Mastermind Group Defined: The 3 Criteria, History & Evolution

Many people have heard of a mastermind group, but there isn’t one clear cut definition. The origin of mastermind groups supposedly came from Napoleon Hill. In his book, Think And Grow Rich, he defines a mastermind as:

“The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.”

The idea isn’t new though the language may be. Mastermind groups existed long before Hill wrote the words in 1937. We can see that Hill’s definition is an interpretation of Matthew 18:19, where Jesus says “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” I’m sure you’ve also heard people say “Two heads is better than one.” These quotes all stem from the idea that when two or more people come together for a clear purpose, a third mind is created that is more powerful that the individual minds alone. Hill states that “No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind.” A good friend of mine said that “1+1 doesn’t just equal 3, it equals 11.”

The Traditional Mastermind Group

The traditional mastermind group is a small group of 5-10 people who meet 4-12 times per year with the intention of accelerating the personal and professional success of each group member. The groups’ success is measured by how successful it helps its members become. It’s a reciprocal relationship.

If you’re trying to find a mastermind group near you or online, we see variations of the traditional mastermind groups everywhere around us. For instance, a board meeting for a for-profit or non-profit is a mastermind group. The main difference is that the group focuses on the success CEO or Executive Director and the organization versus each members’ success. The President of the United States’ Cabinet is a mastermind group. The President appoints various Secretaries (of State, Labor, Energy, Homeland Security, etc) to create one collective view of America’s progress. WeightWatchers is also a mastermind group. Members go to meetings to be heard, supported, and celebrated by the entire group.

Many people suggest that “hot seats” are what make mastermind groups unique. I like to call hot seats “struggle-to-strategy sessions.” This is a period when one member gets the mindshare and attention of the entire group focused on their specific personal or professional challenges at the moment. Hot seats are powerful, but I’ve led and been apart of mastermind groups that don’t have them.

The Definition of a Mastermind Group

For me, the criteria for a mastermind group comes down to these 3 questions:

  1. Does the group increase my awareness of who I am, where I am, and what I have to do?
  2. Does the group inspire me to to take action based on my new awareness?
  3. Does the group offer accountability for the actions I commit to taking?

If the answers are Yes, Yes, and Yes for those three questions, I consider your group a mastermind group.

Based on this definition, think tanks and group coaching don’t count as mastermind groups. Think tanks are often heavy on awareness, but low on action and accountability. Group coaching increases awareness, inspires action, and offers accountability, but it typically comes from the individual leader, not the group as a whole. Group coaching fits the one-to-many model and establishes a dependency on one person whereas a mastermind group creates dependency on each other and can function even in the absence of a particular member.


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