Today’s Wall Street Journal includes an interesting article about the Wednesday 10 group–a network of (at the time) up and coming businessmen in New York that was formed in 1957. The group was the brainchild of former columnist William Safire, and the article coincides with the group’s first meeting since his passing. The rationale for the group sounds quite similar to claims about the importance of social networks, organizing for innovation, and the power of weak ties:
When Robert Menschel, a senior director at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., was considering deals involving large consumer companies such as Procter & Gamble, he would pick the brain of fellow club member Ed Meyer, the former chief executive of Grey Advertising.
“We were all young kids starting out, and it is easy when you are so involved in building your career to lose touch with other people who are outside your field,” says Mr. Menschel, who has been at Goldman Sachs for 55 years. “It helped me to understand why other people do what they do—which is important in life and in business. You don’t learn anything from talking to sameness.”
The Wednesday 10 comprised, at various points, more than 20 men; the goal was a number small enough to maintain intimacy yet large enough to ensure that at least 10 members would show up for each of the monthly Wednesday-night meetings. No more than two representatives of any one industry were permitted. The idea was to combat insularity, to keep the men connected to people and events outside their own professions.
The engineering of the group is particularly interesting: keep the group small enough so members could develop some sense of intimacy, but large enough to ensure decent and consistent attendance; and ensure that no single industry was overrepresented. By ensuring diverse membership the group could benefit from an exposure to ideas and viewpoints from outside their day-to-day professional circles. Additionally, the members would invite guest speakers for each session, further benefiting from a diverse membership that could tap into various experts from all sorts of fields.
There are, of course, questions to what extent the group succeeded in maximizing diversity and guarding against sameness. However, the fact that these individuals in late 1950 were cognizant of these issues and tried to guard against them by organizing the group in a specific way is quite impressive and instructional for folks living in the age of social media.