Junto Convenes on The Good Life: The Pursuit of Happiness in Silicon Valley

Two days, two provocative lunches as part of the Silicon Valley Junto Q2 conversations in San Francisco and Palo Alto on The Good Life: The Pursuit of Happiness in Silicon Valley.

Check out the notes from the meeting. Tim Taylor blogs the lunch, too. "Man’s mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions," Oliver Wendell Holmes once said. That’s what I’m feeling right now.

Coming out of the conversations I feel reinvigorated to lead, to live, and to pursue happiness with a vigor unaffected by the ultimate outcome. It is, after all, about the pursuit. It is, I would argue, the most important pursuit of all.

Q2 2006 Junto Meeting: The Pursuit of Happiness in Silicon Valley

The Silicon Valley Junto is convening in Palo Alto on April 11th and San Francisco on April 12th for lunch to discuss….

The Good Life: The Pursuit of Happiness in Silicon Valley

The SV Junto is an in-person, informal gathering of business and technology professionals in the Silicon Valley to discuss non-business issues and embrace the life of the mind. We believe that breakthrough insights occur at the intersection of ideas and cultures and, as such, it is critical for business and tech folks to exercise the mental muscles of philosophy, sociology, religion, and so forth.

Seating is limited. Add your name to the wiki if you’d like to join us. If you want more details on the topic, check out the page of questions we’ll grapple with (and add your own!).

We had a great conversation last quarter on Americanism, so if you live in the Bay Area I hope you’ll join me for good food and stimulating discussion!

How People Talk About Happiness vs. What They Actually Feel

One of my favorite blogs is Happiness and Public Policy which contains wonderful postings on research and news on this often elusive pursuit. This morning there’s a devastating critique of a Financial Times piece linking happiness, suicides, and economic growth. My big takeaway is "We don’t even know if there is a lawlike relationship (the kind necessary to support valid scientific generalizations) between the way people talk about happiness and the way that actually feel."

This would be a good topic for the Q2 meeting of the Silicon Valley Junto.

The SV Junto Inaugural Meeting: Success

We had a good first meeting on Americanism for the Silicon Valley Junto. Nine people in total, diverse backgrounds (though all in business/tech), and interesting perspectives on this knotty issue of what it means to be American. We had a deliciously wide ranging conversation over lunch. I know there were several people who wanted to come but had other previously scheduled committments – all this tells me that Silicon Valley folks see the value in discussing non-business, non-web2.0 topics since it’s both intellectually refreshing and good for biz since insights are made at the intersections of ideas.

If you’re in the Bay Area, stay tuned to the Meeting Calendar page or the Junto blog for more on the Q2 get-together.

If you’re not in the Bay Area, join the conversation by blogging your thoughts on Americanism…or better yet, start a local Junto group and let me know about it.

Inaugural Silicon Valley Junto Meeting Thursday @ Noon in Palo Alto

Silicon Valley Junto is for biz/tech folks to talk about other things – "thoughtful conversations about topics that matter." On Thursday at noon at Spalti Ristorante in Palo Alto we’re going to be talking about Americanism as an idea. Check out the Junto blog for more. If you’re around and want to come by, drop me an email.

Quote of the Day From Software Executive

"I frequently struggle with business issues because I don’t find it very intellectually stimulating any more.  After a certain amount of experience/knowledge, everything in business is just applied psychology, which really doesn’t interest me."

Thank goodness for the Silicon Valley Junto.

Announcing the Silicon Valley Junto

I’ve mused before that a lot of Silicon Valley folk would like to exercise mental muscles outside their core domain of high tech/business. Most of us realize that breakthrough insights occur at the intersection of ideas, cultures, and disciplines. Further, most of us realize that it’s important to be interesting, which means being able to hold a conversation on topics beyond the one little niche in which you work.

My friend Chris Yeh and I decided to do something about it. Drumroll please…

The Silicon Valley Junto (who-n-toe) will be a free quarterly discussion group/forum – "thoughtful conversations about topics that matter" – for business/hi-tech people to talk about about things they don’t usually talk about. It will be a community of peers, not podiums.

Go check out the Silicon Valley Junto web site, blog, and wiki for more information. The inaugural meeting is January 5 in the morning in Palo Alto/Menlo Park (will alternate btwn South Bay and SF). The topic is "Americanism as an Idea": What does it mean to be American, is the American dream as good as it gets, etc.

Why "Junto"?

In 1727, Benjamin Franklin convinced 12 of his friends to form a club dedicated to mutual improvement. Meeting one night a week, these young men discussed the topics of the day. Junto was a private forum for discussion and as a surreptitious instrument for leading public opinion. One of the functions of the group was to brainstorm publicly beneficial ideas. They recommended books, shopkeepers, and friends to each other. They fostered self-improvement through discussions on topics related to philosophy, morals, economics, and politics.

Why Just Business/Tech People?

We want everyone to speak the same language. Plus it will be a networking opportunity.

I’m really busy, do you think I really have time to talk about stuff not directly related to my work?

Yes. Exercising intellectual muscles that you may not have worked since college will not only be refreshing, but will expose you to new ideas that will help you in your work. Read The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures for more on this. Also see Jim Collins on why executives can increase their leadership capabilities by reading non-business books.

I don’t live in the Silicon Valley. How can I partake?

Hopefully the conversation starts on the blogosphere, continues in-person, and then is continued online again. You can certainly participate in the 1st and 3rd parts of that cycle. Join in! Check out the Junto blog and send a trackback ping. What does being American mean to you?

Can the VC and Start-up World Find Time to Talk About Worldly Issues?

Comment of the Day by "Michael":

Ben– It’s funny… I have just started working in the whole tech start
up game. And my collegiate background was included majoring in
international studies and political science… I read a lot of your
writing geared towards VC and start up, and it makes me smile to see
someone with those interests ponder a question that I think about so
much (and never talk about working for a Bay area start up… WHO HAS
TIME FOR THAT?). 😉

Yep! You are one of many, I think, who loves their work in Silicon Valley, but isn’t given the opportunity to talk about the other issues of intellect affecting our world, and indeed, our work.

Stay tuned for a forthcoming announcement on what I’m doing about this.

A Socrates Cafe/Active Minds Group for Biz/Tech Folks? Feedback, Please

After five years in the Silicon Valley I posit that:

a) business and technology folks are deprived of intellectual stimulation outside their narrow specialty;

b) not exercising those liberal arts mental muscles (maybe since college?) will hurt them competitively in a world increasingly emphasizing the intersections ;

c) there are many smart business and technology people who would like to explore new intellectual domains but do not have an easy way to take the risk of venturing outside their mental comfort zone.

There is one category of people who say to themselves, "If I’m a business entrepreneur, why waste time thinking about philosophy (or political science, or any other intellectual topic) when I could read more business books and try to learn about the latest and greatest management strategy?" These people are usually not very interesting.

Then there are those people who realize that executives should read more non-business books and living at the intersections is more important than total specialization in one domain (be in software, venture capital, what have you). These are people who – through their blog or otherwise – want to explore the life of the mind and have intelligent conversations about psychology, philosophy, history, sociology, science, and so forth.

Chris Phillips started a revolution a few years ago with his book Socrates Cafe and his Society of Philosophical Inquiry organization, which tries to set up informal Socratic dialogues in coffee shops around the country. I’d like to do something similar for folks in the high tech/start up scene to perhaps read a common book and then gather in-person to discuss and have a lively dialogue. A common bond among everyone grow from the similar background, but I suspect people will bring different perspectives to issues we don’t usually talk about.

I’ve traded emails with my friend Chris Yeh about this (he says his blog is the one thing he can do to get closer to his Stanford days of pure intellectual stimulation). Thoughts? Feedback? Reactions? Will an explicit focus away from business turn off or turn on? Thanks.