Conversation is the true medium of innovation, not technology, says Cornelius McGrath.
I write to you from the arctic blizzard called Chicago in February having spent the last five days in unadulterated sunshine on a yacht off Florida’s west coast.
For the first time since leaving the UK for the US in 2013, I did not return home to London over Christmas due to a combination of virus and visa headaches. So, this mini-vacation was long overdue. As Europeans who live Stateside know all too well, American holidays have a stinking reputation for being just far too short. And Christmas takes the biscuit; it’s just one day off.
Forget your 12 pubs of Christmas. Try 12 hours of rest.
Anyway, that’s enough of my exploits, onto the world and what the hell we’re doing here. While I escaped Chicago’s blisteringly cold weather for a couple of days, it seems there is absolutely no escape from the incessant beat of the Clubhouse drum. Except if you’re reading this, of course. Congratulations. Yes, dear reader, you’ve successfully made it into the first issue of 1727 – a quarterly publication launched by a man who believes that the world doesn’t need another magazine. But more on that later.
Pictured: Leuchtturm1917 x Junto Journals. Charleston, SC.
First, a history lesson. Why 1727? I’m glad you asked. Twas the year Benjamin Franklin founded The Junto – a social-mutual improvement club based in Philadelphia, PA. At the ripe age of 21, Franklin started The Junto with 12 other enterprising tradesmen and artisans. They met every Friday evening to discuss issues of the day, devise schemes for self-improvement, debate philosophy and create a killer network to advance their careers. Members submitted essays to one another and did business together.
The Junto lasted 38 years and is both the best accelerator and incubator of ideas I’ve ever come across. The Junto invented the lending library, its members’ books creating the foundation for the first subscription library in America, the Library Company, the oldest institution in the United States. The group also forged the first Union Fire Company, the American Philosophical Society and the academy known today as the University of Pennsylvania. In short, the Junto makes the last four decades of innovation from modern-day universities and venture capital firms look pale in comparison.
Conversation is the true medium of innovation, not technology.
How did a group of ragtag artisans and local tradesmen do this? By mastering the art of having excellent conversations. Franklin taught Junto members to push ideas through suggestions and questions, not retweets, and often said of the knowledge that it was “obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue.” He even designed a list of 24 questions as the foundation for all Junto meetings; a tool to cut through the bullshit of small talk and get to the heart of the matter on timeless ideas with wicked smart people.
This brings me neatly to a point that the whole world seems to have forgotten. That conversation is the true medium of innovation, not technology.
At its best, technology is merely a catalyst and a platform for conversation. And yet is often designed such that it prohibits conversations from taking place, or worse, fools people into thinking that they are having them when they’re not. Clubhouse is case in point. But I digress.
Pictured: 1727 Editor-In-Chief, Cornelius McGrath, directing the conversation. Charleston, SC.
Where it all began
I learnt of the Junto’s magic thanks to a conversation IRL with a man much smarter than me. Professor Patrick Griffin was my first teacher at the University of Notre Dame, and we read Franklin’s autobiography together as part of his class on British and Irish History. We became fast friends. However, five years later, circa February 2018, I told Professor Griffin that I wanted to build a more egalitarian Soho House. He asked: “Have you studied the Junto?” I replied: “What’s the Junto?” He said: “Well, you weren’t listening in class freshman year.”
Three years later, here we are. What began as a once a month informal coffee hour at my apartment in Chicago with some local friends has spiralled into a full-on revival of Franklin’s greatest creation with a thriving intellectual community of Junto members all over the globe. If our last four retreats are anything to go by, it’s clear that we’ve touched on a nerve. People are hungry for conversation, ideas and intimacy. Three things that are becoming increasingly hard to find anywhere, especially on venture-backed technology platforms.
Pictured: 1727 Editor-In-Chief, Cornelius McGrath, teaching. Austin, TX.
The launch of 1727 has come about through the intersection of three core goals, experiences and ambitions.
First: some of the best newspaper editors and writers in the world at the Financial Times (FT) and Wall Street Journal (WSJ) telling me that this was a great idea back in 2018. The experience told me I was onto something and too far ahead of the status quo to innovate from inside.
Second: a need to document the best ideas, conversations and relationships that have and will continue to come out of The Junto. Our quarterly retreats are world-class; filled with a litany of intimate conversations governed by Chatham House Rules. However, they are off-the-record. And so I want 1727 to simply be an outpouring of the conversations that happen behind closed doors because I believe vehemently in the value of showcases, synthesis and biography.
And third: my belief that the world doesn’t need another magazine but the recognition that it’s in dire need of a collective voice. Too many publications – be it broadsheet newspapers, your favourite email newsletter or the hottest Substack productivity writer who graduated with honours from the Twittersphere – fail miserably in this pursuit.
Under the guise of “educating our readers”, coverage has become so broad that it is narrow. So much so that when you ask yourself what was said, you realise the answer was nothing at all.
I’m not here to publish a magazine but rather start intimate conversations through the written word that will spark innovation.
That’s not to say those writing here in 1727 won’t cover a diversity of viewpoints. But rather like any great scholar, orchestra or choir, our tone should collectively create a beautiful and crisp sound. Writers may perform the same notes. After all, the bass clef of life is the bass clef of life. Our job and the perpetual goal is to ensure these notes create something original and are worth listening to for years to come.
At 1727, we want to say something. And we want to do that once per quarter. We spend the rest of our time listening, reflecting and synthesising what’s already been said. And by virtue, what’s not. Our voice is like any great music piece; it may take years to design, but only a few minutes to perform. That’s how we want to be heard.
The catch? You can’t access 1727 unless you commit to at least two Junto retreats in a calendar year. Why? Because conversation is the medium of innovation and the Junto retreats (I’m told) are places where people can have the best ones.
I’m not here to publish a magazine but rather start intimate conversations through the written word. My hope is that if we spark even just 25% of the evergreen ideas and institutions that came out of Franklin’s Junto, the world will shift. And by only making 1727 available to those committed to doing just that, I’m doing my bit to get us there.
It’s in this same spirit that we set about commissioning this inaugural issue. In line with our cover theme, “The Essence Of Progress”, our writers have been out in the world keeping their eyes peeled for what’s not been said yet. In the first edition, we cover greed, freedom, friendship, the elating feeling of hitting every green light and the beauty of taking the scenic route in a world obsessed with efficiency and speed.
For these reasons and many more, I hope to see you at our first virtual retreat of 2021, kicking off on the 18th of March. And as usual, send all comments, stories and ideas my way at email@example.com.
Cheers, and thank you for your support.