The rock skipped five times across the water before sinking into a small wave. Not bad, considering the water was rough. As Barrett searched for another rock to beat his new record, we discussed a new idea: what if we gave people all our advice and opinions they never asked for?
I was with four of my closest friends in the mountains of North Carolina for our first ever mastermind retreat. The crew was Barrett Brooks, James Clear, Caleb Wojcik, Matthew Marshall, and myself. We’d just wrapped up a weekend of intense work and business strategy with a hike along the river.
The conversation turned to a friends business and what we thought he really should do. For a second I almost felt guilty for the comment. It was like gossiping about someone who wasn’t there. But actually, our comments and feedback we’re helpful. If I were him, I’d want to know.
Then someone—I’m not even sure who—said the idea that would result in the most valuable time of the weekend:
“What if we talked about each other this way—but when they are present?”
That’s it! We all got excited.
We all think of things each other should be doing, but don’t say it out of politeness. It’s considered rude to walk up to someone and give them your opinion on everything in their life.
Even with friends in a mastermind group you discuss the problems they bring to the table. “What are you struggling with and how can we help?”
Later that evening we laid the ground rules for our newly invented mastermind session:
- Each session would focus on one person for 15 minutes.
- The subject sits there in the room and takes notes.
- They are not allowed to speak or interject at anytime. They may only take notes.
- Everyone else talks about them as if they weren’t there.
Since this is within a group of close friends who understand each others businesses the advice is usually on-point.
Shut up and listen
During my session it was so hard to keep my mouth shut. Someone would bring up that they think I should have followed through on X or made a different decision about Y. I desperately wanted to interject with all the reasons I made that decision.
That’s when we realized something critical: we judge ourselves based on our intentions. I meant to do that, but it didn’t work out because I wasn’t able to get enough traction.
But everyone else can’t do that. Outsiders can only judge based on actions and outcomes. The external things.
So we can reason away our own shortcomings based on intentions and feelings, but in this session you get to hear exactly what your peers thought you should have done. Even if you had the best of intentions, you still fell short of what you could have accomplished.
So, I sat there with my mouth shut and typed.
Here are a few of my notes:
“Nathan was most interesting when he was teaching design”
“Yeah, why did he move away from teaching design?”
Another comment was “Nathan’s internet fame rose so quickly. He came out of nowhere. And then everything stalled out.”
“Turning the corner for design to marketing represented a decrease in interest. People want to learn design from a great designer.”
To which I wrote: ConvertKit can be a way to keep designing. Teach about designing ConvertKit. (That would also help sell ConvertKit). ConvertKit gives me design things to write about.
Then someone brought up the word “precocious”. Chris Guillebeau had used it to describe me in a recent blog post. Here’s the dictionary definition: “having developed certain abilities or proclivities at an earlier age than usual.”
That turned the topic to me getting burnt out. Pushing too hard on too many different things without seeing results. I don’t remember who brought this up, but I wrote down:
Precocious: early innings of a long game. Make sure to build something sustainable. Make it less taxing.
After a few other brief comments on ConvertKit, my session was over and I could finally open my mouth. I instantly wanted to defend why I moved away from primarily teaching design…but really, they were right. That is where I made my name and built my audience.
My marketing ideas and writing have had a huge impact, but just looking back at financial success from each launch, teaching design is the better business.
With the success of ConvertKit I’ve moved in a different direction entirely, but through this session I learned exactly what my peers thought I should be doing and their opinions on my business in the last year.
Give it a try
The details of everyone else’s sessions are not for me to share, but each person said their 15 minutes of unsolicited feedback was the most valuable time of the weekend for them. And it wasn’t all critical. I think all of us left feeling respected and valued by our peers, but with a clear list of what to work on.
I just heard from my good friend Grant Baldwin that his mastermind group tried “the ‘talk about the person in front of them’ deal“. He went on to say it was the highlight of their weekend retreat.
I think it’s time you started asking for unsolicited advice (from the right people).