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The Alternative Board Blog

The Power of Peers - The Philosophical Breakfast Club

Apr. 1, 2013 | Posted by The Alternative Board
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The Philosophical Breakfast Club

The names William Whewell, Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and Richard Jones are probably not very familiar to most people these days. These four men met at Cambridge University in the early 19thcentury and realized they all shared a love of science. Their relationships and their accomplishments are chronicled in Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura Snyder. These were the men the likes of which Charles Darwin looked up to.

Groucho Marx once quipped he would never join a club that would accept him as a member. Yet these four scientists formed a club which would be the envy of scientists everywhere. They began to meet on Sunday mornings and devote their collective time to scientific discussion. Together they mapped out a plan for perfecting the scientific method and harnessing it for social benefit.

The word "scientist" didn't even exist when this group first assembled. At the time, they were called "natural philosophers." One prominent philosopher took offense to them being called named such at all, which forced Whewell to coin the term scientist (a combination of "science" and "artist").

We are used to contemporary scientists being specialists. Yet in the early stages of any innovation, the ground-breakers were subject to no such constraints. The Philosophical Breakfast Club members' accomplishments include diverse areas such as economics, the precursor to the computer (indeed – a calculating machine), astronomy, geology, and photography.

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Clubs in Britain at the time were very common. There were mathematical clubs, arts clubs, author clubs, and sports clubs. It is estimated 20,000 Englishmen participated in clubs of some sort at this time. The remarkable thing about the Cambridge Philosophical Club is the wide ranging accomplishments and long-term societal impact of its members.

The power of peer advice reveals itself again in the scientific realm. We often think of the fiercely independent scientist toiling alone. Yet as we see with this Breakfast Club and with many similar scientific forums, the group can accomplish much more by collaborating and building off of each other's insights and accomplishments. TAB has applied this same peer advice concept to business and has achieved transformational results with thousands of members.

Do you have your own "breakfast club" of sorts? What issues do you discuss or solve together?

photo credit: Graham Hibbert via photopin cc

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Written by The Alternative Board

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