Connecting great minds, for the greater good.
Having returned to Philadelphia from London the previous year, Benjamin Franklin – then aged 21 and in the process of starting his own newspaper printing business – established the Junto: a group of like-minded, aspiring tradesmen and artisans who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.
The group consisted of men from varied occupations and backgrounds, united by a spirit of enquiry and desire to learn. They met on Friday evenings to debate questions of philosophy and politics, share business knowledge, exchange ideas, and develop solutions for the betterment of their businesses and wider society.
The Junto became a highly influential force, with their ideas and spin-off ventures shaping the history of Philadelphia and to some extent the USA as a whole.
They formed the first lending library in order to increase access to knowledge in a time when only the wealthy could afford to buy books, created a volunteer fire fighting company to mitigate the constant threat of house fires (as well as an insurance company for those that could not be saved), and also founded a university and a hospital – most of these organisations are still operating to this day.
Big footsteps to follow in…
291 years later and the world is a rather different place. Our time is pressured by ever-increasing demands and distractions. A weekly, physical meeting is a long-shot, even for a group based in the same city.
But a digital age junto that meets once a month, in person or via video conference, can be just as effective and allows for its members to participate from across the globe.
Technology affords the ability to share information instantly, at any time, independent of location: rather than being confined to a small window once a week, a thought, question or idea can be shared at any time – and considered by other members at their leisure.
Greater momentum can be gained in between meetings through this continuous and interactive process; and as a consequence, meetings themselves should become more effective and efficient than the stop-start of a weekly get-together and little else in between.
Technology also unlocks the opportunity of connecting a multitude of juntos across the world, allowing for limitless proliferation of information and ideas, providing exposure to a much greater range of perspectives and creating access to a vast international network.
Where to begin?
Whilst a digital age junto benefits from the ability to draw its members from diverse locations, there are of course limitations.
Perhaps the biggest challenge faced by an online junto is overcoming the hurdles to effective communication, and in particular, forming relationships in the absence of physical meetings – especially when some members may not know each other at the outset.
Whilst a group of relatively new acquaintances may benefit from more interesting and productive conversation than a group of old friends – by opening up new areas of knowledge and challenging one another’s thinking in different ways – more open and constructive conversations are likely to arise from a group that knows each other, or at least has a solid base-level understanding of every person in the group.
Developing this should therefore be an important first step: focussing on each person in turn to gain a better understanding of who they are and what they do; their areas of expertise; their current goals and future ambitions; their routines, sources of knowledge, favourite books and so on.
It may appear a time-intensive exercise, but immediate value should be gained by all involved – be that learning about a different field, gaining a new perspective on a familiar topic, uncovering overlaps and opportunities, or providing introductions and advice.
Beyond the initial phase, what might a meeting agenda look like? A starting point could be along the lines of the following:
Round table: each member in turn gives an overview on what they’ve been working on, things they’ve read/learned, questions/problems they’re pondering – and the opportunity for open feedback and advice. Members should provide challenge, encouragement and hold one another to account through the taking of minutes and actions.
Core topic: business/current affairs related, could be a particular article, or book; decided in advance of the meeting to give members time to gather thoughts.
Side topic: outside of the above, e.g. art, culture, history, fashion, food/drink.
Whilst an element of structure is good, it should by no means be set in stone. A way of keeping things fresh would be to have each meeting chaired by a different member in rotation, with that person being responsible for selecting and introducing the topics and moderating conversations.
The chairperson can experiment with different meeting formats and have the right to invite a guest, and perhaps shape the topics around the guest’s area of expertise.
Once the junto has become established and is operating effectively, it should look to integrate into a wider network and share questions, ideas and output with other juntos across the globe.
Whilst this would continue to be conducted primarily on digital fora, physical meetings, events and conferences would provide the opportunity to strengthen ties and provide a platform for collaboration on a much greater scale.
Some juntos will naturally form with a certain focus or area of expertise, and members of one group may choose to form a spin-off – as was the case with the original Junto started by Franklin in the 1720s.
United in purpose rather than defined by location, increasingly multinational juntos will form a global collective, connecting great minds for the greater good. And as technology elevates human thought and interaction to astounding new levels, the ability to leverage the wealth of knowledge and diversity of perspectives across the Junto World will reach even greater heights.
Join the Junto World
If you belong to a junto or are starting one, get in touch here to join a rapidly growing, international network committed to sharing ideas and effecting positive change for ourselves, our organisations and our communities.