I'm not much of a mechanic. No, I take that back. I'm not a mechanic at all. I know where the gas, oil and antifreeze (or is it coolant?) go. I can change a tire and jump-start a dead battery. And that's about as far as my mechanical knowledge goes.

Oh, and there's one other thing I know: Hitting on only one cylinder is bad. I'm not exactly sure what "hitting" means in this sense. But if you've got six cylinders, you want to be hitting on all of them.

Now, this particular piece of automotive knowledge has come in handy during my business career. I learned early in my entrepreneurial endeavors that no matter how much I thought I knew about anything, there was always someone else who knew more. Usually, there was more than one. And usually, I stumbled upon these people after I had already made frustrating — and expensive — mistakes. It occurred to me that if I could somehow learn what they knew before it was too late to make a difference to me and to my business, I would be that much more effective, and my business would be that much more productive.

Sort of like an engine hitting on all cylinders, instead of just one.

Then I read Napoleon Hill's life-changing book, "Think & Grow Rich." In a chapter called "Power of the Master Mind," Hill compares the human brain to an electric battery. "It is a well-known fact that a group of electric batteries will provide more energy than a single battery," Hill writes. "It is also a well-known fact that an individual battery will provide energy in proportion to the number and capacity of the cells it contains."

According to Hill, the batteries are a metaphor for "the power wielded by men who surround themselves with other men of brains."

He continues: "When two or more people coordinate in a spirit of harmony, and work toward a definite objective, they place themselves in position, through that alliance, to absorb power directly from the great universal storehouse of Infinite Intelligence."

Hill is not necessarily talking about cooperative ventures and business partnerships. He's talking about what he calls "Master Mind" groups, which he defines as "coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose." He refers to steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, whose master mind group consisted of 50 people who shared their ideas for the manufacturing and marketing of steel. According to Hill, Carnegie "attributed his entire fortune to the power he accumulated through this 'Master Mind.'"

The notion of picking the brains of other successful entrepreneurs was a revelation to me and has proven to be invaluable to me throughout my career. The master-mind groups that have helped me through the years haven't always had expertise in the particular field in which I was working at the time. But they have been able to provide valuable insight and inspiration through their accumulated practical experience as entrepreneurs. By looking at my problems and concerns from a different perspective, they have been able to cast new light on issues that had left me in the dark.

I commend the concept to you. As Hill wrote, "this form of cooperative alliance has been the basis of nearly every great fortune."

Sort of like what "hitting on all cylinders" can do for an engine.


Stephen W. Gibson is affiliated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].