Masterminds: It’s About the Possibilities for Me - The Style

The Power of Understanding Yourself: The Key to Self-Discovery, Personal Development, and Being the Best You - Dave Mitchell 2019

Masterminds: It’s About the Possibilities for Me
The Style

WINE! Because these problems aren’t going to forget themselves!

Tanya Masse

If your lowest score is in column C, you are a Mastermind — and your greatest sensitivity is to concepts. Masterminds view yesterday as boring, today as mildly amusing, but tomorrow … well, tomorrow is full of possibilities. I have found Masterminds to display what the French call je ne sais quoi — a term that refers to a quality that is hard to describe or even pinpoint, but that makes them special or interesting.

The Mastermind column is my highest scoring column at 43. So, apparently, I do not have that je ne sais quoi. My lovely bride, on the other hand, does. Her score in the C column is her second-lowest score. So, she has long been my research subject for the influence that the Mastermind style has on a person’s behavior. Here are some attributes that can be common to Masterminds:

· Comfortable in loosely defined situations

· Embraces risk

· More comfortable with trial and error

· Enjoys doing new things and having unusual experiences

· May appear scattered or unfocused

· Bores easily with routines

· Capable of juggling several tasks simultaneously

· Easily distracted by events or people that they view as more interesting than their current activity

· Generally optimistic that things will turn out well

· Enjoys brainstorming ideas

Meeting the Mastermind

In true Mastermind style, let me digress for a moment and criticize one of the most iconic and useful psychological devices. I have two pet peeves when it comes to the myriad of style-assessment tools that exist for helping us better understand how we think. One is that they often report out in a strict binary fashion. By this, I mean they tell you that your results are either this or that. I understand that this is frequently just a shortcut employed by the evaluator to make it simple for the recipient to understand their results. However, it does remove some very important details. Masterminds will surely nod in agreement that any evaluative device that works on a black-and-white format is inherently limiting. Masterminds exist in a world of gray. Theirs is not a toggle switch world, but a three-dimensional sliding attenuator. For example, if you take a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), you will be told you are an ENTJ (Extroversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judgment) or an ISFP (Introversion, Sensory, Feeling, Perception) or one of the other 16 total combinations. But there is a big difference in two ENTJs, for example, when you explore the range of their preferences. That is why I referenced the differences between a dynamic pattern, common pattern, and nuanced pattern in Chapter 5. All styles, but none more than the Mastermind, recognize that two people with the same labeled results can still be quite different.

My second irritant is the insistence of many assessment tools to place human behavior into quadrants. Quadrants suggest opposites and make it difficult for a person to be at or near in preference for the two opposing quadrants. But human behavior doesn’t work that way. Again, Masterminds particularly would take umbrage to being placed neatly into a quadrant. One of the inspirations for my own approach to understanding interactive style was rooted in my MBTI results. I scored as an INFJ. It fits loosely, but so does the INTJ. I realized that my results in the F (Feeler) and T (Thinker) were close to the same. So, while I reported as a Feeler, I was almost just as influenced by my Thinker. Further, the internal conflict that I experience — and which would be critical to my own extraction of Me — was much more the result of that Feeler/Thinker conflict than it was the influence of the N (Intuitive). Practitioners of the MBTI understand this, but it is very difficult to share all these subtleties in a classroom setting to individuals who just want to know how they can effectively utilize the information. So, it is a pet peeve.

Beyond the free plug for the work of Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs, there is a point to my venting. More than any other style, the Mastermind values individuality. Taking an interactive style assessment, no matter how well researched and validated, still feels too much like a one-size-fits-all experience to Masterminds. Masterminds live to venture outside of the containments that life attempts to force upon them. In fact, rules, policies, procedures, regulations — these are all “food for thought” for Masterminds. “Thanks for the input,” a Mastermind might say as they summarily dismiss it.

Breaking the Rule in Order to Follow the Rule

Because my own score in the C column is high, I am not much of a rule breaker myself (my reckless youth aside.) But with the help of a Mastermind fellow traveler, I did just that. This story has its origins in my own inner style conflict and the odd duality of my profession. I do both business development and service delivery for my company. In most organizations, there exists a (usually) healthy conflict between those who do the selling and those doing the service. It is not unusual for the service people to feel that the sales people have overpromised. Likewise, it is not unusual for the sales people to accuse the service folks of whining.

So, there are times when, in my role as business development person, I commit to some pretty gnarly travel logistics in order to close a deal on a speaking engagement. I always check to make sure that it is feasible on paper; but I don’t always consider what it will be like when I actually have to do it. That was the case when I accepted speaking engagements in San Francisco, Paris, and Las Vegas in the same week. It is possible. The flights worked. It can be done. But the reality from a service delivery perspective was brutal. Faced with the reality of the travel, I was quite aggravated with the person who had arranged it. Had I been able to, I would have fired me. That’s how I felt when I was sitting in the San Francisco airport, staring at the upgrade list, using every bit of my “thoughts and prayers” to get the last upgrade to business class.

I have flown nearly two million miles on United Airlines. They carry me on board while feeding me grapes … for domestic flights. It’s nice. But, there is much less special treatment for international flights. Forget first class; that is limited to the likes of the Kardashians. I just wanted to escape coach and get into business class. On this flight, the seats were like a domestic flight’s first class. Not incredibly comfortable, but compared to coach, they were like love seats. Plus, you got the occasional glass of wine and recognizable food. If you have flown coach class on an international flight that will last approximately 12 hours you know that there is no relaxing allowed. By the time you reach your destination, coach class appears to have been the site of a violent social uprising barely suppressed by the flight crew. There are newspapers, trash, blankets, food products, magazines, footwear, and even livestock strewn willy-nilly around the cabin. No, I knew I couldn’t relax in coach. I had to have a business class upgrade.

For better or worse, I am not sure which, United provides you with a ton of metrics and data to analyze relative to your upgrade status. For instance, I knew how many business class seats were available on this plane — 24. I also knew how many business class tickets were purchased — also 24 (damn!). Finally, I knew that 23 people had checked in for those 24 seats. So, that means that one passenger had bought a business class seat but had not yet checked in for their flight from San Francisco to Paris as we approached one hour before takeoff. Oh, and guess who was at the very top of the upgrade list for any available business class seats. Um hmm. Dave Mitchell — or as I am known on an upgrade list, D/MIT (which I also feel could be my rapper name). Anyway …

I consider myself a kind person. I am a Romantic, after all. But on this occasion, I was rooting for a “minor” incident involving the last, unchecked-in business class passenger. You know, like a last-minute change in travel plans or a fender bender on the way to the airport. Or maybe he or she won the lottery yesterday and quit their job and no longer needed to go to Paris. Or they were arrested. Anything! The gate agent increased both my excitement and my anxiety by announcing, “Passenger Mitchell, please remain in the boarding area for a possible upgrade.” The upside of that was that I still had a chance. The downside is that I got to watch 500 passengers, each with two pieces of luggage, board before me. If I didn’t get the upgrade now, I would need to place my bag in an overhead bin roughly a quarter mile behind my seat. The only thing worse than flying in coach is trying to move against the current to get your bag once you land.

Then it happened. The gate agent called me to the desk. “We’ve upgraded you to business class, Mr. Mitchell.”

I am pretty sure that elevated this particular day to my fourth best ever after only my wedding and the birth of my two children. The bounce in my step as I bopped down the jetway to my plane belied my level of happiness and more than a little cockiness. I even scored an aisle seat. Nothing could interrupt my euphoria. Well … not until I sat down in my seat and it reclined on its own.

Anyone who travels much knows there are a few absolute truths about air travel. For instance, on each flight there will be one person in your row who absolutely must visit the washroom repeatedly; your first choice for a snack will be sold out before the flight attendants reach your seat; a child seated behind inexplicably finds joy in the act of kicking the seat in front of them … and during takeoff and landing, you must stow your tray table, fasten your seatbelt and place your seat back in its full upright position. It is, so we are told, an FAA regulation. Despite a lifelong commitment to core exercise, I could not keep my seat back from creeping into recline. The dutiful flight attendant, likely an Expert, approached me as we neared our departure time.

“Excuse me, sir, but I will need you to bring your seat into the upright position for takeoff,” she offered with a smile.

“I completely understand, and I am certainly not being a malcontent,” I responded in my best Romantic. “I am a lifetime million-mile flyer and Premier Platinum United flyer,” I added that strategically in hopes that my status might somehow exempt me from our nation’s laws. “The problem is the seat won’t stay in the upright position,” and with that I demonstrated my plight by showing the flight attendant my hands while the seat slowly reclined. I guess I am a tertiary Expert, huh?

“Oh, that’s unfortunate. Because if your seat isn’t fully functional, for your safety and the safety of those around you, we will need to reseat you.”

Oh hell no!” Okay, I didn’t actually say that, but Lord knows I thought it. The flight attendant walked away to attend to some other compliance concern of grave FAA consequences and I went full MacGyver on the seat. I dove into my briefcase for resources. I was bound and determined to repair the broken seat using my eyeglass screwdriver, a flash drive, and four Tic Tacs. I was in a full state of panic as I imagined the next 12 hours trapped, unrelaxed, in coach. Just then, the passenger next to me violated all the rules of business class travel and talked to me.

“I couldn’t help but overhear your situation. I have an idea.”

“You have an idea for my situation?” Fortunately, my incredulous tone did not dissuade my row mate from pressing forward.

“Yes, if you are interested,” he persisted. In retrospect, I realize that he surveyed the tools I had assembled and was confident that I would indeed be open to suggestions.


“Cool. So, I think that takeoff and landing are the busiest times for the flight attendants. They have to check for seatbelts being fastened, bags being properly stowed, tray tables put away and, of course, the seat backs being upright. So I’m pretty sure they use some hacks to do that quickly.”

“Hacks?” I repeated.

He continued, “You know, shortcuts. For seat backs, I think they look at the relationship between the seats in the row. If they are aligned, then they assume both are upright. If they aren’t, they know someone needs to bring their seat to the upright position. Since you can’t keep your seat from reclining, maybe I could recline mine. That way they would be aligned, and she may think they are both upright. What do you think?”

The sheer genius of his suggestion left me in awe. “I think that is an excellent idea.” I quickly replaced my eyeglass screwdriver, mints, and flash drive in my brief case while he discreetly reclined his seat. Soon, the flight attendant came through the cabin scanning each row for unbuckled seat belts, stray bags, noncompliant tray tables and the rogue seat back. She sailed right past us and shortly thereafter, we took off and I “high fived” my new best friend.

“You don’t know how much I needed this seat. Thank you so much. You, sir, are a life saver.” My unbridled joy seemed about twice again too much for the situation, but I was doubly excited. “What’s especially cool about this is that not only did you save my business class seat; you also gave me a great story for my seminars in the future.” I went on to explain that I spoke professionally on the topic of applied cognitive psychology and described how I wrote about people’s different styles in The Power of Understanding People.

I decided to indulge in a bit of instruction. “The flight attendant, who was dutifully fulfilling her obligations to attend to passenger security by consistently applying FAA regulations, is most likely an Expert. Experts like structure and are committed to compliance and security. You, on the other hand, display a willingness to take chances, circumvent the rules, and find an alternative to achieve the desired result. So, you are probably a Mastermind. I have to ask, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a pilot.”

I remember the silence that followed was a bit uncomfortable.

Anyway, a couple of takeaways here: if you are a Mastermind or have scored below 30 in the C column even if another column was lower, this ability — even desire — to work outside the structured environment likely plays a role in understanding yourself. Many entrepreneurs have a low C column score. They are comfortable with a somewhat vague vision of tomorrow providing them guidance for today’s actions. Their willingness, even eagerness, to experiment and learn from mistakes armors them against the risk involved.

Takeaway two: when flying, it is very likely that the flight attendants care deeply about your safety even though, meanwhile, they aren’t even wearing seatbelts up in the cockpit.

A Mastermind Is a Wine’s Fruit

Revisiting the wine-industry metaphor, if Experts are like acidity and Romantics are like sugar, then the Masterminds are the fruit. When people find out that I am an advanced sommelier, they often ask what my favorite wine is. That is an impossible question to answer. First, there are over 10,000 varieties of grape, so if a person decided to experience every one of them by trying a different wine made from each varietal every day, it would take them 28 years — and probably three livers — to experience them all. That doesn’t even take into account the countless number of blends, wines that use more than one variety of grape, that exist. There are likely millions of individual types of wines produced by these 10,000 unique varietals. You can spend your entire life drinking a different type of wine each day and never experience them all. That is so Mastermind-like. Imagine the possibilities!

I would go one step further. Not only are the Masterminds like the uniqueness of the grapes, but they also reflect the intrigue of unknown regions. Cabernet Sauvignon is most associated with Napa in California and Bordeaux in France, but those are far from the only two wine regions that make amazing Cabernet Sauvignon. The Mastermind style is analogous to finding one of the most common and popular grapes grown in a fascinating, exotic location or with a fabulous story to accompany it. One such story is that of the Super Tuscan wines of Italy and it is distinctly Mastermind.

Tuscany experienced incredible political and social changes in the 1950s and 1960s. One of these changes was the elimination of mezzadria — a system for farming that outlined the financial arrangement between landowners and the farmers who used the land. Essentially, the changes resulted in the tenant farmers leaving and landowners trying to figure out what to do with this resource that they owned but had no experience with. Many landowners decided to grow grapes and make wines, but few knew what they were doing.

Through trial and error, some maverick thinkers in the wine industry hit on the idea of using grapes that were not technically legal to create a new Tuscan wine that would reinvigorate the region. One of the grapes they used was Cabernet Sauvignon. To produce a new wine, the novice winemakers blended the indigenous Sangiovese grape with a grape from Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Super Tuscan wines are among the world’s most prestigious. Back in the 1970s, when a few inspired Masterminds came up with the idea of blending unsanctioned grapes with the indigenous grapes of Tuscany, the wine was in blatant violation of the established norms. In that way, I think the Super Tuscan wines are an especially appropriate metaphor for the Mastermind style.

Now it is time to reflect again. As was the case for the Expert and Romantic styles, consider what insights you can glean from your score in the Mastermind column. What does it say about your risk tolerance? Do you thrive in unstructured environments or are you more comfortable having a well-defined system surrounding you? Do you like to know what to expect each day or do you crave the excitement of a situation in flux?

Keep in mind that high scores are helpful to understanding yourself, too. My score of 43 in this column surprised me, and I am certain this reflects a change in my life over the past 20 or maybe even 10 years. That is a valuable insight as I work to maintain my alignment. Perhaps it is reflective of me approaching retirement, although I have no desire to do so. Maybe it represents the joy I have discovered by working on our land. For some reason, I have dropped my need for excitement and risk while elevating my desire for consistency and structure.

Sounds like I have some changes to make in my core ideology. Off I go to the Extracting Me Worksheet.