rules of Engagement, remarkable things happen. We tend to bring the best out in each other, as thousands have learned around the world through their mastermind groups. Individuals become tight-knit teams. We become happier and high-performing with and for each other.
In an increasingly transient world where more people live and work alone, mastermind groups could be the best medicine.
If you think you’d like to form one, you might consider a group of your peers (in the same profession or industry or kind of work). I am in a long-time group of my peers — former journalists who are paid public speakers — cited by Dorie Clark in her book, Stand Out. We have specific rules of engagement of how we cross-refer and a specific format for how we meet to exchange leads, conference trends and ways to deepen each others’ expertise.
The side benefit o this mastermind group has grown to be more meaningful, over the years, than our original goal, getting booked to speak. That side benefit is seeing each other through divorces, awards, deaths, celebrations; we know so much about each other we can talk in emotional, candid short hand and provide ever greater support for each other.
It is never too late for you to start your own mastermind group of no more than seven members around a strong sweet spot of mutual interest — which will inevitably evolve into something different and more meaningful over the years.
Postscript: Thank you, Claire, for literally pushing me into discovering the power of mutuality minded mastermind groups. You changed my life.