Tag Archives: History

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.

Some Gave It All – Prologue, Exerpt 2

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