Every entrepreneur and executive needs a safe place to test their ideas and expand their thinking. Is it time to join a mastermind? Some years ago, I participated in a magical retreat on the shores of Morro Bay in Southern California. The combination of a squadron of pelicans, pods of porpoises, and a plethora of fascinating people definitely made this a weekend to remember.

The retreat was hosted by my friend and mentor, Sam Horn, CEO of the Intrigue Agency and one of those people who definitely attracts intriguing people around her. There were speakers, coaches, branding experts, authors, consultants, and brilliant strategists – and many who fit more than one of those categories.

This retreat was a place you go to have your brain stretched.

The juiciness of the weekend began with a round-robin introduction at dinner on Friday night. Each person was asked to give a brief introduction before the meal. This was supplemented when necessary by our hostess who is a master at enhancing the brilliance of those around her.

After the entrée, everyone was invited to share a 90-second story about one person in their lives in the past year who had educated, encouraged, served as an example for them, or held them to excellence.

Participants shared stories of children and wise mentors alike who had inspired them; serendipitous chance meetings that led them to achieve great things; and the accomplishment of long-dreamed-of projects, partnerships, and possibilities.

There were also painful stories of health scares and false starts and lost homes. There were stories of great loss and sadness mixed in with those of triumphant achievement – in other words, real-life unfolded around that table as we drank our wine and ate our chocolate cake.

Looking back, I think it was a combination of the setting, participant selection, and carefully maintained structure (including agreed-upon confidentiality) of that opening dinner that created a safe space. And it was that safety which gave people the unexpected freedom to open up and share their true stories, even with people whom they had never met before.

There was a sense of being among equals — people who could and would understand because they also had imperfect lives and were still striving to change the world.

Those 90-second stories became the open doorway into people’s lives that invited you to learn more and the rest of the weekend was structured to make that possible.

On Saturday, we gathered in a beautiful room around a circular table at the hotel (The Inn at Morro Bay) to continue our discussions. Each person was invited to take 3 minutes to share one priority project and then solicit help from the group. Those three minutes went quickly, even with 17 of us, as everyone quickly realized that Sam had brought together people who really could help one another.

When I spoke about my upcoming book, for example, I realized that almost everyone around that table had launched a book – or five – and had lots of advice and counsel for me. When someone else spoke of re-tooling her products and services, people offered strategies, resources, and creative ideas for scaling her efforts far beyond what she expected.

Even when people shared that they were in transition, everyone listened with equal attention, because they enjoyed giving ideas of how to successfully land in the next opportunity. New friendships were formed around that table. I could see people light up as they realized they were not alone with so many others willing to share their expertise.

Throughout the remainder of the weekend, people gathered in groups of three or four for hour-long working sessions where everyone could bring his or her plans, questions, and half-completed ideas and get direct feedback about how to achieve their goals. More conversations and connections happened over meals, during breaks, and while we created our own vision boards. There was fortunately also some time for a bit of shopping, walks, and R&R.

The time to depart came much too quickly.

So, what did I learn from this retreat? I learned that the concept of the mastermind, formally introduced by Napoleon Hill in the early 1900s in his classic book about success, Think and Grow Rich, is still alive and well over 110 years later.

Hill wrote about the Mastermind principle as: “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.” He continues, “No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible, intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind.” This third mind – or mastermind – allows every participant to be more successful.

The truth is that we all need to participate in a mastermind gathering on a regular basis – to have our certainty challenged and our uncertainty reassured; to find needed resources and share our expertise and to learn new things and stretch our understanding of what we can achieve. We need to create safe spaces where it’s okay not to have all the answers, and where we can access whatever is needed to achieve our dreams of the future.

If you’re looking for a group like this, here are a few resources:

For entrepreneursVistageEntrepreneur’s Organization (EO), Young Presidents Organization (YEO), and Women Presidents Organization (WPO).
For social entrepreneurs, there is Summit Series (by invitation only), World Economic Forum’s Forum of Young Global Leaders (application)

For executivesExecutive Networks hosts networks based on expertise. You can also search for communities of practice, peer-learning groups, academies, or Meetup groups in your niche. Many trade associations also have small group gatherings around specific issues or areas of expertise.

Another option is to convene your own group. If you’re thinking of hosting a program like this in the meantime, reach out to me to discuss the agenda. I can also help you think through how to convene the right group of people and set the right tone and structure to make it a success. Often, playing the convening role is exactly what it takes to create the magic you most want to experience.