The Club of Honest Whigs

We were delighted to recently meet Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, co-authors of The Start-Up of You. Apart from offering superb career advice (after I finished reading it, I shared my copy with my young adult daughter), it included an astute understanding of civics. Here’s just one story that caught our attention – and something we could use a lot more of: Ben Franklin’s “The Club of Honest Whigs.” Reid and Ben write:

In 1765 Joseph Priestley, a young amateur scientist and minister was running experiments in his makeshift laboratory in the English countryside. He was exceptionally bright but isolated from any peers, until one December day when he traveled into London to attend the Club of Honest Whigs. The brainchild of Benjamin Franklin, the club was like an eighteenth-century version of the networking groups that exist today. Franklin who was in England promoting the interest of the American colonies, convened his big thinking friends at the London Coffee House on alternating Thursdays. Their conversations on science, theology, politics, and other topics of the day were freewheeling and reflected the coffeehouse setting. Priestly attended to get feedback on a book idea about scientists’ progress on understanding electricity. He got much more than feedback. Franklin and his friends swelled in support of Priestly: they offered to open their private scientific libraries to him. They offered to review drafts of his manuscript. They offered their friendship and encouragement. Crucially, Priestly reciprocated all the way; he was committed to circulating his ideas and discoveries through his social network, thereby strengthening the interpersonal bonds, refining the ideas themselves, and increasing the likelihood that his new connections would help him exploit whatever opportunities were found.

In short, Priestley’s night at the coffeehouse dramatically altered the trajectory of his career. (According to author Steven Johnson in his book the invention of air, Priestley went from semi-isolation to plugging into “an existing network of relationships and collaborations that the coffeehouse environment facilitated.) He went on to have an illustrious scientific and writing career, famously discovering the existence of oxygen. The London coffee house went on to become “a central hub of innovation in British society.”

Find a longer quote from The Start-up of You by clicking here.

Host one of the first ten Asteroids Club meetings, we’ll chip in (cold. hard. cash.)

We’re so excited about having the first Asteroids Club meetings, we’re chipping in toward expenses for the first 10 events. All you have to do is host a meeting with at least 8 or 10 people in attendance, take pictures, save your receipts and write a blog post about the experience. You get all the fun of an Asteroids Club meeting and real money, up to $100. As if that weren’t incentive enough, we’ll also mail you (for the two co-hosts) two autographed copies of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. CLICK HERE to give us the scoop about your meeting. Okay, GO!

An Asteroids Club backstory

I was asked if I would pick up Jon Haidt at the University of Alabama, where he was speaking at the law school and drive him to Tallahassee where he was scheduled to deliver two presentations the following evening. Would I like to spend 6 hours in the car with one of the most significant minds in America…all to myself? And right after I had read The Righteous Mind?!

After a short nap, he consented to answer all my questions and patiently engage, for the rest of the trip, on a variety of subjects. One of those brainstorming sessions created The Asteroids Club although I suspect he had been thinking about the concept for awhile. I drove, he wrote on his computer, and the notion of a “Four Asteroids Club” started to take shape. We agreed it would be better not to limit the number to four and he tossed out a dozen ideas about how such an entity could formed and operated. We talked about the club’s motto and logo and sometime during the night after we arrived in Tallahassee he created portions of a powerpoint presentation for the next evening.

He suggested The Asteroids Club at both presentations in Tallahassee and spent a significant portion of his speech at FSU asking the audience about their preferences about a motto. It was evident that audiences found the notion of the club compelling.

–Steve Seibert