What Is a Mastermind?

June 08, 2015

Connect Member

Helping women elevate their personal and professional network, one high heeled step at a time.


The term “mastermind” was first introduced in Napoleon Hill’s 1925 book The Law of Success, which was commissioned by business magnate and industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Hill spent two decades researching and interviewing more than 100 millionaires and incorporating his findings — including Carnegie’s own “10 Rules of Success” — into this book.

Carnegie arrived in the United States from Scotland with barely a dollar to his name in 1848, and by 1901 was the richest man in the world, making him a worthy subject of Hill’s research. And when Hill asked Carnegie what he attributed his success to, Carnegie said, “Well, if you want to know how I got my money, I will refer you to these men here on my staff; they got it for me. We have here in this business a mastermind. It is not my mind, and it is not the mind of any other man on my staff but the sum total of all these minds that I have gathered around me that constitute a mastermind in the steel business.”

Years later, Hill released his now timeless classic, Think and Grow Rich, which remains one of the best-selling books of all time. In it, Hill further described 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.” He noted that the mastermind is “a unique concept that leverages the collective power of the group creating a third mind.”

Although both Carnegie and Hill shed light on the term, they did not invent the concept itself. In fact, these types of alliances have existed throughout history under many different names and formations. Jesus had his Disciples, King Arthur had his Knights of the Round Table, Benjamin Franklin had his Junto club for fostering mutual improvement, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt had his Brain Trust advisors. And then there were the Vagabonds, a group comprised of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, and Harvey Firestone. This group was featured in The Law of Success and is arguably the most famous mastermind group of all time.

Today, masterminds abound both online and in person, and they remain popular amongst some of today’s most successful people, such as billionaire businessman Bill Gates, who participates in the groups. In fact, masterminds have become increasingly appealing to entrepreneurs. It affords them the opportunity to engage their own personal “board of directors” to bounce ideas off of, and hold the entrepreneurs accountable to their goals while helping to grow their networks and businesses.  

Recently, I read the famous quote by motivational speaker Jim Rohn: “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” The spirit of that quote, as well as the concept of the mastermind, led me to wonder what it would look like if I had the ability to handpick members of my network with whom I’d intentionally spend more time. I compiled a list of women I know who have all achieved major professional accomplishments many of which I strive to accomplish as well.

Paula Rizzo, an Emmy-award winning television producer, was on that list. Paula is one of the most productive women I know and a treasure trove of resourcefulness. As if her TV career wasn’t enough of an accomplishment, she also managed to publish her recently released book, Listful Thinking, and launch her website, List Producer, as a side gig!

When I approached Paula with the idea of starting a mastermind group, she showed immediate interest and recruited her friend, seasoned media coach and host of the web show SoloPreneur, Terri Trespicio. Next, we recruited Farnoosh Torabi, author of three finance books, including When She Makes More, and host of the iTunes financial podcast So Money.

Among us four type A women in the newly formed mastermind, we have little time and lots of goals. So, it was important for us to craft an agenda and some set some ground rules right from the start. Here’s a look at what we nailed down, along with some guidelines for your own mastermind:

Number of Participants

There is no magic number of people needed for a successful mastermind. That said, keep in mind you’ll want enough participants to represent a variety of opinions, but the more people you have the more challenging scheduling becomes. We have four members and are willing to go up to as many as six.


We’re all local, so we hold in-person meetings at our homes, but there are plenty of masterminds that meet by phone or online instead.


We meet monthly, but many online masterminds host weekly accountability check-ins to keep momentum going.


Our meetings last about three hours. To ensure we remain on track, we set an agenda and take turns as timekeeper.

Definite Purpose

Following Napoleon Hill’s lead, members should share at least one substantial goal they wish to accomplish with the group. That will help the mastermind stay focused and work together toward those goals.


We created a private Facebook group that we use to correspond with one another and save documents.In between meetings, we use the app Wunderlist to add agenda items so we don’t forget about them.

Here’s a look at our typical agenda:

Toasts: We kick off each meeting by sharing and celebrating our accomplishments since we last met.

Status and Sticking Points: We each update the group on where we are with our chosen goal and if there is anything we’re stuck on, so we can brainstorm how to get moving again.

Deep Dive: Each month one member has the opportunity to share something substantial she needs help on with the group. The member prepares and provides materials in advance for this session to ensure everyone is up to speed.  

Resource Swap: We take this time to quickly share any apps, books, resources, ideas, or tools we’ve discovered to help with productivity.

Action Items: Everyone shares her next steps and specific to-do items, so we know what we are accountable for the following month.

The beauty of the mastermind is it allows a group of like-minded individuals to come together routinely and support one another in an effort to grow their respective businesses by brainstorming, sharing feedback, providing accountability, and challenging one another to accomplish substantial goals. So whether you form your own mastermind like we did or join an existing one, I think you’ll find it will help you grow both personally and professionally.

Jenny Powers is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.