This month's interview is not actually an interview at all, but a collaborative list about the power of having a "mastermind group" or "junto" to keep yourself motivated, on track, and inspired to work toward finishing projects and achieving goals. As the sixth almost-annual meeting of my own little junto just came to a close yesterday, it seemed like something that would fit perfectly in this series!
I've spent the past week visiting, traveling, discussing, and trying to solve the world's problems with two good friends: Angie Lucas and Wendy Smedley. While we are in regular communication via email, text, phone, and Google Chat, this is the sixth time we've been able to pull off an actual multiple-day visit since 2009 (only 2014 went without one). We developed a working relationship first back in 2005 through Simple Scrapbooks (RIP) and then later through Big Picture Classes and Ella Publishing Co., as well as a little convention teaching here and there. Because our friendship developed out of work first, we've definitely maintained a sense of that formal creative collaboration that is slightly different than other friendships. Discussing our current goals and projects isn't the only part of our friendship these days, but it definitely informs a portion of our time together. In the business world this would be referred to as a mastermind group; Benjamin Franklin referred to his "structured form of mutual improvement" as a junto.
Here's a great definition of a mastermind group from Karyn Greenstreet, who runs The Success Alliance:
Mastermind groups offer a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support in a group setting to sharpen your business and personal skills. A mastermind group helps you and your mastermind group members achieve success.
Participants challenge each other to set powerful goals, and more importantly, to accomplish them. The group requires commitment, confidentiality, willingness to both give and receive advice and ideas, and support each other with total honesty, respect and compassion. Mastermind group members act as catalysts for growth, devil’s advocates and supportive colleagues. This is the essence and value of mastermind groups.
While her definition is primarily directed toward the business world, it's absolutely applicable in any environment. Angie, Wendy and I worked on a list of reasons why it's so valuable to develop this kind of relationship for anyone no matter what the goal or unfinished project might be:
1. It forces you to be accountable.
Nothing keeps a person accountable more than saying out loud what it is you are aspiring to do. It's possible to live inside your head for years—a lifetime, even—and let big ideas turn to dust. When you share them (even if they feel ridiculously unachievable!) you have a better shot at working toward them. Establishing a regular check-in is important.
2. It provides a safe place to own your ideas before declaring them more publicly.
Accountability is scary, but when you share your seemingly unachievable ideas for career aspirations/creative endeavors/service goals/entrepreneurship or whatever within a safe place in which you know honesty and support go hand in hand, fear can dissipate more easily.
3. It allows you to rely on the complementary strengths of others.
The ideal mastermind group would be one where people share many common interests and values but have different skillsets to offer. One person might be good at building confidence in another, while the next might be good at telling someone to let something go and tweak a process or vision. When it comes to working toward the Big Unfinished Things in life, this kind of external observer status is essential. Come to think of it, it's also helpful when it comes to the smaller things like cleaning out closets.
4. It takes the pressure off to have it together.
Roles change in friendships, and within a group of people with a history of regular collaboration, this can be a huge relief: sometimes one person just needs more support with an idea or process or goal whether it's work-related, family-related, or creative endeavor-related. Because the people in the group might be pursuing different paths, there's no competition or pressure to always have it together like there might be in a traditional work/committee friend relationship.
5. It encourages sharing of big ideas and big thinking.
It's so easy to get lost in the day-to-day squares of the calendar that it's important to have people in your life that encourage you to look up a little more regularly and think in a macro way. A mastermind group shares valuable articles and ideas that might otherwise go unnoticed. This is such a powerful motivator when it comes to managing inertia and a lifelong pursuit of continuing education.
Establishing a mastermind group of your own does not mean you only interact with the members in a semi-formal or formal way, nor does it mean you can't enjoy a "mastermind" relationship with other friends (I do, and am eternally grateful for them). It might take shape in the form of a writers' group, a book club, a playgroup, a semi-regular Skype chat, or like this one in which we try very hard to bridge geographic distance with a yearly visit. It could definitely include kindred spirit friends or it might be made up of like-minded acquaintances who come together to discuss a shared list of topics—or a little of both.
No matter what, the effort is invaluable.
Wendy Smedley and Angie Lucas live in neighboring Utah towns and have worked together as creative directors and editors for Simple Scrapbooks magazine, Ella Publishing Co., Big Picture Classes, and Studio Calico. Wendy's current job takes her to downtown Salt Lake City to work in social media for FamilySearch, while Angie is a freelance writer, editor, and aspiring children's book author. She blogs at Yeah, Write.