The Cabinet of Invisible Counselors

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 11, 2012 · 166 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood, Personal Development

Have you ever had a discussion with someone who posed this question: “If you could invite any five people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be?”

It’s an interesting question to consider, but one that doesn’t have to remain strictly a hypothetical.  Now, of course you can’t drag the bones of history’s greatest corpses to your table (“Oh dear, Teddy’s hand just fell off into his soup. Awkward.”). But you can enjoy a form of ongoing conversation with history’s most eminent men, and it can continue far past the dessert course.

I believe that every man should create his own personal “Cabinet of Invisible Counselors”–a sort of imaginary team of mentors whom he can consult for advice and inspiration throughout his life.

Napoleon Hill’s Invisible Counselors

As we discussed in our post about famous Master Mind groups, success guru Napoleon Hill believed that when two of more people met together and blended the energies of their minds in harmony, a sort of “third brain” was formed–a potent “Master Mind” the whole group had access to.

This third brain allowed each member of the group to tap into the “sixth sense,” which Hill described as “that portion of the subconscious mind which has been referred to as the Creative Imagination. It has also been referred to as the ‘receiving set’ through which ideas, plans, and thoughts flash into the mind. The ‘flashes’ are sometimes called ‘hunches’ or ‘inspirations.’”

Hill argued that people should form their own Master Mind groups in which they met in person in order to recharge their brains, refine their ideas, and receive inspiration. But he also believed that a person could form his own “Cabinet of Invisible Counselors,” just as he had done:

Long before I had ever written a line for publication, or endeavored to deliver a speech in public, I followed the habit of reshaping my own character, by trying to imitate the nine men whose lives and life-works had been most impressive to me. These nine men were, Emerson, Paine, Edison, Darwin, Lincoln, Burbank, Napoleon, Ford, and Carnegie. Every night, over a long period of years, I held an imaginary Council meeting with this group whom I called my “Invisible Counselors.”

The procedure was this. Just before going to sleep at night, I would shut my eyes, and see, in my imagination, this group of men seated with me around my Council Table. Here I had not only an opportunity to sit among those whom I considered to be great, but I actually dominated the group, by serving as the Chairman.

I had a very DEFINITE PURPOSE in indulging my imagination through these nightly meetings. My purpose was to rebuild my own character so it would represent a composite of the characters of my imaginary counselors. Realizing, as I did, early in life, that I had to overcome the handicap of birth in an environment of ignorance and superstition, I deliberately assigned myself the task of voluntary rebirth through the method here described…

In these imaginary Council meetings I called on my Cabinet members for the knowledge I wished each to contribute, addressing myself to each member in audible words, as follows:–

“Mr. Emerson, I desire to acquire from you the marvelous understanding of Nature which distinguished your life. I ask that you make an impress upon my subconscious mind, of whatever qualities you possessed, which enabled you to understand and adapt yourself to the laws of Nature. I ask that you assist me in reaching and drawing upon whatever sources of knowledge are available to this end…

“Napoleon, I desire to acquire from you, by emulation, the marvelous ability you possessed to inspire men, and to arouse them to greater and more determined spirit of action. Also to acquire the spirit of enduring FAITH, which enabled you to turn defeat into victory, and to surmount staggering obstacles. Emperor of Fate, King of Chance, Man of Destiny, I salute you!”

Hill would greet the rest of his “invisible counselors” in a similar manner, varying the address “according to the traits of character in which I was, for the moment, most interested in acquiring.”

In-between cabinet meetings, Hill would extensively study the lives of each of his counselors, and after several months of this, his invisible advisors became more and more real to him, to the point they all developed mannerisms and characteristics befitting their personalities. His imaginary meetings became so vivid, in fact, that he discontinued them, so that he would not begin to confuse the workings of his head with reality. But, Hill said, Lincoln then came to visit him in his sleep, and told him he had a great work to do and not to shirk the duty. So Hill recommenced the cabinet, and grew the roster to over 50 members, including, “Christ, St. Paul, Galileo, Copernicus, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Homer, Voltaire, Bruno, Spinoza, Drummond, Kant, Schopenhauer, Newton, Confucius, Elbert Hubbard, Brann, Ingersoll, Wilson, and William James.”

Hill believed that his imaginary meetings with his Invisible Counselors were of enormous benefit to his life:

I still regard my Cabinet meetings as being purely imaginary, but I feel entitled to suggest that, while the members of my Cabinet may be purely fictional, and the meetings existent only in my own imagination, they have led me into glorious paths of adventure, rekindled an appreciation of true greatness, encouraged creative endeavor, and emboldened the expression of honest thought.

Somewhere in the cell-structure of the brain, is located an organ which receives vibrations of thought ordinarily called “hunches.” So far, science has not discovered where this organ of the sixth sense is located, but this is not important. The fact remains that human beings do receive accurate knowledge, through sources other than the physical senses. Such knowledge, generally, is received when the mind is under the influence of extraordinary stimulation. Any emergency which arouses the emotions, and causes the heart to beat more rapidly than normal may, and generally does, bring the sixth sense into action. Anyone who has experienced a near accident while driving, knows that on such occasions, the sixth sense often comes to one’s rescue, and aids, by split seconds, in avoiding the accident.

These facts are mentioned preliminary to a statement of fact which I shall now make, namely, that during my meetings with the “Invisible Counselors” I find my mind most receptive to ideas, thoughts, and knowledge which reach me through the sixth sense. I can truthfully say that I owe entirely to my “Invisible Counselors” full credit for such ideas, facts, or knowledge as I received through “inspiration.”

On scores of occasions, when I have faced emergencies, some of them so grave that my life was in jeopardy, I have been miraculously guided past these difficulties through the influence of my “Invisible Counselors.”

Why Create Your Own Cabinet of Invisible Counselors

“Nurture your minds with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes.” -Benjamin Disraeli

While Napoleon Hill had a penchant for the metaphysical that doesn’t jive with every man’s worldview, regardless of whether you ever expect Lincoln to show up at your bedside, forming your own Cabinet of Invisible Counselors can be very beneficial to your life.

As Hill mentioned above, forming such a cabinet can provide you inspiration in many forms.

First, your cabinet can not only spur impressions of the more abstract variety, it can also give you practical ideas you can experiment with implementing into your life. I love learning about the habits of great men, such as how they napped, used a pocket notebook, set up their studies, and improved themselves in different areas. Now it’s certainly not the case that just because a great man did something one way, then it’s the best way for everyone to do it, or even the best way for me to do it. But I figure it’s always worth a shot, as even if the idea doesn’t work for me, it often serves as a jumping off point for the invention of a method all of my own. Sometimes there’s no need to reinvent the wheel; if someone’s already put in the time to figure out the best solution, it’s our privilege to take it and run with it.

Your cabinet can also help buoy you up when you’re struggling with a difficult decision or are tempted to give up on something. Asking “What would ____ do?” in a certain situation can keep us going in the right direction.

When Andrew Carnegie (more on him later this month) was a boy, he would often turn to the example of Scottish hero William Wallace for inspiration:

“There were two roads by which to return from my uncle’s house in the High Street to my home in Moodie Street at the foot of the town, one along the eerie churchyard of the Abbey among the dead, where there was no light; and the other along the lighted streets by way of May Gate. When it became necessary for me to go home, my uncle, with a wicked pleasure, would ask which way I was going. Thinking of what Wallace would do, I always replied that I was going by the Abbey. I have the satisfaction of believing that never, not even upon one occasion, did I yield to temptation to take the other turn and follow the lamps at the junction of the May Gate. I often passed along that churchyard and through the dark arch of the Abbey with my heart in my mouth. Trying to whistle and keep up my courage, I would plod through the darkness, falling back in all emergencies upon the thought of what Wallace would have done if he had met with any force, natural or supernatural.”

Contemplating what Wallace would do kept Carnegie going through more serious challenges as he grew older, causing him to later reflect:

“If the source of my stock of that prime article—courage—were studied, I am sure the final analysis would find it founded upon Wallace, the hero of Scotland. It is a tower of strength for a boy to have a hero.”

And, I would add, it is a tower of strength for man to have a hero as well.

Finally, maintaining a Cabinet of Invisible Counselors can kindle within you, as Hill put it so well, an “appreciation for true greatness.” Hill believed that all minds vibrated with energy, and that all the highest and most refined vibrations–history’s greatest thoughts–were picked up and stored forever in the ether. One’s membership in a Master Mind, whether real or imaginary, allowed a person to tune into this signal and tap into the universe’s vast “Temple of Knowledge.”

If that sounds a little far out, really the idea here is simply that the more you surround yourself with, think about, study, and engage with great minds—in person or in books—the more that greatness rubs off on you. What you spend your time doing, you become. You can call it connecting with energy, soul, or archetypes or just the workings of natural law; whatever you want to think of it as, the effect is the same.

One can spill a lot of ink trying to define what true manliness is, but at the end of the day it’s something you simply feel—you know it when you see it. And I find that when I’m reading about and engaging with the lives of great men, that feeling becomes very real and very clear to me. Manliness is made manifest.

How to Create Your Own Cabinet of Invisible Counselors

“Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of a man you are, for it shows me what your ideal of manhood is, and what kind of a man you long to be.” – Thomas Carlyle

1. Pick the members of your cabinet. You can choose as many people as you’d like to become part of your imaginary team of advisors. They can be living or dead, real or fictional, famous or not. You can put in Jesus or Muhammad, or Jesus and Muhammad. You can throw in your grandpa and your college rugby coach. Theodore Roosevelt and Atticus Finch. Sherlock Holmes and Ronald Reagan.

Now, I know it’s terribly unfashionable these days to engage in anything that even mildly smacks of “hero-worship,” but inviting men into your cabinet doesn’t mean you think they are perfect; remember, a man doesn’t have to be perfect to be inspiring. In fact, you may pick men who, while they may not be examples to you of well-rounded manliness, demonstrated certain characteristics you really admire and want to work on. For instance, you might loathe LBJ’s politics and personal life, but really admire his skill as a tough negotiator, and thus bring him into your cabinet to advise you on that point.

2. Learn as much about your invisible counselors as possible. In order for your counselors to “advise” you, you need to learn as much about their lives and get as much into their minds as you can. This means diving into their autobiographies, biographies, and writings. Now if you have a very large cabinet, I would recommend picking 5-7 “core members”–the men you admire the most–and really going in-depth with the research on their lives.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: one of the best ways of working on your manliness is reading the biographies of great men. It really does help shape and inspire you.

3. Consult with your counselors. You can do this however you’d like. You can be like Napoleon Hill and have regular meetings with your invisible counselors, where you imagine having very in-depth conversations with them. Personally, whether it’s because my imagination is so feeble, or I just have a hard time “going there,” I simply read up on great men, take notes on points that particularly stick out to me, and file the information away in my cranium. Then, when I am facing something difficult, I search through my brain files to find a counselor who can perhaps shine some light on the problem. For example when I feel discouraged because of criticism, I think of how TR was mocked as a state legislator and his injunction to stay “in the arena.” When I’m grappling with a tough decision, I think of General Eisenhower pacing the room on the eve of D-Day, trying to decide whether to postpone the invasion for the arrival of better weather, with thousands of lives depending on his choice. When I’m physically uncomfortable, I think of the GI’s huddling in the cold at the Battle of the Bulge. When I feel restless, I think of the happiness my grandfather found in living a good and simple life.

You can consult with your cabinet in whatever way works for you. You may also wish to hang up a picture or poster of a couple of the men you most admire to serve as a daily reminder of the kind of man you want to become.

Who would you include in your Cabinet of Invisible Advisors? Share your picks with us in the comments!


Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie

Illustration by Ted Slampyak


{ 166 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Doug March 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I won’t lie, I thought it was slightly bizarre at first, reading about how this man would quite literally talk to different people in his head. It’s an interesting perspective to come from, and I definitely feel that it’s important to have great men of history to be of inspiration to you. I personally feel that it’s better to read up on them and reflect however.

2 Daniel Titchenal March 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Batman and I say welcome back. Interesting article, but a bit weird for my tastes.

3 Zach March 11, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I would have J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, my grandpa, Brian Jacques, & Sherlock Holmes.

4 Adrien March 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm

I would invite my Godfather, Leonard Cohen, Milton H. Erickson; William B. Yeats, Emil Cioran and Cornelius Castoriadis

5 Adrien March 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I would invite my godfather, my friend Marc, Leonard Cohen, William B. Yeats, Milton H. Erickson, Emil Cioran and Cornelius Castoriadis

6 Nick March 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I love reading up about great men on wikipedia.

You can get a lot of great info about their habits and paths to success this way. Its inspiring and helpful.

7 Jim McFarland March 11, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Dear Brett & Kate,

This a fantastically powerful way to use the deepest parts of ourselves, our hidden, divinely inspired ‘selves’ to spur us onto greatness!

I learned this technique from a master-level and world-renowned martial artist- he had us relax very deeply, build a ‘secret dojo’ or place of inspiration and learning mentally, and then had us ‘invite’ past masters, powerful counsel and powerful people into the ‘dojo’to empower it with good, powerful energy…

Thereafter, we were encouraged to always come back to our inner dojo over and over again for insights and inspiration.

This became a place of brightness that we could come to and recharge anytime we needed to.

What was really cool is this Master had us do this exercise together- there were about 100 of us…and it was part of the commemoration ceremony for the opening of an actual brand new dojo!

We had the awesome experience of creating this “Third Mind” for the dojo’s “good mojo”.

Thanks for the insightful post!

8 Jim McFarland March 11, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Milton Erickson rocks! What a master at helping people change!

9 Rey March 11, 2012 at 6:46 pm

what about Tyler Durden?

10 Richard March 11, 2012 at 7:51 pm

My cabinet consists of my grandfathers, GK Chesterton, Malcolm Muggeridge, Jackie Leven, Alan Watts and Wynne Lewis.

11 William March 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm

I second the Tyler durden reference, not only a liberating and complex character, but he is the manifestation of fight clubs main character doing the same thing your suggesting.. Sorta.

12 Grayson March 11, 2012 at 8:35 pm

J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Plato

13 David Y March 11, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Ben Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, Kate Hepburn, Frederick Douglas, Winston Churchill, and another vote for J.R.R. Tolkien.

14 Brandon March 11, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I agree with David Y’s suggestion of Kate Hepburn. While this is “The Art of MANLINESS,” I believe that men can learn a lot from women as well. I feel that the likes of Marie Curie, Elizabeth Blackwell, Helen Keller, and Susan B. Anthony can be just a profound as Hemingway, Roosevelt, Doyle and Lord Byron (that might just be my group as well.)

15 Austin March 11, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Karl Barth.

16 Chris March 11, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Batman, Woody Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Ingmar Bergman, General George Patton, Humphrey Bogart, Lisa Simpson, Jesus,

17 Ben March 11, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Teddy Roosevelt
Doc Holliday
Brad Keeney

18 dannyb278 March 11, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Johnny Cash.

19 JeffC March 11, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Inviting people to speak to you from beyond the grave is interesting, but as a Christian, I’m prohibited from doing it.

Now, if this is just meditating on what your chosen individuals have said, done or written in real life, that’s a different thing altogether, and I can see how that could be very fruitful.

20 Munna March 11, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Richard Feynman, and my sophomore year history teacher from high school Mrs. Linda Abrams.

21 Laaker March 11, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Jesus who is Christ
St. Augustine
John Dunne
General John J. Pershing
General George C. Patton
Martin Heidegger (I need Jesus if I’m going to converse with him)
Friedrich Nietzsche (Need Jesus not to go insane listening to him)
Thomas Sowell
Samuel Huntington
Leo Strauss

22 Robert March 11, 2012 at 11:03 pm

I’ll mention just one here, who hasn’t been suggested yet: Victor Hugo. Many of us know him as a literary artist, but he was much more than that. He had a fascinating social-political perspective, coming from post-Revolution France, and growing in his own views over a lifetime. He is one of those who, even while sometimes disagreeing with his ideas, I cannot help but respect the man behind them. Few men, I think, epitomize such an inclusive definition of mature manliness as much as he.

23 Frank* March 11, 2012 at 11:34 pm

1. Joan of Arc
2. Porter Rockwell
3. Louis “Chesty” B. Puller
4. Daniel H. Pink
5. Lord Baden Powell

24 Jay March 11, 2012 at 11:36 pm

I’ve gotta agree with the majority, Teddy Roosevelt is a definite yes for my list. Other than that I’d have to go with my father, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Dale Carnegie, Jesus, and Atticus Finch.

25 Austi March 11, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Teddy Roosevelt, C.S. Lewis, Jimmy Braddock & Bear Grylls.

26 Frank March 11, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Joan of Arc, Porter Rockwell, Louis “Chesty” B. Puller, Daniel H. Pink, Lord Baden Powell

27 Zain March 12, 2012 at 1:50 am

My cabinet consists of:
Voltaire (the musican not the philosopher)
Sherlock Holmes
Alan Watts
Bear Grylls

28 FRANK+ March 12, 2012 at 2:02 am

Joan of Arc (French military leader), Porter Rockwell (Body guard to Joseph Smith), Louis “Chesty” B. Puller (Most decorated Marine), Daniel H. Pink (Author of “Drive”), Lord Baden Powell (Founder of Boy Scouts)

29 SRL March 12, 2012 at 2:03 am

Jesus Christ.
Albert Einstein.
Don Perkins (my high school AP European History teacher).
Benjamin Franklin.
Jon Hallberg (Medical Director of Minnesota Public Radio).
Dr. Amit Sood (Mayo Clinic Director of Integrative Medicine).
Teddy Roosevelt.
Winston Churchill.
Chuck Scanlon (my high school soccer coach – Most winningest coach in Minnesota soccer history and National Coach of the Year).
Eric Emmons (my good friend who is very efficient and generally good at life).
Martin Luther King Jr.

30 Joe March 12, 2012 at 3:02 am

This is a very common college app. question. Guess the kids have something to knock off now. :)

31 Shea March 12, 2012 at 4:41 am

Great quote from Thomas Carlyle. I’m always curious to find out who friends and acquaintances hold in these positions of honor. While I like to keep my conversations grounded in reality I do have a list of MEN that I draw inspiration from. However, the men on this list are constantly being studied and vetted. Not to discredit but to understand. All the men on my list had weaknesses. But if I can understand that weakness and still hold them in this high esteem then they make muster. Perhaps another quote could help in selecting the men on this list.

“All men have their frailties; and whoever looks for a friend without imperfections, will never find what he seeks.”
― Cyrus the Great

Studying great men allows me to draw from the qualities and characteristics in them that I wish to emulate while understanding and discarding their faults.

32 Brandon March 12, 2012 at 6:58 am

Sounds a lot like my WW_D post. Yeah! Validation?
Only 5? Fox Force Five, maybe.
Twain, Dorothy Parker, Bruce Lee, Sean Baby, Alan Turing.

33 Benjamin Morales March 12, 2012 at 7:57 am

Mickey Mouse
Donald Duck
Sonic the Hedgehog

34 Jason March 12, 2012 at 8:19 am

Not all that strange. Buddhist monks, forbidden to touch a woman, create a tulpa – a visualization of a perfect woman.

This is the visualization of an ideal group of counselors. People ask themselves, “What would X do?” Different groups substitute different names for x, and there are wristbands to prove it.

This seems to be more of finding those people you wish to emulate, studying them, and then putting yourself in their shoes to give yourself advice from their perspective. Neurons that fire together develop associations, so creating neural nets of thinking like these great men makes just as much sense as athletes visualizing success and finding a positive correlation in their gameplay.

As for Tyler Durden… Tyler is Jack’s ideal counselor, unvoiced and expressed through delusion rather than through conscious manifestation. Jack can’t ask himself, “What would my ideal self do?” He doesn’t have that level of introspection. His psychological issues drive him to insomnia, with flickers of Tyler in daylight as he further breaks.

I’d much rather have Tyler as a Counselor by choice.

35 Nativeson March 12, 2012 at 9:13 am

Interesting. Seems rather like a secular” WWJD?”

36 Chris B March 12, 2012 at 10:21 am

This isn’t my cabinet of advisors, but an interesting thought that came to mind while reading this.

I recently had a discussion with a friend about self-hypnosis and how you can put yourself in a deep meditative state that will allow you to remove defenses from your subconscious that normally your conscious guards. I know, I know this sounds like Inception. Napoleon Hill’s imaginary cabinet meetings seem almost like he was was tapping into a certain depth of his subconscious.

Self-hypnosis is advertised as a tool to teach the mind to learn/unlearn things such as habits. This makes me wonder if going into this even deeper meditative state would allow you to reach even further into the sixth sense that the article mentions. Food for thought.

This was quite the enlightening read. This was my first post, but I have thoroughly enjoyed many of your articles. Thank you Brett and Kate

37 John March 12, 2012 at 10:50 am

While I think that the imaginary playdate fellow is taking it a bit too far for my taste (it smacks more of a pantheon of gods that he’s requesting gifts from) I have already done this, though without the purposeful nature of writing them down; etc. It is particularly helpful for little boys coming from bad backgrounds (my own life). During my childhood, I also quickly realized the toxic environment and scouted out Robert E Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (yes I’m from the South), Jesus, my grandaddy, and have since added several others (Thoreau, T. Jefferson, B. Franklin, Homer, Dante).

The older I get, the less I am interested in men such as Lee or Jackson and the more I turn to grandaddy. He survived WWI and the Great Depression and provided for a family of 7. He also never complained and continued to tend to his garden and chop wood well into his 90′s. In our entitlement world we could all take a lesson from men like that on what it means to be a man.

38 Frank* March 12, 2012 at 11:03 am

Joan of Arc (French Military Leader), General Louis “Chesty” B. Puller (Most highly decorated US Marine in history), Porter Rockwell (Bodyguard to Joseph Smith), Daniel H. Pink (Author of Drive, Whole New Mind), Lord Baden Powell (Founder of the Boy Scouts)

39 Jason March 12, 2012 at 11:51 am

Captain America for his patriotism
Teddy Roosevelt for his individualism
Warren Buffett for his work ethic
Jesus Christ for his compassion
Emmanuel Kant for his moral character

40 JG March 12, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Charles Brockden Brown
J. Brahms
Mother Teresa
Bill Gates

41 Henrique March 12, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Alexander, the Great

42 BnB March 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm

You could always invite five people you hate, cook them a terrible meal and pepper the conversation with insults and ridicule.

43 Don March 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I use a similar technique when stumped at solving a particularly tricky problem. I imagine myself having a conversation with the smartest person I know (a former peer, boss) and having them engage with me with how to approach solving it.

I imagine myself answering the questions they’d pose, and usually, that gets me going on the right track.

44 Mendoza March 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm

My cabinet includes Jesus, Buddha, Sir Winston Churchill, William Wallace, Benjamin Franklin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Socrates, Miyamoto Musashi, Ieyasu Tokugawa, Julius Caesar, King Leonidas, Qui-gon Jinn and Superman.

45 Justin March 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm


46 Taylor March 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Great article, unusual but very interesting. My personal invisible cabinet would include Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Nikos Kazantzakis, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Friedrich Nietzsche, Marcus Aurelius and Jim Boren. I could add dozens more, but am trying to keep the number reasonable. I agree that reading about these figures is a useful way to bring their lessons into your own life, but I also like to visualize them. I have often found myself daydreaming about a hunting trip with Hemingway or a conversation with Churchill.

47 Ken Walter March 12, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Excellent article – I wander bookstores frequently, but I confess I never bother looking for biographies. Perhaps it’s time to clear out some of the pulp science fiction and make some room on the bookshelf.

On another note, I’ve been disappointed in the long wait between articles on the site, but for quality like this, I’m willing to wait!

48 Zacharia Karami March 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm


Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Satoshi Tajiri, Isaac Newton and Seneca.

49 Bryan March 12, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Wow, a very ‘different’ idea…but i like it!

Just as there are different types of learners, i would think there are different types of thinkers as well. A very well-written and bold new article!

50 Will London March 12, 2012 at 6:15 pm

My cabinet: Thomas Jefferson (politics & morality), Aristotle (logic & reason), William Shakespeare (communication & humanity), Charles Darwin (science & nature), Ludwig van Beethoven (music, love, & other emotions), Leonardo da Vinci (everything), & Michael Madsen (general style).

51 Will London March 12, 2012 at 6:21 pm

My cabinet:


Leonardo da Vinci

William Shakespeare

Thomas Jefferson

Ludwig van Beethoven

Charles Darwin

Michael Madsen

52 Will London March 12, 2012 at 6:23 pm

(Sorry about the re-post – maybe I should add Al Gore to the list so I can ask him why my internet doesn’t work…)

53 Jack March 12, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Hunter S Thompson

Ayn Rand

Johnny Depp

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Bob Dylan

Quentin Tarantino

Robin, Earl of Loxley

54 TJ March 12, 2012 at 6:54 pm

How about a What Wouldn’t X Do (a cabinet consisting of people of whom to ask advice & then do the exact opposite?)

Here’s mine, for the record:

Emperor Nero

Henry VIII of England

Mayer Amschel Rothschild

Abraham Lincoln

Karl Marx

John Maynard Keynes

Adolf Hitler

55 Millennial March 12, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Never thought of it this way. Cool post!

56 Esquire March 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Howard Hughes, Theodore Roosevelt, Nikola Tesla, Le Corbusier, and Hank Rearden from “Atlas Shrugged,” if fictional greatness may step in!

57 Ben March 12, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Hey TJ,

How the Hell can you to put Abraham Lincoln on the list with Nero, Marx and Hitler?!

Abraham Lincon known to some as “Honest Abe” (a quality I would think is admirable) played a large role in ridding America of slavery.

Hittler committed genocide, Nero burned Christians like candles and Marx was a communist… see any difference?

58 Jeff March 12, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Most of you are too young to have been around in the 70′s, but there was a series based on just this concept. Steve Allen and his wife Jayne Meadows (TV greats of the past) hosted a dinner each week with invited guests from history: Cleopatra, Lenin, Ben Franklin, Marie Antoinette, etc. It was fascinating, witty, and most of all, as historically accurate as it could be. The actors portraying each character were in costume and character. I don’t remember the name of the show, but it was a hit.

59 LG March 12, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Ben, I won’t presume to answer for TJ, but I think it’s obvious that there are differing degrees of “do the opposite of what ____ did,” as well as different circumstances. — for instance, I’d love to learn from Abe’s prodigious rhetorical skill, but I sure wouldn’t imitate his spiritual life or many of his political decisions.

60 TJ March 13, 2012 at 12:35 am

Firstly, thank you LG – I quite agree that Mr Lincoln was a highly intelligent man with extremely impressive oratory skills, but it is for his political decisions that I include him on the list.

He may have incidentally freed millions of slaves (& nobody can dispute the iniquity of the institution of slavery) but he never had any desire to free a single slave – as he stated in his first State of the Union address – he merely wished to preserve the Union by any means necessary.

He also considered black people inferior & wished to have them all deported back to Africa – not uncommon at the time, but far from the common (modern) perception of his ideals.

Slavery was dying out in the CSA, & with the loss of the international slave trade & increasing numbers of fugitive slaves it would have collapsed of its own accord within a couple of decades.

But slavery was only a side issue in the War.

The Civil War – or, more properly, the Second War of Independence – was fought by the 99% of Southerners who didn’t own a single slave for the same reasons the states had fought the British.

The North was exploiting the South with excessively high taxes & unconstitutional laws, & the latter had every right to secede in the same way the 13 states had done under natural law.

But the Confederacy needn’t have relied upon the natural law, since the Constitution – one of the founding documents of the nation & the supreme law of the land – ensured that, ultimately, sovereignty would remain with the individual states, & otherwise with the people.

There was therefore every legal right for the South to secede from the Union, especially given the unconstitutional behaviour of President Lincoln, & the latter would have known this, of course, given that his profession was the law.

Along with the conscription that took place, once the war began Mr Lincoln began to destroy the rights not only of southerners but of northerners – rights the Founding Fathers had fought so hard to win just a few decades previously.

Mr Lincoln simultaneously fought a war on the Bill of Rights & the Constitution, as he imprisoned dissenters without trial, closed any newspapers who opposed the war, & unconstitutionally & illegally took the Union off the gold standard & replaced it with worthless paper money; robbing soldiers loyal to his cause of the fruits of their labour by constantly inflating the currency to fund the war.

Mr Lincoln was not directly responsible for all the outrages that took place both during the war & during Reconstruction – the actions of some Union soldiers cannot be excused – but since it was undoubtedly his war he should take his fair share of the blame not only for the hundreds of thousands of lives which were lost, but for the widespread raping, looting, pillaging,arson, theft, & destruction of southern property both during & after the war.

Mr Lincoln may have freed a few million slaves a few years earlier than they otherwise would have been, but at the cost of the values upon which America was founded; values which made (& still, for now, continue to make) the United States the greatest country which has every existed.

In the aftermath of the war, many “free” blacks enjoyed a standard of living little better than that of slaves for at least a century after the war.

We cannot be certain what would have happened if slavery had been allowed to die out naturally, but surely an organic & peaceful integration would have yielded better consequences for black people?

In conclusion, while the United States have many presidents who rank among the greatest human beings of all time – Presidents Jefferson, Madison, & Jackson, among others – I don’t believe Mr Lincoln is one of them.

(Nor, for the record, are Messrs Roosevelt & Wilson, & for more or less the same reasons as President Lincoln; aggressive wars, suspension of rights, destruction of sound money &c.)

61 Jordan Howard March 13, 2012 at 2:43 am

C.S. Lewis
William Morris
Ishmael (the gorilla from Daniel Quinn’s novels)

62 Stuart A March 13, 2012 at 2:53 am

My cabinet would have the following:
*Marcus Tullius Cicero
*Masaaki Hatsumi
*Siddartha Gotama (Buddha)
*Sherlock Holmes
*My brother Mark
*Queen Elizabeth II

63 Vince L March 13, 2012 at 6:46 am

Sun Tze
Mao Tze Tung
Warren E. Buffett
Philip Fisher
Benjamin Graham
Robert The Bruce
Horatio Nelson
Julius Ceasar

64 Vince L March 13, 2012 at 6:49 am

Stuart A, a little correction; Siddhartha Gautama. (Buddha).

65 Paul Hakel March 13, 2012 at 7:45 am

This is an awesome idea! Children basically do this, they play “make-believe” all the time, and then adults grow up and think, “This is weird, I’m ‘crazy’ if I do this…!” NO, YOU’RE CRAZY IF YOU DON’T DO THIS! Or just not going to be as inspired! I love this idea and probably should engage in it – in fact, religiously to some extent I probably already do when I pray. Thanks for the good idea!

66 Sebastian March 13, 2012 at 10:14 am

Thought I’d mention a couple of people not listed who would be in mine.

Napoleon Bonaparte: good general and strategist.

Byron “Whizzer” White: search for him on this site and you’ll see countless things you can emulate from his life.

As for the others, I’d pick a couple of people already listed so I won’t repeat. Just wanted to add to the conversation

67 Tom March 13, 2012 at 11:30 am

I’ve done this periodically for years. I call it the “Council of Counsel”.

My guys are:
Thoreau, CS Lewis, Jesus, Thomas More, Branch Rickey

Rickey is a little feisty sometimes, he might get cut for Chesterton if he doesn’t watch out.

68 Michael March 13, 2012 at 11:57 am

My council:

Great but common additions:
Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Jefferson

A fantastic addition by one other commenter (he was already on my list anyway):
Tokugawa Ieyasu

Two I’m surprised have been missed so far:
George Washington
Vince Lombardi

A semi-fictional addition (because I don’t know much about the real one, just the one portrayed in Chariots of Fire):
Harold Abrahams

Any my only fictional addition:
Malcolm Reynolds

69 Cam Rad March 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I have pictures of FDR and JFK on my desk at work. Whenever I feel frustrated, I’ll take 2 minutes to look at the wikipedia page of Frederick Douglass and then my problems suddenly seem miniscule. Whenever there seems to be a task that I think is too great to overcome, I think about my grandfather and how received his degree in engineering despite the crippling Jim Crow laws during his era banning him from using the university library or providing adequate housing for him.

This article was brilliant! Everyman should have a cabinet of advisors (real men, people like Lil Wayne and “The Situation” don’t count). It will absolutely make you a better man

70 Mikeyy March 13, 2012 at 1:08 pm

I had a tough time narrowing it down to a group, and I really only got it down to about ten give or take. But here goes:

Sir Winston Churchill-Military genius and personal genius, wise.
Warren Buffet-Knows how to be humble and still succeed.
St. Paul-Bold, humble, and faithful
Constantine the Great-Amazing and powerful leader, pushed for tolerance.
Audrey Hepburn-Classy and brilliant, knows love.
Dante-Brilliant, wise, philosophical, and creative.
J.R.R. Tolkien-Amazing imagination and a brave soul.
Sherlock Holmes-Intuitiveness and intelligence, wit.
Michael Mumford-Artistic passion and love.
Jim Elliot-Outward focused life and self sacrifice.

71 Will March 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm

I don’t imagine dialogues between my “cabinet”, but more-or-less “What would ____ do in this situation?”

My cabinet includes:

Don Draper
Siddhartha Gautama
dear ol’ Dad

72 Brian March 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm

C’mon man, no Giuseppe Garibaldi? In fact I’m surprised he’s not on this site more often; He’s one of my favorite historical figures, he’s been a soldier his whole life, always fighting against oppression all over Europe and South America, and he was Lincoln’s top choice for the Union’s head general. He only declined because Lincoln could not secure a promise to free all the slaves. Good man.

73 Don March 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Did I miss it, or did Brett tell us HIS cabinet list?

Apostle Paul
C.S. Lewis
Zig Ziglar

74 Jesper March 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I would invite:
1. Baden-Powell
For outdoor advice
2. Theodore Roosevelt
For advice on manliness and moral
3. Bear Grylls
For inspiration
4. B.S. Christiansen
(Danish ex-ranger)
For backup
5. My Grandfather
For backup

75 Martin March 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Cool idea, this. I think I’d include:

Steve Jobs
My Dad
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Thich Nhat Hanh
Jean-Luc Picard

76 Cut and brogue March 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Just wrote a blog post about the 4 people I would invite to dinner. After reading about this in Napoleon Hill’s book, I considered doing it myself but needed time to research and pick members. I’m slowly getting it going. It’s a great way to start if you don’t have a real Master Mind group.

77 Simon David Allen March 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm

This is a great article and a novel and wonderful idea.

My cabinet would definitely include Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John F Kennedy.

78 Brad W March 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm

I ask myself “What would Ted do?” referring to Teddy Roosevelt and Ted Turner. Following the example of those two badasses is bound to lead somewhere positive.

79 steve March 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm

superman, batman, bruce lee, budha, and bill nye. superman for guidance, batman for helping me see things that arent there, budha to help me better see things that are already there, bruce lee to show me there is more than one way to do something, and bill nye to explain why it’s there.

80 Josiah Sytsma March 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Adding mine in one by one so I may get to know them individually then add more and expand. Starting with Ernest Shackleton

81 Daniel March 13, 2012 at 10:05 pm

I’d have George Washington, Gandalf, Hitler, Horatius, Ender Wiggin, and John Paul II

82 Steve March 13, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Mine are:
Cincinnatus (for honour and moral discipline)
Henry Rollins (for discipline, charisma and strength of character)
Che Guevara (for courage, passion and thirst and follow through for adventure)
Carl Jung (for his wisdom and courage to trust himself)
Socrates (for the way in which he died)
Bill Hicks (for his sense of justice and social criticism)

83 Silk_Road March 13, 2012 at 10:47 pm

This is quite interesting, let’s see…
1. Lao Tzu
2. John Adams
3. My grandpa
4. Miyamoto Musashi
5. Daniel Boone

84 Andrew March 14, 2012 at 12:44 am

Teddy Roosevelt
Thomas Jefferson
Ronald Reagan
Martin Luther
C.S. Lewis
Friedrich Hayek
Tom Osborne

85 Martin S. March 14, 2012 at 12:49 am

Joseph, [Peter, John, James.] Paul, Luke, St Athanasius, St Augustine, Charles Martel, St Benedict, St Francis, St Thomas Aquinas, King St Louis IX, St Ignatius, GK Chesterton, Pope Benedict XVI, Aristotle.

86 Evan March 14, 2012 at 1:37 am

Diogenes of Sinope
Marcus Aurelius
Julius Caesar
Benjamin Franklin
Sherlock Holmes

87 Harlee March 14, 2012 at 4:01 am

@Jeff on March 12 @ 9:10 pm
The name of the show hosted by Steve Allen was called “The Meeting of Minds”,and it ran on PBS in the late 1970s. I liked it too.
As a Canadian I would have to include:John A. MacDonald (first Prime Minister,the one who forged a railway across the country),Sam Steele (North West Mounted Police,hero of the Klondike), Robert Service (poet) and Pierre Berton (historian).
Americans I admire: William O. Douglas,President Eisenhower and Harry Truman.
Winston Churchill would have to be there too.
Fictional types: Sherlock Holmes,Superman and Zorro !

88 Ryan March 14, 2012 at 7:44 am

It seems like any “advising” you got from your imaginary council would just be a reflection of your own thoughts and desires. It’s impossible, regardless of how much you read about the figures, to develop anything but a fictitious representation of these people. Sorry to be a downer, but I don’t see how you get passed that. Any time spent in reflection is probably a benefit though.

89 casey March 14, 2012 at 8:33 am

Wow, what a totally (to me) left field concept. I love it, so many manly heroes to seat at the table. Here’s my list, off the cusp:

Arthur Wellesley, Albert Einstein, Julius Caesar, Winston Churchill, Hannibal Barca, Sherlock Holmes.

90 CB March 14, 2012 at 9:14 am

@Ryan: You are both right and wrong. If you invite, for example, Julius Caesar to your table, you are correct that even if you read all the books on him that exist, you would not find a direct answer to a question you had about internet porn. However, if you had a question about dealing with an employee, you may be able to find a quote attributed to Julius Caesar that could apply to the situation. If you have read as much about him as possible you would probably have a good sense of how he would answer the question. This is similar to how you can “know” the answer to a question you pose to a friend before you ask. You don’t actually know the answer until you ask but you have a pretty good idea without asking because you know the character of the one of whom you are asking the question.
Your representation of Julius Caesar is fictitious and influenced by your own thoughts, but that doesn’t mean that what Julius Caesar says to you is untrue or that you can’t set aside your thoughts to understand another’s point of view. You are created with empathy for that reason, to stand in anothers shoes for the sake of understanding from their perspective.
I’d recommend trying the exercise for a while just to see what happenes. I’ve never done it before either but I’m going to give it a try. Still working on my cabinet though so I’ll start small.

91 Ben March 14, 2012 at 11:58 am

JeffC they aren’t having you summon the dead to converse with them. It more you admire a person from the past you’ve read up on them and you generally have a good idea of what they’d say about certain things.

It is pretty interesting to see who picked who. You can tell alot about a person based on who they’ve chosen.

I’d pick the two I think many have chosen so far Jesus and Theodore Roosevelt.

And then I’d pick a Moshe Dayan or maybe an Eisenhower and Churchill.

And I’d personally pick Dennis Prager as well because he has a very interesting way of getting to the truth of the matter.

Some people I’d like to choose but I don’t feel I know enough about them and some like Joan of Arc I’d think would be hard to do as so little is actually known about them.

92 me March 14, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I always consult wisest person I have ever met – myself.

93 Jim McFarland March 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Ahhhh oh wise one…I’ve been looking for one such as yourself…I have traveled far to merely glimpse such a one…THIS is a man with brimming, overflowing, self-stunting confidence!!! I too have been there, oh wise one…then I woke up and smelled the burnt toast! JK dude, Welcome Me, nice to have you!

94 Tekena Olotu Travis March 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Leonardo Da Vinci
Theodore Roosevelt
M. C. Escher
Nikolai Tesla
Muhammad Ali
Pablo Picasso
Sherlock Holmes
Adrian Monk
Shawn Spencer
Daniel Day-Lewis

These are all that I have so far. I’m gonna get crackin’ on Daniel first. By the time that this is over, I will have invented and become the greatest man alive.

95 Brandon G March 14, 2012 at 6:03 pm

I think that doing this will require me to do some more research into the people that I pick as my counselors. I like this a lot and will start that research right now. Anywhoo, I guess my list would include Teddy Roosevelt, Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Tolstoy, Dali, Nietzche, and Dostoyevsky. Or somethin’ thereabouts…

96 Mr. X March 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm

I read Think and Grow Rich in my teens. I can assure you, this thing works.

Good article, Brett and Kay. Well done.

97 Jason March 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm

St Joseph, Ben Franklin, my dad and uncle, bear grylls, coach Eric Taylor (FNL)

98 Jason March 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm

St Joseph, Ben Franklin, my dad and uncle, bear grylls, coach Eric Taylor (FNL).

99 Ryan March 14, 2012 at 9:19 pm

I understand where you are coming from but I still think it’s of limited value and presumptuous. Recognizing their skills, as you mentioned, is probably the best benefit. Tolstoy, someone that I would probably like to consult, rails against the so called “Great Men” of history by describing them as essentially slaves to circumstance & providence. As a non-religious man, I don’t buy into the providence argument but I as a history major prefer to think that common men are much more important to history than a select handful of “Great Men.”

100 Austin March 14, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Ben Franklin
Thomas Jefferson
J. F. K.
Capt. America
Sherlock Holmes
Mark Twain
Baden Powell
William T. Sherman
T. J. (The Amazing Atheists from YouTube)
Richard Dawkins
Jean-Luc Picard
Seven of Nine
Da Vinci
Adolf Hitler

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter