Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Leather Apron Club (The Junto)

Benjamin Franklin created the first workingman-networking club in America. In Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, the author describes Benjamin Franklin's approach to networking. A modern version of this would work well in today's environment.

Isaacson writes, "Franklin was the consummate networker. He liked to mix his civic life with his social one, and he merrily leveraged both to further his business life." The Junto, formed in 1727, was a group of tradesmen and artisans, not the elite that frequented fancier gentleman's clubs. "The tone set for Junto meetings was earnest. Initiates were required to stand, lay their hand on their breast, and answer properly four questions: Do you have any disrespect for any current member? Do you love mankind in general regardless of religion or profession? Do you feel people should ever be punished because of their opinions or mode of worship? Do you love and pursue truth for its own sake?" A Socratic style of conversation was employed.

"Discussions were to be conducted without fondness for dispute or desire of victory. Franklin taught his friends to push their ideas through suggestions and questions, and to use (or at least fain) naive curiosity to avoid contradicting people in a manner that would give offense." He urged this style on the Constitutional Convention later.

The topics ranged from the social to the scientific and metaphysical. Franklin laid out a guide for the type of conversational contributions each member could usefully make. Some of them were (there were 24 in all):

"1. Have you met with anything in the author you last read remarkable or suited to be communicated to the Junto?

2. What new story have you lately heard agreeable for telling in conversation?

3. Hath any citizen in your knowledge failed in his business lately, and what have you heard of the cause?

4. Have you lately heard of any citizen's thriving well, and by what means?

5. Have you lately heard how any present rich man, here or elsewhere, got his estate?

6. Do you know of any fellow citizen who has lately done a worthy action deserving praise and imitation? Or who has committed an error proper for us to be warned against and avoid?

7. What unhappy effects of intemperance have you lately observed or heard? Of imprudence? Of passion? Or of any other vice or folly?

12. Hath any deserving stranger arrived in town since last meeting that you heard of and what have you heard of his character or merits? And whether you think it lies in the power of the Junto to oblige him or encourage him as he deserves?

14. Have you lately observed any defect in the laws of your country of which it would be proper to move the legislature for an amendment?

15. Have you lately observed any encroachments on the just liberties of the people?

16. Has anybody attacked your reputation lately, and what can the Junto do toward securing it?

17. Is there any man whose friendship you want and which the Junto or any of them can procure for you?

20. In what manner can the Junto or any of them assist you in any of your honorable designs?"

According to the Innovation Profile definitions, the Junto would be a breakthrough procedure innovation.

The next edition (to be published this month) of the Innovation Road Map Magazine has a book review and an article on the innovation profile of the innovations of Benjamin Franklin.

Paul Schumann

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