Thoughts from the Soulard Idea Market (finally)

It’s been almost two weeks since the Soulard Idea Market got together and I’ve been thinking about it, and what I should write about it, ever since. Having just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin and about half-way through Blaine McCormick’s adaption of Franklin’s Autobiography when I first heard of the Soulard Idea Market, I couldn’t help but think of the Junto, described here by Franklin:

In the autumn of 1727, I organized most of my educated friends into a club of mutual improvement which we called the Junto. We gathered together every Friday evening, and our meetings were governed by a set of formal rulues so that our time would not digress into mere gossip or pointless disputation. …

The rules stated that one member would serve as chief facilitator during our debates, and that these were to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry. We were to seek truth, avoiding both the temptation toward dispute or victory. …

Our club for mutual improvement lastes for several decades and was the best school of philosophy, morality, and politics that then existed in Pennsylvania.

The Soulard Idea Market was not nearly as structured as Franklin’s Junto, and it remains to be seen if it will last decades, but the inaugural meeting definitely lived up to my expectation as a forum for people to get together and discuss worthy topics. As Dennis Kennedy put it,

…there were some great conversations, all happening at the idea layer, not the social chit-chat layer.

This was helped along by Matt Homann‘s use of “idea speed dating.” Basically, the group split up into pairs and then discussed whatever topic Matt presented. After about 2 minutes (most people seemed reluctant to discuss an idea for only 2 minutes), everyone paired up with someone else to discuss a different idea. Occurring toward the beginning of the evening, this was a definite ice-breaker and a way to get people engaged in some in-depth conversation (not the typical social networking fare). It also helped propel the conversation for the rest of the evening.

I’m not sure when the next meeting of the Soulard Idea Market will be. I’m hoping it will become a regular occurrence here in St. Louis. Not once-a-week regular like Franklin’s Junto, but every other month or so would be great. If you live in, or close to, St. Louis I highly recommend making time for this.
For some more impressions on the inaugural Soulard Idea Market, check out comments from Randy Holloway, Dennis Kennedy, and Matt Homann.

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