GP Social Club: How to Create an Exclusive but not Exclusionary Community

GP Dinner at a private home in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood, image courtesy Erin Conger.

It started as a fun thing on the side.

I’d invite thirty or so fascinating people to a friend’s home here in San Francisco, hire a professional chef, and ask someone to speak on a meaningful topic that everyone could relate to.

Magic happened — incredible evenings that forged friendships and more.

Last November I quit my day job, rented a place, and with the help of some friends we built it out. We painted, cleaned, gardened and turned a 1920’s bowling lane from Indiana into four unique dining tables with benches. We filled our Good People Home with the smell of amazing food, friendly people, books and art by professional artists (I co-owned a gallery for 10 years). This first space has been our social laboratory and I hope that soon, we will purchase a property and build it out as a new kind of social club.

We’ve now hosted about one hundred twenty mostly sold-out events, and assembled a vibrant community. Every now and then someone comments, “The people here are so incredible. How do you weed out the undesirables?” This leaves me wondering, who are those “undesirables?”

Maybe I have pecular ideas about what constitutes a “good person,” but I think that with the right set of intentions, requests and clearly communicated principles, any one of us can show up in a warm-hearted and open way. This helps us enjoy one another’s company and gives relief from that push to always be ‘on’ that my friend Arjun dev Arora and I have come to call “transaction fatigue.” Burning Man, for instance, does an admirable job of shifting our norms, helping us to treat each other less as means to ends and more like thinking and feeling human beings.

Image courtesy Erin Conger

When people ask “How do you decide who is invited?” I think they’re pointing at an implicit question here around exclusivity and elitism. I’d like, from the very beginning, to question this idea of “exclusivity.”

How might we instead operate from a vantage of “permeability?” Or perhaps even inclusivity, yet still have expectations around behavior? I think we can do this and still respect maximum head counts, invite laughter, charge dues, and fill our events.

Would you like to join us?

You are welcome, every one of you, truly. Our request would be that you have emotional and intellectual integrity, a certain degree of thoughtfulness and sincerity.

What do you genuinely feel?

What do you think matters most in life?

The content of your character becomes more important than what you do or what you own. It’s fine to mention what you’ve accomplished, but that will never be the reason you are invited into our community. For us, inclusivity, diversity, and egalitarianism are founding principles.

These parameters ground us in our shared humanity, and our experiment in this social laboratory already shows that people will self-select in or out of our gatherings. It seems they mostly do so based on their comfort with sincerity, their relative curiosity, their hunger for learning, desire to connect, to laugh, and temporarily drop façades. Perhaps this is our kind of exclusivity, one that excludes no one based on superficial qualities?

The best systems require very little policing. The community itself encourages its own social norms, as I’ve often witnessed at my favorite ideas conference, Renaissance Weekend. Be civil and vulnerable, speak from your heart, laugh and unwind — keep what’s shared in confidence, and try to leave your agenda at the door. Such a context very clearly appeals to some people and not to others.

When we open a permanent space, our social club will be a respite for those who feel transaction fatigue, a place where we explicitly request that you not network. Passionately pursuing what you want most from life can be a great virtue, yet like many virtues, when carried to an extreme it can cause damage, diminish empathy, and in some cases lead to feelings of social isolation. Put another way, relentless pursuit of accomplishment, with no breaks, reliably leads to alienation. When we enter only into “exclusive” environments, surrounded by fame and opulence, we diminish the unexpected joys in life. For most of us, what actually feels best is pretty informal, relaxed, what the Danes call “hygge.”

The magic of our community arises from the community itself and what it feels like to come together over these amazing meals and conversations. Everyone is welcome to dip their toe in. If we we’re ready to show up in these ways, we can all be Good People.

Good People and Meaningful Conversations