Recipes For Longevity in “Mutual Improvement Clubs”

Another excerpt from William Feather’s “The Business of Life
From page 262, an entry entitled “A Conservative Club.”

More than forty-five years ago a group of men…organized a club for men of common intellectual interest. It was agreed that the membership would be limited to thirty, and that twelve meetings would be held each year in the fall and winter months. In rotation, each member would read a paper. Sole expense would be the price of a modest dinner and a fine of twenty-five cents [1949 dollars] for an absence, the revenue of the latter to pay the expense of sending notices of meetings.

Dinner, the founders decreed, should be served promptly at six, and the paper should be read at seven, or as soon thereafter as the business of the club could be disposed of. Adjournments should be at eight-thirty, discussion of the paper ending at the tick of the clock.

The survival of the club is testimony to the wisdom of the founders. The financial resources of the club are never more than twenty-five dollars, but the obligations are nothing, so that members are never pestered with financial worries.

Meetings are held in a private room of a downtown club. The membership comprises college professors in different departments of learning, lawyers, editors, and businessmen.

The attendance is rarely less than 75 percent of the membership. Withdrawals from membership seldom occur except from death or departure from the city.

Of particular interest is the amount of solid ground that can be covered in two and half hours when a meeting begins promptly and the discussion is held to the subjects of the paper.

Of even more interest is the simplicity of the organization. Most interesting groups are wrecked by ambitious go-getters who seek big memberships and expensive quarters and employ professional secretaries. Others are wrecked by the failure to set limits to the time, so that there are long monologues that become tiresome.

This sounds a little like Ben Franklin’s Junto (excerpt from his autobiography)

I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, [1727] I had formed most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discussed by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased.

Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.

I have been in some meetings like this in the last few years. Some of our smaller SDForum Marketing meetings, notably “Internal Marketing–Fostering Technology Adoption” and “Building Strategy and Driving Consensus through Shared Mapping“, had a very free form discussion. But not often enough.

I welcome any suggestions for any serious “mutual improvement  groups” that follow a formula similar to the one outlined above.

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