Iron Sharpens Iron: The Power of Master Mind Groups

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 1, 2010 · 70 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

When success guru Napoleon Hill interviewed Andrew Carnegie, inquiring as to the secret of his success, Carnegie replied that it could be traced to the “sum total of the minds” of his business associates–his managers, accountants, chemists and so on. He called this combined brain power a “master mind,” and attributed to it the power of his success.

Hill came to believe that a “Master Mind” was not only the key to Carnegie’s success, but the secret to the success of all great men, the “very foundation stone of all outstanding personal achievements.”

What Is a Master Mind?

Napoleon Hill’s The Law of Success defines the Master Mind as “a mind that is developed through the harmonious co-operation of two or more people who ally themselves for the purpose of accomplishing any given task.” Hill believed that our minds were made of up fluid or energy (what he called “the electrons of the ether”) and that these energies combined to either unfortunate or happy effect when individuals met together. When two or more minds interacted, it produced a third mind, although not necessarily a Master Mind. For a Master Mind to be formed, the individuals in a given group had to possess positive energy and a shared definite aim. Most importantly, the individuals had to be in complete harmony with one another. When these requirement were satisfied, a Master Mind was created. All the individuals in the group had access to this third mind; tapping into it provided inspiration and recharged the brains of all the individuals in the group. Hill elaborated on how this works:

“Each person in the group becomes vested with the power to contact with and gather knowledge through the ‘subconscious’ minds of all the other members of the group. This power becomes immediately noticeable, evidencing itself in the form of a more vivid imagination and the consciousness of what appears to be a sixth sense. It is through this sixth sense that new ideas will “flash” into the mind. If the entire group has met for the purpose of discussing a given subject, ideas concerning that subject will come pouring into the minds of all present. These ideas take on the nature and form of the subject dominating the mind of the individual. The minds of those participating in the ‘Master Mind’ become as magnets, attracting ideas and thought stimuli of the most highly organized and practical nature…”

Wait, What?

Mr. Hill had a great number of very good things to say about the principles of success. But for me personally, his penchant for pseudo-science and “Secret-esque” lingo can sometimes get in the way of the message.

So allow me to put the Master Mind idea into more straightforward terms: two brains are better than one and iron sharpens iron. When we gather together with others to throw around ideas, discuss and debate, and receive both criticism and inspiration, we grow and develop as men and foster new ideas while refining our old ones. The choice of one’s associates also influences us in subtle ways; hang around those who are ambitious and going places and you find yourself striving to do likewise; spend time with the pessimistic and lazy and you’ll soon sink to their level. Gathering in Master Mind groups for the express purpose of mutual improvement can take us farther than we could ever have gone alone.

Next time we’ll discuss how to form your own Master Mind group. For now, we offer a look at examples of four different kinds from history which highlight the great power and possibilities of a Master Mind.

The Inklings

Two classic series of literature, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings were honed and improved by a Master Mind in Oxford, England. This group was called The Inklings and included an assortment of great poets and writers such as CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield.

The men would meet in Lewis’ rooms at Magdalen College on Thursday or Friday evenings and at a local pub, the Eagle and Child (or as the Inklings affectionately dubbed it, the “Bird and Baby”), on Tuesday mornings before lunch. Over tea, pipe smoke, and beer, these writers and old friends enjoyed what Lewis referred to as the “the cut and parry of prolonged, fierce, masculine argument.”

The members of the Inklings would read aloud from their most recent writings such as The Screwtape Letters and The Hobbit in the case of Lewis and Tolkien respectively. The other members would then offer very frank criticism and commentary on what they heard. Lewis said the members’ final works owed “a good deal to the hard hitting criticism of the circle. The problems of narrative as such-seldom heard of in modern critical writings-were constantly before our minds.”

But literature was hardly the only topic discussed by the group, nor was it a rigidly structured affair. Rather, the debates and conversations were casual and free wheeling, veering from the importance of myth, symbolism, and romance in literature to philosophy and culture and of course faith and theology—most, although not all, of the Inklings were Christians. Lewis said, “We meet…theoretically to talk about literature, but in fact nearly always to talk about something better. What I owe to them all is incalculable.”

The meetings in Lewis’ rooms lasted from 1933 to 1949, concluding as Tolkien finished the Lord of the Rings. The more informal pub meetings continued until Lewis’ death in 1963.

The Tennis Cabinet

Theodore Roosevelt and the Tennis Cabinet

When Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency, he became at age 42 the youngest president in the country’s history and brought an unprecedented zest and vitality to the White House. A man who placed a premium on living the strenuous life, he liked to get a couple hours of physical exercise in the afternoons. Accompanying him for these excursions of “vigorous play” were a group of men TR referred to as his “Tennis Cabinet.” As Roosevelt often butted heads with the old curmudgeonly men who filled government office, he preferred to spend time with younger gents and those who brought a fresh enthusiasm to Washington. The Tennis Cabinet included friends from his days in the West, diplomats, comrades in arms like Major-General Leonard Wood, fellow conservationist Gifford Pinchot, Maine guide and Badlands pal Bill Sewell, and young military aides like the grandsons of Generals Lee and Grant. TR and the Tennis Cabinet hiked, climbed cliffs, rode horses, skinny dipped in the Potomac River (even in early spring when there was still ice floating in the water!), and, of course, played tennis. The men exercised their minds as they worked their bodies, discussing and debating the pressing issues of the day and planning out the best way to proceed. As a friend of Roosevelt remembered, “For that once in our history, we had an American salon.”

This group of men was just as beloved to TR as his Rough Riders, and he told Pinchot they were much closer to him than his official cabinet. Roosevelt bid farewell to his time as President by holding a luncheon for members of his Tennis Cabinet. He addressed these indispensable advisers by saying:

“I do not believe this country has ever had an abler or more devoted set of public servants. It is through you and those like you that I have done the major part of what has been accomplished under this administration…The credit has come to me, to the chief of the administration. For exactly as men like to symbolize a battle by the name of the commander, so they like to symbolize an administration by the man at the head, forgetting that the immense majority of his acts can be done only through others and that a really successful administration, successful from the standpoint of advancing the honor and the interests of the country, must be managed as ours has been, in a spirit of the most loyal association and partnership.”

Many members of the audience, overcome with gratitude to have served by TR’s side, openly wept at the dissolution of this one of a kind Master Mind.

The Junto

In 1727, Benjamin Franklin formed the Junto, a mutual improvement society born of Franklin’s love of conversation, personal progress, philosophy, and civic involvement. The group originally had 12 members and was composed of workingmen–the tradesmen and artisans who did not have a place in more elite circles of society. The Junto was thus commonly referred to as the “Leather Apron Club.”

Franklin describes this Master Mind group in his autobiography:

“I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, I had formed most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto. We met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discussed by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory…”

The group’s discussions ranged from the abstract and philosophical to the scientific and pragmatic, from questions on “What is wisdom?” to “Why does condensation form on a cold mug?” The members also imparted news on the latest goings on in business, social life, and politics.

For Franklin, keeping the Junto from devolving into rancorous debate was of the utmost importance. To this end he employed a gentle Socratic method during discussions, drawing the opinions out of members with questions couched in curiosity instead of attack. The rules dictated that those who insisted on being contentious would be charged small fines.

Many of the ideas and public improvements often attributed to Franklin alone, such as the volunteer fire department, subscription library, and public hospital, were really spurred by this colonial Master Mind.

The Junto lasted for more than 30 years and was so popular that Franklin allowed members to form their own spin-off groups. Franklin himself used the Junto as the foundation for a much larger group-the American Philosophical Society.

The Vagabonds

The Vagabonds: From left to right: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Warren G. Harding, Harvey Firestone

Out in the country and driving through the rain in an old Model T, a farmer noticed five men standing by a Lincoln touring car which was stuck in the mud. He stopped and assisted in pulling the car out of the muck, at which point one of the men stepped forward to shake his hand, telling the farmer, “I made the car you’re driving.” “And I’m the man who made those tires,” added another in the group. He then pointed to two of the others, saying, “Meet the man who invented the electric light — and the President of the United States.” When the fifth man asked the farmer, “I guess you don’t know me either?” the farmer replied, “No, but if you’re the same kind of liar as these other darn fools, I wouldn’t be surprised if you said you was Santa Claus.”

The farmer’s chagrin was quite understandable. He had inadvertently stumbled upon a seemingly unlikely Master Mind group: Henry Ford, the automobile mogul, Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Warren G. Harding, US President, Thomas Edison, famed scientist and inventor, and Luther Burbank, respected agriculturist were on their way together to a campsite.

Camping in 1921 in the Great Smokies. Left to right: Ford, Bishop William F. Anderson, Firestone (stooping), Edison and Harding.

Starting in 1915, Edison, Firestone, and Ford, along with the naturalist Thomas Burroughs before his death in 1921, and a rotating cadre of guest members like Burbank and President Calvin Coolidge, took to the road each summer in motor camping caravans, road tripping from state to state on their way to rustic campsites. These eminent men and best friends called themselves “The Vagabonds” and eagerly looked forward to their “gypsy” trips together each year.

The men spent their camping trips competing in impromptu tree chopping and climbing contests, allowing what Edison called “Nature’s Laboratory” to inspire them to new ideas, and sitting around the campfire discussing their various scientific and business ventures and debating the pressing issues of the day. The yearly trips lasted until 1924 when several factors led to their demise: Harding died, newspaper reporters and photographers swarmed the campsites, and the men’s wives started coming along, bringing with them their maids and chauffeurs.

Nonetheless, the men continued to meet together, often gathering in the man room at Henry Ford’s Fair Lane estate, a den where carved oak busts of Edison, Burroughs, and Firestone hung on the wood paneled walls.

These four examples only scratch the surface of the great Master Mind groups that have existed throughout history. What are some other noteworthy mutual improvement societies?

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David December 1, 2010 at 2:14 am

No Lunar Society? Matthew Boulton, James Watt, Josiah Wedgewood, Erasmus Darwin; the place was positively top-heavy with brain power.

2 Andrew December 1, 2010 at 5:12 am

The Bloomsbury Group springs to mind, even if not all-male. Virginia and Leonard Woolf, E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, all living together. I can only imagine the conversations.

3 Graham Wilson December 1, 2010 at 6:19 am

Absolutely superb! Brilliantly researched piece – worthy of turning into a book. Well done, both. Thank you.

4 Blake Helgoth December 1, 2010 at 7:15 am

Thank you sir for this piece. It is inspiring as I am already thinking about other men that pursue the intellectual life and the possibilities of a group.
What you describe is similar to what the Order of Preacher, better known as the Dominicans, did for hundreds of years. These men were involved in group study, had a preacher assigned to give lectures at each priory, aided each other in the enterprise of study, prayed together, and had lively debate at the lectures and in the university classrooms. Some of the greatest western minds came form this model. Two of which are St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas.

5 Michael December 1, 2010 at 7:17 am

Let’s face it, “iron sharpens iron” comes straight from the Bible (Proverbs 27:17), which your article in its political correctness failed to mention.

6 Ryan Tyler December 1, 2010 at 7:36 am

As always, a very enjoyable article. It puts Seth Godin’s “Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us” in a new perspective (for me, at least).

7 Brian December 1, 2010 at 7:59 am

Great article. Happy beginning of the 25 days of christmas to you all.
Brett and Kate–Thanks for making this blog the place to be again this year, here’s to the next one.

8 Colin Asquith December 1, 2010 at 8:47 am

Very interesting article, is this the sort of thing that still goes on? I would love to be in a Mutual Improvement Society as I could do with mutually improving!!

9 matt December 1, 2010 at 9:01 am

How about the Nine Old Men , the group of Disney animators that finetuned the art of animation feature films.
More recently there is the Brain Trust that does the same thing at Pixar Animation.

10 Eric December 1, 2010 at 9:13 am

I have a friend I’ve played guitar with for years (just for fun and therapy, we don’t perform and have no desire to), and over time we have developed the idea of Wednesday Night Music Club. The only requirement for membership isthat you bring an instrument and make an attempt to play it at least once throughout the evening. We have an ever-shifting coterie of characters who show up for this event, from high minded professors to Baptist preachers to low-bottom alcoholics, but it is always fun and interesting. Sometimes the music stops early to give way to talk of politics, science, news, or religion… And sometimes the music goes on until everyone is on the phone apologizing to their wives for being out so late. This article made me realize just how much I enjoy and appreciate WNMC. Thanks!

11 Drew Nishiyama December 1, 2010 at 9:15 am

Don’t forget the Clapham Society with William Wilberforce and Henry Thornton as headliners!

12 Erik December 1, 2010 at 9:54 am

Fantastic article. I think it’s important to have a group like this, even if it doesn’t have the intellectual horsepower of the Vagabonds or The Inklings. Almost everyone has a drinking circle, but how many of us have people we could meet for lunch and have good discourse with?

13 Michael December 1, 2010 at 10:19 am

I don’t know if they had a name but Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald met together in France in the early 1900s and discusses their works of literature. If anyone knows if they had a name for their group let me know.

14 Lawrence December 1, 2010 at 10:26 am

I thought this article was great! Would love to see more on these types of groups and if there are any like this today.

A google search of Men’s clubs only brings up strip joints. Are there any clubs out there that aren’t specialized into specific hobbies (sports, drinking, cars, outdoor, service) and dabble in a bit of everything??

15 Scott December 1, 2010 at 10:27 am

Another noteworthy group is the “Sunday Night Supper” group that met during the early to mid 20th century in Georgetown to discuss and debate foreign policy decisions. Regulars were George Kennan, Chip Bohlen, Stewart and Joe Alsop, Frank Wiser, Robert Lovett, Averell Harriman, and Dean Acheson.

This was, to be sure, a Master Mind group. One that was largely responsible for successfully guiding the U.S. through the Cold War.

16 Brandon Pierce December 1, 2010 at 10:43 am

I would love to find or form a group like this, but most men I’m acquainted with are fairly shallow. Seems these days people are too interested in the latest football scores or the newest toy they’ve bought. I’m starving for some substance and am having a hard time finding it. The only thing I can think of that comes close to this in modern society are church-related groups. I have nothing against the church, of course, but having *every* conversation have to somehow relate to God gets tired–maybe I’m the only person that feels this way.

17 ros December 1, 2010 at 10:50 am

great article!
just wanted to share a buddhist quote on the “mind” : “a flag moves, but what is it that really moves? Is it the wind, or is it the flag? the answer is neither: it is the mind that moves”.

18 Chris December 1, 2010 at 11:00 am

Wow, loved the article! I second the notion that it would be a great subject for a book. It shows the huge importance of having true friends. I find it interesting that a lot of these guys weren’t the types who agree with everything that each individual in the group has to say. Much of the time, especially in the inklings, was spent arguing and debating, something that is discouraged today, especially in discussing politics and religion, yet they were all great friends and benefited from each other’s company. It makes me want to get a group started among my friends.

19 Michael Hilton December 1, 2010 at 11:26 am

Great article. Anyone notice the resemblance of these masterminds to The Art of Manliness Community? Like-minded men (and women) coming together to achieve a common goal by debating, arguing, spending time together, and developing one another.

20 Mato Tope December 1, 2010 at 11:31 am

Very interesting.
It shows how rewarding it can be to search for Good Company in one’s life. Good Company being not just friends and family, but the quality of books we read, the fine thoughts we entertain and the calibre of television/media we consume.
In a way, I think the Art of Manliness website – with it’s diverse subjects commented upon and embellished by a multitude of readers – is also a fellowship of master-minds.
Keep the articles coming. Thanks.

21 Mato Tope December 1, 2010 at 11:33 am

Touche, Michael Hilton!

22 Gregg Hake December 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Great article! It never ceases to amaze me how such transformative forces can be released from such a small grouping. It’s like the energy released in nuclear fission!

23 Michael Lunsford December 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm

How timely this post is. I’ve been exploring this subject for some time now. Unfortunately the “how to create” part always seems to be just out of reach. Most people I know who are in such a group say things like: the group was a chance thing that “created itself.” So, I am very much looking forward to the next installment with practical “how to” tips.

Also, the above ideas and recommendations to create a book from this post are fantastic. I’d love to have a more in-depth read of these specific groups. Ha! I even searched Amazon for a book on “The Vagabonds” with no luck.

24 Michael Williams December 1, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I was in a master mind group several years ago. I moved and have never got around to starting up another. Great article.

25 Ben Cave December 1, 2010 at 1:33 pm

What an informative and inspiring post. Thanks Brett and Kate, keep up the awesome work!

26 Ben Cave December 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm

@ Brandon Pierce – I am with you 100%. My fiancee is very much involved in her church, and while I love spending time with her and the people in their respective groups, it sometimes seems difficult for a lot of the members to think outside of the box as it pertains to certain topics, as any subject of reasoning will automatically boil down to God. It’s unfortunate in that it seems it takes a somewhat secular group that will enjoy keeping the focus on the means instead of just the end.

27 Tom 2 tall December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Great post. Thanks. I am a Napoleon Hill Foundation Certified Instructor. You can help The Napoleon Hill Foundation by drinking their official coffee.

Tom 2 tall

28 Rob December 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Alright, that’s it!
I’ve seen too many folks on here asking for a group like this.
We have to do this for real.
AoM real get-togethers?
I had something like this back in my college physics classes, we called then Salons. That is an unfortunately un-manly thing to call it today, it reminds me of getting my hair ‘done’. So lets call them something else, yeah? How about Shops, or Parlours, or Benches? Something Awesome.
Seth Godin is having a Linchpin meet-up soon, why can’t we do the same?
I’m in Colorado, who wants to meet for a beer?

29 brian c December 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Great list and definitely true about how the company we surround ourselves with influence who we become. Love those mentioned but also what about the whole group of romantic poets? Shelly, Byron, Coleridge, etc. made a pretty nice group together. Oh, and Rob and other Coloradoans, lets make it happen.

30 Scott December 1, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Thanks for the post. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

31 Tom December 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm

If you read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, he actually suggests creating an imaginary council of historical figures you respect, and convening over a meeting in your head with these people.

I did it for about 3-4 months. I called it my “Council of Counsel.”

32 Stephen Clay McGehee December 1, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Yet another group – the Southern Agrarians. They were also known as the Vanderbilt Agrarians, The Twelve Southerners, the Fugitive Agrarians, and perhaps a few other names. They published “I’ll Take My Stand – The South and the Agrarian Tradition” – the book that described one of the great social movements in The South in the 1920′s and 1930′s. Stark Young was one of “The Twelve” and was a cousin of mine. The Southern Agrarians mourned for the increasing loss of Southern identity and culture to the rise of industrialism and the unbridled worship of wealth for its own sake. When we look at what that unquenchable lust for money has done to the economy of America and the rest of the world – and what it has done to Western culture – a good case can be made that the world would be a much better place had naked greed not won out over their ideals.

Stephen Clay McGehee

33 Brian F. December 1, 2010 at 9:21 pm

I would think the Vienna Circle would be a nice fit in here.

34 William December 1, 2010 at 10:29 pm

How about the Schülerkreis (“student circle”) that Cardinal Ratzinger started with many of his former students when he left the university scene back in the ’70s? He still meets annually with them, even now that he is Pope Benedict XVI.

35 Chris Kavanaugh December 1, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Gifford Pinchot a conservationist? Roosevelt listened to two wilderness advocates; John Muir and Pinchot. PInchot’s philosophy of wilderness first and foremost for man’s use and benefit still resonates today as recently as Reagan’s RARE 2 preserving nothing more than ‘rock and ice’ and a Federal Forestry service that teaches and promotes little more than timber production. Gifford’s philosophy put lumbermen, miners and oil men largely in charge; something akin to the fox in the henhouse; except we shoot foxes but never lumbermen,miners or oilmen.

36 Saeed December 2, 2010 at 9:30 am

i havnt even read the article yet but i jsut want to comment that i love the picture. especially because 2 of the guys are sitting on the mill. it looks like a couple of really smart hardworking men, who also know how to relax and enjoy their time and still be kids.

37 Mike Duty December 2, 2010 at 10:14 am

@Brandon Pierce I’ve wanted to get people together for these types of discussions, maybe start a supper club. However, I’m one who believes that modern “entertainment” including sports (not that I’m anti-sports) distracts us from what’s really going on in the world. Kinda reminds me of ancient Rome in that aspect, as long as the Ceasers could keep the people properly entertained they could get by with anything. When I try to talk politics, or any other social issue, either people’s eyes glaze over or they simply shrug and say “but there’s nothing we can do about that”. Too many people today are content to be helpless and ignorant.

38 Chuck December 2, 2010 at 10:38 am

@ Mike Duty

I fully concur with your last statement. And that is the # 1 reason as to why the future looks bleak.

The real problem is NOT the government or the politician or the economy or this or that. Positive change can be had; but people will need to get up and work for it, get educated, struggle, be willing to live a tough life for a while before the fruit arrives. Teddy famously said ‘I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life’. All the ‘greats’ have had years of struggle before bringing about solid positive change. But no one wants to do that anymore and that is the real problem.

We live today when personal responsibility is an ephemeral concept and people are happy with chugging down fries with a large coke while watching the next new reality show. This is all very shallow and anti-Darwinian which will lead to our eventual downfall.

Equally worrying is the rapidly reducing ratio of smart-capable-resourceful people to the brain-dead-beach-bum-riff-raffs due to population explosion.

39 John Lowe December 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

Don’t forget the Algonquin Round Table that included writers, actors and wits such as Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Franklin P. Adams, Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman, Robert Sherwood, and Harpo Marx.

40 Steve Cianca December 2, 2010 at 11:33 am

@Ben Cave and Brandon Pierce

I can understand your frustration, but I am part of a couple groups of men connected with my parish church. In both of these groups, although our major focus is our Faith, we talk about a lot of other things besides. Just because our groups are faith-based, doesn’t mean we don’t also enjoy good masculine banter and discussion. I think the faith aspect to our groups enhances the experience quite a bit. I guess what I’m saying is faith-based groups don’t have to be “in a box.” And, Brandon, as you suggested, men from a committed religious background tend to have more depth. So don’t give up on trying to form a men’s group in your church.

@Blake Helgoth

Excellent post. Thanks for mentioning the Dominicans and Sts. Albert and Thomas. Indeed, many of the major men’s religious orders–Franciscans, Jesuits, Benedictines, Cistercians–operate similarly. Men have been doing this for a long, long time.

41 Eric Granata December 2, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Great post. I’d love to see a follow-up on how one might start such a group.

42 Jonathan December 2, 2010 at 3:09 pm

This is a fairly common thing within the sales community I’m involved in. I’ve been a part of several very great master mind groups. Starting one is easy- maintaining one is difficult.

One of the great benefits is that you are able to push yourself beyond what you thought possible into what others are doing (Shoulders of Giants). It does change you, and mostly for the better.
The downside is that, without proper care and feeding, proper contributions, etc, it can easily become a poor-me group. That’s the main challenge. Keep it positive; keep it relevant; and keep it focused on forward movement and thinking.

I’d love to share my contact info, but am not sure how through this venue- I just happened to catch the feed for the post.

Great job. I recommend this site to a lot of fellows.

43 Chris December 2, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Great article!

I co-teach a high school Humanities course. While we were teaching about temperance last year, the Anti-Saloon League came up in classroom discussion. After kicking around a few names for our Friday meetings at the local brewpub across the street (calling it “happy hour” is lame), my co-teaching partner and I settled on the “Gentleman’s Saloon League.” Every Friday after school we go to the brewpub and have a few beers. Good conversation is had, usually including politics, sports, philosophy (personal and otherwise), education, beer brewing, books, and music. Sometimes it’s just him and me, sometimes there’s a crowd of our fellow teachers.

Now that we’re in our second year, our crew is growing. As with anything, consistency is key. We make a point to go every Friday. Those of you looking to start something, just remember that a few guys, some good beer, and a willingness to sort out life’s issues among good friends is all it takes. Good luck!

44 Andrew December 3, 2010 at 1:55 am

Excellent post as usual, Brett. Glad you mentioned the Inklings, as they are a favorite of mine.

As to how to start such things–well, I’ve no experience with well organized groups as such, but based on what experience I do have, I’ll make a couple suggestions:

1. Start with one close friend, whom you consider trustworthy, of at least a roughly equal intelligence to your own, and with whom you share similar interests.
2. If you both have busy schedules (or even if you don’t!), arrange a fixed time and place where you will meet; I would suggest having something to discuss, such as a thought-provoking book or essay you’ve both read that week.
3. Build your group from there, only inviting new inductees by mutual agreement. If it is to be an atmosphere that fosters intellectual, spiritual, or emotional thought and growth, don’t invite just any male friend. Consider who will take it seriously and add something to your group.

In my junior year of college, a good friend and I met every Friday evening at a coffee house to talk. At one point (over Christmas break), we gave ourselves a list of books to read that we could discuss when we got back: Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis), The Silmarillion (J.R.R. Tolkien) and The Prose Edda (Snorri Sturluson). You can tell why I like the Inklings! Among other, more mundane topics, they led to some really thought-provoking ones, with each of us challenging the other’s preconceptions and assumptions.

If you’re a bachelor, make dinner and invite a close friend over to share and talk. I did that with another friend right out of college and had some awesome discussions about philosophy, faith, ethics, politics, etc. Then make a weekly thing of it, and if someone else comes to mind who you know would benefit from and add to your meetings, invite him to become a part of it, taking it in turns to make (or if cooking is not your forte, order) dinner.

45 Chris Kavanaugh December 3, 2010 at 2:32 am

Not one mention of the first privy council to the king. I do some of my best thinking in that refuge.

46 Carter December 3, 2010 at 4:29 pm

This definitely could be a book, very well done. I love stuff like this.

Everyone learns about these men individually, but we rarely think about the fact that they knew each other.

I think, responding to an above poster, that if you try too hard to start something like this it might not work out. They seem to be more coincidence that most of the men in the group became famous. But then again, I guess that is the idea; each man helping each other to better themselves.

Deep subject though, I like it. Thanks

47 peter abdou December 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Seeing as how this was such a thought-provoking and inspiring article, many people have contributed some fine ideas on starting their own group. I was especially intrigued by one query made by a gentleman named Rob from Colorado: meeting for a beer. I was wondering if it would be possible to set up some sort of organizational tool that allows us to directly communicate our thoughts and ideas together online in an “art of manliness mastermind group”. For instance, if it could be arranged that membership of like minded people, by locality, would allow for people to meet and discuss various topics in person. Just a thought, and by the way I reside in Jersey City, N.J.

48 Reid Grigsby December 4, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Great article. As I was thinking of Master Mind Groups, I can’t help but think of the Bauhaus in Germany. Kandinsky, Klee, Breuer, Gropius, Van Der Rohe. What was accomplished by these men at the Bauhaus had far reaching influences in Art, Architecture, and Design. The influence of the Bauhaus still resonates today.

49 Rachel Cotterill December 4, 2010 at 4:59 pm

I have a group that basically fulfils this need for me. I think any polymath needs to find a group of likeminded individuals to stay sane!

50 Andrew December 5, 2010 at 3:29 am

Michael: I don’t know if Hemingway et al. had a name for their little group, but they are generally referred to as The Lost Generation (not just that group, but the postmodern artists of the 20s and 30s in general)–a moniker given to them by Gertrude Stein, another artist and friend of Hemingway’s, in a conversation with Hemingway. Most of them lived on the left bank of the Seine, in Paris for a period of time. This included Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Nina Simone, Stein, James Baldwin, Henry Miller and more. I took a fantastic English course in college called Americans of the Left Bank, hence the interest and modest knowledge. Hemingway captures the zeitgeist and events of the time very poignantly in his memoir, A Moveable Feast. You should check it out.

51 Andrew December 5, 2010 at 3:30 am

oops. *modern, not postmodern. Getting a bit ahead of myself there.

52 Tomas H December 6, 2010 at 2:58 am

Not for the noblest reason, but the largest of group of the finest physicists and mathematicians came together for the Manhattan Project. Never else in the history of science have so many brilliant minds been brought together towards a single purpose. The result was, as we all know, catastrophic.

53 Rasmus December 6, 2010 at 6:41 am

Iron certainly sharpens iron! Great subject, with big relevance! These men have my biggest respect because they take themselves serious and take time for these Master Mind groups.

54 Native son December 6, 2010 at 9:39 am

You couldn’t get anything like the Vagabounds or the Junto going these days. Someone would find out about it, want in, and then either sue or pursue until the group stopped getting together. And then the required retinue of security staff would pretty much destroy the intimacy required to have wide ranging and frank discussions.

55 Jayar Moten December 6, 2010 at 10:10 am

Not much that i’d add to an already impeccable post. I love the amount of research that usually goes into you guys work. I think I inadvertently started a brain trust (or Master Mind Group) about a month in a half ago. It’s been nothing but fun and wine every since. I will be sad to leave the group, but we’ll always have twitter…and maybe an annual trip now! (Brain Brewing)

56 Dion December 7, 2010 at 1:05 am

I really like this post (and everything on this site). Wouldn’t it be great though to have a gathering of Art of Manliness patrons? A true gathering of great minds. I think some sort of get together in the style a-la Art of Non-conformity (if you follow that blog) would be very popular.

57 Pete Fig December 9, 2010 at 11:36 am

Really enjoyed this as I have been thinking on these types of things for a while. Great stuff here. Refreshes the biblical principle of “Iron Sharpening Iron.”

58 ScottP December 9, 2010 at 3:10 pm

To the extent of making such a group, I’ve put up the following posting on Craigslist in Seattle. If you’re in the Seattle area and are interested, let me know:

59 Jason Stambaugh December 10, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Awesome post. So glad I got around to reading it. I couldn’t agree more. In January, I am launching a new organization called The Wevivalists. The goal: is to help one another launch businesses for free leveraging our collective talents, gifts, and experiences. There will be a chapter in Oklahoma City and one in the Greater Baltimore area in Maryland.

60 Kyle H. December 10, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Anybody mentioned the Freemasons as an improvement society or group?

61 Daniel December 11, 2010 at 1:41 pm

If we’re on the topic of faith, Christ and the 12 disciples were a majorly important master mind. But I do agree with brandon and ben. Church groups can be great but also exhausting if you’re not hyper religious. Consider taking up martial arts.

62 Daniel December 11, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Oh and the Buddha and his followers.

63 Ken December 12, 2010 at 1:46 am

I wander here every once in a while to catch up on the posts. Excellent post. And some excellent follow posts. Like several commentators above, I too have yearned for a group to discuss more weighty subjects. Not following sports and a lack of a TV puts me at a disadvantage for a great deal of regular conversation I see happening around me.

In addition to some of the points above about relative difficulty of having a political discussion without it turning into a impolite argument, I would like to include a video by none other than Richard Dreyfuss who is now a research fellow at Oxford about relearning the skills needed for rational, calm debate:

64 Mark Henry October 30, 2012 at 3:19 am

this article is worth transferring into a book.

65 Ruben Cardenas December 1, 2012 at 3:54 pm

I love this so much, and all the comments. One gets a little intoxicated with inspiration to live so much more after reading and thinking about all of this. Thanks, AoM, and thanks, everyone.

66 jerry March 6, 2013 at 9:32 am

All men want to have an group no matter how high minded or low that you may think you are. It is a mark of sanity to want to share learn and practice what you have learned. Sanity is what we all are in search of.

67 Jeff April 10, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Brett, in this article you promised, “Next time we’ll discuss how to form your own Master Mind group.” Did that post get written? I am very interested in how to form a master mind group but can’t find that article. Thank you for all that you put into this site. It has been a tremendous benefit to me.

68 Mark Eichenlaub June 11, 2013 at 9:43 am

Which group do you belong to Brett?

69 Mike H November 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Can’t forget the super group from Jekyll Island. Rockefeller, Aldrich, Warburg, J.P.. still running the world 100 years later, only met once!

70 Benjamin J Miranda February 5, 2014 at 5:08 pm

One of the best articles about this topic I have ever read. Great summary.insights, examples, and ideas to take ACTION.

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