coffeehousesWhile listening to the radio in my car, I heard a CBS News segment on merging minds and the power of multiple brains. The narrator theorized that each of us has different ideas and that perhaps there are ways in which we can connect multiple brains to channel our ideas and achieve a common goal. The proponent of this theory was a doctor who had conducted experiments on monkeys, inserting painless filaments into their brains, which were then connected to a computer. Together, the monkeys were able to achieve tasks that would not have been possible under the power of just one brain (or just one monkey). After talking about monkey experiments, the narrator went on to discuss the power of collective thinking and the Coffee House scene in 17th century London.

Coffee houses were centers of thought and debate, where great ideas were generated – ideas that resulted in the establishment of institutions that quickly spread around the world and are still with us today. For just a penny, anyone from any social class could gain admission into a coffee house. Once inside, patrons would have access to news pamphlets and other publications, conversation, gossip, fashion, the scandals of the day, and of course, coffee with unlimited refills. Unlike the Starbucks of today, where so many people isolate themselves with headphones, laptops, and lattes, people were encouraged to come together.

Coffee houses attracted the great thinkers and philosophers of the day. In Lloyd’s, a London coffee house frequented by local merchants and sailors, shipping deals were often conducted. The participants eventually formed what went on to become the famous insurer “Lloyd’s of London.” In another coffee house, stock brokers came together to publish a list of stock and commodity prices. This served as the basis for the renowned London Stock Exchange. Most coffee houses published their own news pamphlets and publications. Some of these grew into newspapers that still exist today. World-famous Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses originated from 17th-century coffee houses, as did many scientific and medical breakthroughs.

Some of the best ideas, it seems, come from informal brainstorming. At present day JF&CS, informal discussion or brainstorming can still generate great ideas and help us to achieve a common goal. Expertise in visiting new mothers at home, for example, could easily translate into a great idea for someone who visits older adults or military families. Many of the ideas that work so well in one department might be invaluable to another department. I encourage all JF&CS staff, volunteers, and supporters to informally brainstorm, share ideas, and “merge minds” with one another wherever it is that you feel comfortable. Some of the world’s greatest ideas and institutions were formed in just that way. And today, we even have decaf.

Rimma ZelfandRimma Zelfand is the CEO of Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Her first involvement with JF&CS began with her joining the JF&CS Board of Directors and the Strategic Planning Committee in 2003. In 2004 Rimma joined JF&CS as Director of Senior Services. She came to her role with 15 years of a very successful track record in leading and managing home care, home health, disease management, and elder care programs. Under Rimma’s leadership Senior Services grew and gained recognition. Her accomplishments included: launching the first NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities) project in Massachusetts, creating the Parkinson’s Family Support Program, and establishing the Geriatric Institute. From 2008 – 2011, Rimma served as the Senior Vice President for Programs.

Originally posted on the JF&CS blog.