10/300: Junto, or Great Minds Think Together

Ben Franklin has become one of my heroes. He’s one of the most productive, most influential people this country has ever known. He believed in business and ideas. He believed in asking for help as a means of winning people over rather than brute force. He believed in the idea that all things are works in progress, that everything can be improved upon.

I was having coffee with my friend Ryan this morning and we were talking about the things we usually talk about – changing the world, changing lives, books, movies and the best ideas we’ve heard since our last meeting. This morning we talked for a while about the difference between relationships built upon a mutual means of thinking and those built upon a common agenda. Agenda, we decided, would never lead to as much progress or productivity as discourse. People with an agenda seek control. People with a passion for thinking through problems, working through solutions, seeing things change care less about control or accreditation than momentum.

It got me thinking about Franklin and his Junto. In the late 18th century, Franklin assembled groups of “like-minded artisans” in coffee shops to discuss issues and ideas. The switch from beer – the common daily drink in those days – to coffee and tea coupled with a culture built on iteration and sharing – as opposed to copyrights and patents – bred a boom in scientific, technological and philosophical work in the era. Franklin gathered the smartest people he knew and crowd-sourced innovation. Everyone was free to build their ideas, to add to other’s ideas and to iterate on established ideas. Or, at least, so goes the legend.

Ryan and I often bounce ideas off each other. We share what we’re working on in our jobs and help one another through problems, challenges or dead-ends to find new opportunities, new ways of thinking. We do it without hope of remuneration or credit. We do it because the mark of a solid friendship is the willingness to help one another. It’s a specific kind of friendship, a friendship based on mutual respect for one another’s thinking and a desire to see one another succeed.

I’ve been a part of master mind groups in the past, in which a group of successful people come together to share ideas and challenges over some breakfast, but those experiences have never been as productive or satisfying as my coffees with Ryan. Why? Because early on, there was a set agenda. The master mind was assembled for a specific purpose – launching a business, working through issues related to faith or family, keeping each other accountable to goals. There’s nothing wrong with that. Those are all good things. But when I get together with Ryan, there is no agenda. There’s a text – “coffee tomorrow?” – and an answer – “absolutely.” We don’t need to share time or place. It’s always the same. We don’t need to establish what we’ll talk about, because we always seem to pick up where we left off.

I have a lot of friends and acquaintances. I have friendships based upon children being the same age. I have friendships from my past that I try to maintain. There are people I call for a beer and people I call to check in on. But getting together with Ryan is always about ideas and progress, regardless of what kind of ideas and what kind of progress.

I like to think that it’s my own little version of Franklin’s Junto. It’s something I’d like to build upon, something I’d like to expand, through people and frequency. There’s no real rules. There’s no agenda. Just the a group of ‘like-minded artisans’ getting together to exercise our brains. Who knows what might come out of it? I certainly don’t, but I know its worth my time and the coffee will be good.

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