How Ben Franklin Invented Blogging (and other lessons)
I read through Ben Franklin’s autobiography recently, and had to take a few weeks to digest all the lessons that could be learned from him. Instead of a review on the autobiography (which has very unique perspectives on historical events by the way), it will be more interesting to write a short essay on the main motifs that transcended through his personal accounts and smacked me in the face intellectually.
Let’s get into it!
Most people know that Ben Franklin was a printer by trade. Let’s take a moment and wistfully reflect on the days when people had trades and learned skills (and obtained them through work instead of student loans and paperwork!). Anyways, the way he really learned was by negotiating a junior position and working incredibly hard under a ‘master’ to learn the in’s and out’s of the business.
Ultimately he would be able to obtain funding to run his own shop (more to the story than that) and had the skills to do so. This is a huge point for me, and looking back was definitely something I did in my very early professional days. The primary goal of your first jobs should be to learn worthwhile skills from someone who has mastered them already. Getting paid to learn is even better! Especially in the software/server world, the money will certainly come later on to those that develop their skillsets.
As a small side note, the “internship” job market we have developed in the United States has steadily moved further and further away from the apprenticeship structure. I’ll write a separate essay about that!
Ben Franklin gave a short account of the time he spent working as a printer in London (he actually went back and forth between London and the US once or twice). He wrote about how his purpose there was to build up enough capital to return to America. The culture of London was quite distracting he accounted, as shows/plays etc. cost money and thus pulled him away from his economic goals.
Franklin ultimately made the decision to live cheaply, he lived in a budget boarding house, ate primarily bread and stopped buying beer routinely with his co workers (drinking just water was uncommon according to him) to save his money. The lesson here is twofold. First actually have a goal (be it monetary or not); second make the appropriate sacrifices to achieve that goal. Even if it means living off of less than your peers.
Reading is Sexy
The hero of our story read voraciously. What was striking about his discussion of books/literature was the sacrifices that he made to be such an avid reader. I can buy books on amazon for $4 and have them sent to my home. Back in Franklin’s day, books cost actually MONEY and you had save, borrow to get your hands on one. And then there was the matter of physically finding books!
Franklin’s dedication to reading helped grow his intelligence and ability to reflect on the world. It also sparked a passion in writing, which served him for his entire life. All of the men he accounted positively in his autobiography were readers, and back then it was seen as a very profound subject of conversation.
Reading today is becoming a lost art. I see (way) more people scrolling through instagram than I do reading books on the train each morning. It’s a trend I never understood personally. The lesson here from Ben Franklin (and pretty much every other incredible figure in history or present day) is that reading makes you smarter and therefore you should read as much as possible. Pretty straightforward.
The Mastermind Group
Having a “master mind” group is a concept mentioned in a lot of success and self improvement literature. The concept could probably be traced back to Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich”, but don’t quote me on that.
The principle behind a mastermind group is to surround yourself with like minded people so you can all grow and develop together. “You are the summation of the 5 people you spend the most time with “ applies to this idea.
Ben Franklin once back in Pennsylvania, formed a mastermind group with several of the men he respected. The preliminary meetings were to discuss books, eventually it became a routine (weekly ) meeting in which individuals would volunteer to prepare and read essays and writings to the entire group. Subjects were chosen a week in advance and discussed by all.
The lesson is surround yourself with people that will expand your mind and lift you up. You don’t have to join a book/writing club, but try and find the people you most admire and spend time with them.
The Invention of Blogging
Another subject Ben Franklin spent a lot time on was his own writing and publishing. Access to his own printing presses gave him the unique ability to print and distribute his own works. This was NOT something everyone could do in that time and Franklin certainly took advantage of it.
He would have a strong opinion or thought on a subject, spend a week or two writing an essay, and then would print copies of the essay and PHYSICALLY HAND THEM OUT TO PEOPLE ON THE STREET. I get great joy visualizing printing 1000 copies of this essay out and handing it out to people in Chicago on their way to work.
So Ben Franklin invented blogging, you heard it here first. The lesson here though is the importance of distributing your ideas. Now it is easier than ever to publish and have your work read by the masses. Franklin would be in love with wordpress/social media and would cherish the power of the internet. We should exploit this advantage in the same way he exploited his printing presses.
My absolute favorite section of the book was Franklin’s description of his virtues and how he set out to improve and master them.
Think of a virtue today as a quality that you want to possess in a future successful vision of yourself. Franklin had virtues like “Frugality” “Sincerity” etc. You can view them all here
The specific virtues you put on your list are irrelevant (though Franklin’s are a damn good place to start!). What struck me most about his virtues were how Franklin pursued developing them. He made a personal chart with each virtue in it, and routinely reviewed every single category and ranked himself.
This accomplishes a lot! First it forces you to define the type of person you want to become. Then it keeps you accountable by having a written document to stare you in the face every day. Finally it allows you to track your improvement, a hugely cited tool for motivation and habit building in today’s world. And this guy figured it 200 years before Tony Robbins was even born!
Because of his writing, I’ve set up my own spreadsheet that outlines all of the habits/virtues I’d like to ultimately master. At the end of each week, I give each item a ranking of 1-7 (point per day) and reflect on the week. Doing this in excel will allow me to chart progress on a total (sum of all virtue scores) as well as individual progress. Thank you Ben Franklin!