Jesse Israel gives People Permission to Connect


Have you ever had that feeling right before a party you were throwing starts? That creeping dread that no one will show up? Today I talk to Jesse Israel, who doesn't seem to have that fear. Jesse flips that feeling on its head. For Jesse, it's very simple: People *want* to connect. And the invitations we, as organizers and conveners, send out...they're just permission slips. The invitation gives people permission to connect.

Jesse Israel is the founder of Medi Club and the Big Quiet, which hosts huge public meditations in places like Madison Square Garden and the World Trade Center's Oculus for literally thousands of people. I met Jesse Israel at a dinner party way back in early 2015 at a Rabbi's house. We had a great conversation and discovered a few shared interests. Somehow we discovered we both loved biking the city and he invited me to check out his cycle club, the Cyclones. And then he mentioned that he had a meditation club, too. As a life-long meditator (before it was cool!) I was intrigued. When I went to my first Medi Club, I was struck by the energy and the intimacy of it. How easy it was to connect with the crowd, which got larger and larger each time I came. The Medi Club meets monthly and regularly attracts a few hundred people ready to sit in silence with their peers. The Cyclones is similarly huge, and a blast, every time I make it out.

So, to be clear: In Jesse's view, we connect *through* things: the bike, the meditation, is permission to connect. It's the connection we crave. He just opens the door.

There are few key conversation design principles I want to pull out of this conversation, to look for as you listen, all around how to frame profoundly motivating invitations: What permission will you give for people to connect? What's the deep and clear purpose of it? What are the boundaries of the invitation? And something else I saw that Jesse does: he pre-invites. He builds a coalition of the willing early, before he opens up the larger invitation. 

Deeper into the conversation, we talk about how to sustain yourself as a community builder: Jesse talks about how he's learned to develop compassionate boundaries, to maintain his internal integrity. If you don't say no to some requests, you can't continue to give. We also talk about how to trust and develop your team. When that trust is in place, that's where the growth really happens.

For more in-depth consideration of this conversation, head over to the conversation and take a look at the show notes! I'd also suggest you take a listen to the episode with Daniel Mezick, founder of open space agility, who's thoughts on invitation match up with Jesse's profoundly!

What Permission will you grant?

At Medi Club it's okay to open up. When you step into the door, you know you're among friends. How is that permission granted? Jesse shares first. He leads the way and opens the floor. He makes the example clear: He's going to be real and so you can be, too. Over time, the community attracts more and more of this energy. Others take up the charge and spread the norm.

What's the Clarity of your Purpose?

Early on, Jesse wrote a medium post to declare the intentions of the community he was forming.

The article lays out why Medi Club exists in extremely clear language and outlines the purpose of the club in a way that passes the T-shirt test (a rule of thumb that seems to be from Peter Drucker)

Also: Is there a larger purpose? The Cyclones is a fun Saturday around NYC, but became something more when they started an Indigogo campaign to get bikes in the hands of 1,000 children in Tanzania.


Is there an authentic way to enlarge the purpose of your invitation over time?


Boundaries show up in two ways: Boundaries for the invitation and boundaries for the inviter. The Cyclones invites you to give up expectations and planning...for one afternoon. You don't know where you're going, and that's okay. Medi Club stretches that boundary with their circles: Anyone can host a Medi Club circle and create the same energy with a smaller group, anytime they want. Medi Club holds the larger circle and gives each smaller circle an "authorization" to share the same invitation.

At min 26: Jesse talks about another form of boundary: A boundary for the convener.

"If I don't have compassionate boundaries, I can't show up as a friend or a community builder."

When he's at medi club, he's a public person, and everyone there feels some sort of connection with him. But after the club night is over, Jesse has to find a way to restore his strength and be with himself. And if he said yes to every interview, every request to "pick his brain" from the community...there'd be no time for anything else!  This compassionate boundary is a huge challenge, because saying no doesn't feel generous. Finding a way to create a generous no is a critical skill for leading communities.

I'm terribly grateful that Jesse was willing to sit down with me for this conversation. I learned a ton from it and I hope you do, too.


The Big Quiet

Jesse's Former Record Label

Cyclones Bike Club

Medi Club Medium Article

Cyclones Indigogo