Tag Archives: Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s Rules For Failure – Your Hidden Roadmap To Success

By Mark Bowser

I can imagine that the title of this article wasn’t what you were expecting when you turned to this page. You might be wondering why anyone would come up with their own rules for failure?   Particularly, if that person was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was one of the most successful individuals in American history.  After all, his many achievements included being the inventor of the  lightning rod, the Franklin Stove, and bifocals. He was the nation’s first Postmaster General, the author of Poor Richard’s Almanack, and a member of the Committee of Five along with Thomas Jefferson which drafted the Declaration of Independence. Franklin was a wise ole soul who didn’t do too many things without intention.  So, what would be the value of knowing how to fail?

The late Jim Rohn who was known as America’s Foremost Business Philosopher used to say that losers should give seminars. Why? Where else could one safeguard their life for success. Think about it. If a loser taught us everything they knew about living a life of failure, all we would have to do is stay away from what they did and do something different.

Ben Franklin’s strategy for success by avoiding the rules of failure is actually pretty astute. In fact, in his autobiography, Franklin admitted that he learned this the hard way by following the rules of failure at one point in his life.

So, let’s explore what this wise old gent discovered about being a loser so that we can lead ourselves and our organizations to success. On November 15, 1750, Benjamin Franklin wrote in the Pennsylvania Gazette his Rules for Making Oneself a Disagreeable Companion. Franklin knew what failures thought.  Failures arrogantly  believe that “Your Business is to shine; therefore you must by means prevent the shining of others…” In order to accomplish this dubious distinction, here are Franklin’s rules.

1. “If possible engross the whole Discourse; and when other Matter fails, talk much of your-self, your Education, your Knowledge, your Circumstances, your Successes in Business, your Victories in Disputes, your own wise Sayings and Observations on particular Occasions….”

I think we all have known a person like the one Franklin describes. The self-centered soul who arrogantly drops names as they pursue their know it all life.  How do you like spending time with such a person?  You wished you could be with them everyday, right? Not likely. Usually, we try to avoid those people like snow on a summer day.

Now, the big question is when did we behave like the person Franklin described? Notice the word “when.” If we are honest with ourselves, I believe most of us have been that person multiple times in our lives.  It is time for us to walk a different path. Next time you are in a conversation, ask questions instead of talking. Listen instead of debating. And, serve instead of taking. Some one hundred and fifty years later, Dale Carnegie gave very similar advice in his classic bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People. Hmmm, we would be wise to take this to heart.

2. “If when you are out of Breath, one of the Company should seize the Opportunity of saying something; watch his Words, and, if possible, find somewhat either in his Sentiment or Expression, immediately to contradict and raise a Dispute upon. Rather than fail, criticize even his Grammar.” 

Years ago, I had to work on occasion with a very disagreeable business associate. This fellow worked hard to find areas in which to criticize me.  In fact, one time he even did criticize my grammar. How did it make me feel? It ticked me off…but I remind you (as well as myself) the reason why people are disagreeable souls. It is usually because they feel bad about themselves. They feel inferior, lacking, and not worthwhile. They, themselves have a poor self-image. So, the next time you come across one of these disagreeable individuals, instead of defending yourself, feel pity for them instead.  Understand they themselves are hurting and forgive them for their rude behavior. And…commit yourself to never, ever behaving likewise.

3. “If another should be saying an indisputably good Thing; either give no Attention to it; or interrupt him; or draw away the Attention of others; or, if you can guess what he would be at, be quick and say it before him; or, if he gets it said, and you perceive the Company pleas’d with it, own Locke, Bayle, or some other eminent Writer; thus you deprive him of the Reputation he might have gain’d by it, and gain some yourself, as you hereby show your great Reading and Memory.”

In a nutshell, don’t be an arrogant, egotistical pain in the butt who nobody ever wants to be around.

4. “When modest Men have been thus treated by you a few times, they will chuse ever after to be silent in your Company; then you may shine on without Fear of a Rival; rallying them at the same time for their Dullness, which will be to you a new Fund of Wit.”

In delusion, the disagreeable individual takes their comrades’ silence as victory, when in reality, it is the ultimate in defeat when it comes to human interactions.

So, we can choose success by doing the opposite of Franklin’s rules. The wise old gent leaves us with a final warning, “Thus you will be sure to please yourself. The polite Man aims at pleasing others, but you shall go beyond him even in that. A Man can be present only in one Company, but may at the same time be absent in twenty. He can please only where he is, you where-ever you are not.” Hmmm, let us both chew on those words for awhile.

Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues for a Successful Life

Success leaves clues. In order for us to become champions, we must watch champions. If we model what they do, think what they think, believe what they believe, learn what they learned, then we will get similar results. One such champion I think we can learn from is one of the great thinkers, inventors, and leaders in history Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin had a goal of Moral Perfection. Even though he never reached that goal, Franklin believes the endeavor for perfection made him a happier, more successful person. Franklin discovered that this habit was the key to success. Franklin observed,

It was about this time I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was emply’d in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct. For this purpose I therefore contrived the following method.

Franklin’s method consisted of 13 virtues. He would focus on one virtue at a time. He would spend one week focusing on that virtue and then he would move on to the next virtue. Every night, Franklin would record his progress in a book. He would mark every transgression he made that day not only in the virtue he was focusing on but in all 13 virtues. We might describe this exercise as one of great difficulty or one that takes too much time. Well, the road to success has never been easy and that is why there is plenty of room at the top. I am climbing the mountain of success and I want you with me. So, I suggest that we take Benjamin Franklin as one of our guides to the top of the mountain of success. Let’s dig into each of his 13 virtues and see what we can learn.

One, TEMPERANCE.

Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Franklin believed in being in control of mind and body. If we are out of control, then is it possible to succeed? I say no. Any success that might be accomplished while being out of control would come out of luck and would not be lasting.

Two, SILENCE.

Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

We have been told since childhood that if “we can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all.” Good advice.

Three, ORDER.

Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

It has been said that many people spend an extra four hours every week looking for something they know is on their desk but still can’t find. Sound familiar? This happened to be the virtue that Franklin struggled with the most. For some of us, order is not an easy task to accomplish. But success moves with order. Athletes talk about getting “in the zone”, writers and speakers talk about the outline that flows, and mothers talk about bedrooms that-well, you know. Success and order go hand in hand. I am not saying your desk, office, or room has to be spotless. What I am saying is that you have to have an order that works for you. Arrange your space so that every thing you need on a consistent basis is in easy reach. Arrange your time in a way that improves your productivity. For me, that means Goalets List (to do list). Find what works for you and then stick with it.

Four, RESOLUTION.

Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

You know what you need to do to succeed. Now, go do it!

Five, FRUGALITY.

Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

Be wise with money. Be a good steward of everything you have been given.

Six, INDUSTRY.

Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

One of the areas that wastes a lot of my time is television. I love to veg out in front of the tube. However, I could be using that time to work on my dreams and goals. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying don’t watch T.V. I am saying that we all could probably watch a little less T.V. We need to plan our week. What shows do we really want to watch? Alright, then let’s watch those. Where we will save a lot of valuable time is when we will stop watching shows we don’t care about watching. We plop down in the chair, grab the remote, and start flipping. Don’t see anything good there so let’s flip some more. Before we know it, we have spent an hour flipping channels, watching nothing, and wasting time.

Seven, SINCERITY.

Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

I believe the best way to accomplish this is to open our Bibles and live what we commonly call The Golden Rule. “Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 NLT)

Eight, JUSTICE.

Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

The Golden Rule pretty much sums this one up too.

Nine, MODERATION.

Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Forgive people. Most people who are rude to us or do something to hurt us are in fact hurting themselves. Find a need and fill it.

Ten, CLEANLINESS.

Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.

Is dressing for success really that important? I believe it is. I am not saying you have to have the best shoes and the most expensive outfits. Not at all. I am saying, we need to look sharp and smell good. Our first impression is important.

Eleven, TRANQUILITY.

Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Be proactive at all times. Have some quiet time everyday. A time to reflect and to think.

Twelve, CHASTITY.

Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

King Solomon, the wisest of earthly kings had some great advise for all of us.

“Choose a good reputation over great riches, for being held in high esteem is better than having silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1 NLT)

“Drink water from your own well—share your love only with your wife. Why spill the water of your springs in public, having sex with just anyone? You should reserve it for yourselves. Don’t share it with strangers.” (Proverbs 5:15-17 NLT)

Thirteen, HUMILITY.

Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Many times when we think of humility, we think of mild mannered and weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Humility is great strength. Humility is having so much confidence in yourself and the ability that God has given you that you don’t have to brag. Jesus Christ never bragged. He told the truth with great confidence and conviction.

Well, there we have it, Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues for success. If we follow them, how can we not reach the mountaintop of success? Even though we can’t keep them perfectly, I am confident that we like Franklin will say, “But, on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it….”

*Mark Bowser is a Professional Speaker and Author who has trained some of the top organizations in the world including Southwest Airlines, United States Marine Corp, Dell Computers, Kings Daughters Medical Center, FedEx Logistics, and many many more. To book him as a speaker for your next conference or training event then email info@MarkBowser.com or visit http://www.MarkBowser.com.

Ben Franklin’s Words To Live By

“Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.” — Benjamin Franklin