Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0243, February 14, 2006 ....

Dear friends,

I love studying the great men and women of history. Especially the brilliant innovators like Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Edison, Galileo Galilei, Ben Franklin (OK, so I haven't studied many woman of history, not that I don't want to, it's just that there aren't that many written about due to the male dominance thing at the time). I find the depth of understanding of human nature some of these people articulated to be fascinating. I guess it's because human nature hasn't changed all that much. Case in point is this article submitted by my friend Loren Ekroth entitled, "Ben Franklin’s Brilliant Conversation Group." Ben created a fabulous structure, enduring for over 40 years, for what today are commonly referred to as "Master Mind Groups."

Ben also set down some great behavioral qualifications for membership in this group. Qualifications that we'd benefit from reviewing before any of our modern day staff meetings, problem-solving, or strategic planning sessions. Pass this article around to your friends, clients, and colleagues to read prior to their next meeting. I look forward to hearing your reactions.

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The Point

Ben Franklin’s Brilliant Conversation Group
Simple tips from Ben Franklin about group participation.

Group Process Skill

In the fall of 1727 Ben Franklin organized a group of men into a club whose primary purpose was inquiry into a variety of questions. This club thrived for nearly four decades and was initially known as “the leather apron club” and later as the Junto. (This group eventually evolved into the American Philosophical Society.)

With few exceptions, the members of the group, like Franklin, were practical men: entrepreneurs, tradesmen, merchants. Only a few had much formal education. What they did bring to the group was curiosity, a variety of backgrounds and interests, and the willingness to help one another and the community. In my view, the best of today’s mastermind groups are reminiscent of Franklin’s group.

To become a member, initiates had to answer four questions: “Do you have disrespect for any current member?” (No) “Do you love mankind in general regardless of religion or profession?” (Yes). “Do you feel people should ever be punished because of their opinions or mode of worship?” (No) “Do you
love and pursue truth for its own sake?” (Yes)

Franklin set an earnest and yet convivial tone for these meetings, which regularly met on Friday evenings. He preferred a gentle, Socratic method of inquiry, and discussions were to be conducted “without fondness for dispute or desire of victory.” Members breaking the rules of civility were actually fined to draw attention to their lapses.


In a newspaper piece he published shortly after he formed the Junto, Franklin catalogued some of the most common conversation sins, which included “to talk overmuch,” speaking too much about your own life, prying for personal secrets, and telling long and pointless stories. Civility and genuine interest in the ideas of others were key. In addition to general topics of debate, Franklin listed 24 topics of conversation through which members could best contribute. Among them were these practical questions:

“Have you lately heard of any citizen’s thriving well, and by what means?”

“Do you know of any fellow citizen who has lately done a worthy action deserving praise and imitation?”

“Have you lately observed any encroachments on the just liberties of the people?”

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

The Junto was both an inquiry group and a mutual aid society through which members could borrow books and money and get support for various enterprises. Mutual respect and support were foundational values. No member was allowed to be merely a “taker.” All were required to contribute.

Although the membership could easily have grown large – many wanted to join, Franklin limited the group size and suggested instead that interested persons form their own like-minded groups. He recognized that a certain level of intimacy was required, true friendship, for the Junto to have both camaraderie and intellectual honesty.

In his Autobiography, Franklin describes his own approach to inquiry and disputation, an approach he followed throughout his life and with extraordinary success as a politician and diplomat:

“[I had] the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence, never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion, but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me or I should think it so and so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken.” (Bantam Books (1982) 11-17.)

Franklin was often referred to as “Gentle Ben.” He was a consummate networker, self-educated philosopher, scientist, and inventor. Less well known, he was a genius at structuring the tone and rules for honest group inquiry. Signer of all the major documents in the founding of our country. “The First American.”

Loren Ekroth ©2006, All rights reserved.

About the Author: Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life. His f*ree ezine, “Better Conversations” is published every Tuesday. Subscribe at his website of resources, assessments and articles, or email Loren at

How can you use this guide for your own groups? How could you use this to support your clients who meet regularly and who'd do well to abide by Ben's basic rules? Pass this article around to your friends, clients, and colleagues to read prior to their next meeting. Let me know your thoughts and experience in this area.

Autobiography and Other Writings
, by Benjamin Franklin

I am buying copies for my dad, my son, my niece and my bestfriend. You can read the other reviews for more details, but this little book is surprisingly easy to read, given the time it was written. I keep quoting Ben Franklin since I read it, and I am still affected by his writing since I read the book. "What good will I do today?" as how Ben started his day, after he began keeping his virtues journal. "What good did I do today?" was how he ended his day. That practice alone could change the world, if everyone practiced it. Many other reviewers call him a deist, but Ben continually states that he believes in a supreme creator, who he prays to. He just didn't believe in the dogma and ritual of organized religion of the day. You will see that he actually sought to go to church but would be so disappointed by the sermons he ceased to attend. Perhaps he should have written sermons? Religion aside, you'll be fascinated with his Forrest Gump-like part in the eighteenth-century. Street cleaners, street lamps, "Franklin Stoves", what a practical guy he was.
--C. Lindsey "GradStudent" (Springtown, TX United States)--

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