The Genesis of “The High Table”: A Journey into Meaningful Community Building at Talked About Marketing

The Genesis of "The High Table": A Journey into Meaningful Community Building at Talked About Marketing. Photo by Soyoung Han on Unsplash

David Olney and I, inspired by thinkers like Owen Eastwood, Mark Schaeffer, and Charles Vogl, have launched an experiment in community building named "The High Table."

The project draws its ethos from our podcast, Talking About Marketing, and aims to foster a sanctuary of intellectual engagement and mutual respect.

The Essence of Community: A Brief Backdrop

David Olney's dive into community literature crystallised a profound insight: while a group has common interests, a community shares the common value of wanting to improve the well-being of its members.

You may want to revisit our previous article for more context.

The ultimate test for "The High Table" lies in upholding these principles.

A Eureka Moment

After immersing ourselves in literature and podcast episodes, we experienced an epiphany.

Could the energy and empowerment emanating from our 30-minute focused conversations serve as a template for a community?

Our curiosity was piqued and the journey began.

Why "The High Table"?

The name, suggested by David, is a nod to the revered spots in academic settings where scholars congregate for elevated discussions.

Inclusion here isn't just an honour; it comes with a palpable sense of responsibility.

It is a space that demands both listening and thoughtful contribution, free from competition or commercial interests.

The Charter: An Ethical Compass

"The High Table" is not a marketplace, nor a stage for sarcastic quips.

It is an intellectual sanctuary built on generosity and genuine human connection.

Participation is an act of respect, akin to the discussions among Plato's characters in "The Republic." Here, food and wine are but means to sustain the discourse.

A Fluid Framework

The community mirrors the spirit of our podcast but thrives on a diversity of voices.

We are currently experimenting with formats for these events and my thinking is that we should announce 2-3 questions or topics ahead of time, and then open discussion in a way that includes:

  • Preamble - why the topic was chosen
  • Contributions - each member who wants to can share summaries, thoughts, and questions arising from their pre-meeting reflection on the theme or book or hypothetical situation.
  • Self discipline - it is my hope we can avoid imposing set time limits and fixed rotations of speaking slots, in lieu of each member taking responsibility to self-govern their speaking time, opting to listen and ask rather than dominate.
  • Warmth - in a recent interview with Adam Mastroianni on Econtalk, the psychologist noted that giving a warm setting-of-the-scene before sharing opinions or facts that might jar social sensitivities, is important. He cites the example of an economist at a party stating that fixing a minimum wage is bad for unskilled workers. In his experience, many people would shy away from such cold rendering of facts. Instead, he counsels, the economist could say, we all want fairness in society and access to opportunity, which is why it might be counter intuitive and difficult to hear there is a body of work that suggests a minimum wage disadvantages the disadvantaged.
  • Practical steps - in the podcast we try to follow up our discussion with some suggested "next steps" to make insights actionable. While this won't always be possible, it would be a great outcome of a discussion, even if these concepts arise from the discussion rather than having been brought to the table on the night.

Such principles will help us capture the nature of our podcast, however, unlike its public disposition, discussions within "The High Table" are bound by Chatham House rules: confidentiality is paramount.

This will hopefully create an oasis of thinking and reflection time for all.

The High Table Draft Charter

In feeding these ideas, and some extra writing, into Chat GPT, I asked it to fashion a draft charter. Here's what it came up with, and it has really captured the spirit of the concept.

The High Table Charter: Principles and Guidelines

Welcome to The High Table, an experiment in meaningful community building at Talked About Marketing. By joining us, you're committing to a space of intellectual enrichment, mutual respect, and generosity. Below, we outline the values and rules that make our community unique.

The High Ethos

  1. Mutual Well-Being: Our primary aim is to enhance each other's intellectual and emotional well-being.
  2. Inclusivity: While the table may be "high," it is never elitist. We aim for a diversity of voices and viewpoints.
  3. Generosity: Our presence and engagement are acts of generosity, intended to provide both human connection and intellectual stimulation.

The Code of Conduct

  1. Confidentiality: Respect the Chatham House Rule; what's said at The High Table stays at The High Table unless explicitly permitted.
  2. No Salesmanship: The High Table is not a marketplace; refrain from promoting or selling your products or services.
  3. Active Listening: To listen is to honour the highest state of being in our community.
  4. Respectful Dialogue: While debate is encouraged, all discussions should be held in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
  5. Self-Moderation: Recognise when to speak and when to give the floor to others, balancing contributions so that a variety of perspectives can shine.
  6. Intellectual Preparedness: Come prepared to discuss one or two charted topics, but remain open to the flow of conversation.

The Spirit of Contribution

  1. Warmth and Zeal: When you choose to speak, do so with genuine enthusiasm and curiosity.
  2. Community Monitoring: If a member's conduct deviates from these guidelines, the key founders may intervene. However, the ideal is for each member to take their role seriously, maintaining the community's integrity.
  3. Holistic Nourishment: Like a watering hole at dusk, The High Table is our place for intellectual nourishment. While there may be food and wine, they exist merely to sustain the body; the focus is on nourishing the mind.

By participating in The High Table, you agree to adhere to these principles and guidelines, honouring the spirit and intention behind this unique community.

The Journey In Community Begins

The High Table is our commitment to community, a special place where like-minded individuals gather, not just to engage intellectually, but to foster a sense of communal well-being.

I am undertaking this experiment with a sense of curiosity, looking forward to the richness that this diversity of thought will hopefully bring.

In a few months' time, we'll reflect again and see if it's on track, shifted to different principles, and ready for introducing new people to join its founding members.

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