Benjamin Franklin, Business Ethics, And How To Present An Idea

From the Benjamin Franklin biography by John Torrey Morse, Jr., page 39.

In another enterprise Franklin shrewdly enlisted the boon-companion element on his side, with the result of immediate and brilliant success. He began as usual by reading a paper before the Junto, and through this intervention set the people thinking concerning the utter lack of any organization for extinguishing fires in the town. In consequence the Union Fire Company was soon established, the first thing of the kind in the city. Franklin continued a member of it for half a century. It was thoroughly equipped and efficiently conducted. An item in the terms of association was that the members should spend a social evening together once a month. The example was followed; other companies were formed, and fifty years later Franklin boasted that since that time the city had never “lost by fire more than one or two houses at a time; and the flames have often been extinguished before the house in which they began has been half consumed.”

Franklin does not go out with an idea convinced in advance of its success. He carefully tests his ideas with a chosen audience. The Junto was an association he created of other capable young men. They came together to discuss ideas, exchange information, and to lobby for their interests. The idea for an organization to fight fires made abundant sense but he tested it in front of this chosen audience to gauge its reception.

The Junto gave him a testing ground for his ideas. He could get feedback in a safe environment. If his idea was not well thought out, it will not be reported. If successful, he can then take an idea which has passed muster in an intelligent practical organization and test it out in the community.

One of the things that gets us in trouble is pride. Franklin in his autobiography admits that vanity (pride) was key to much of his success. That he is able to recognize that and give it due credit is amazing. Most of us spend our lives lying about ourselves to everybody including and particularly ourselves. Pride has it proper place as Franklin realizes. But when you have to much you tend to over reach.

The idea for a fire company is so obviously good, it would have been easy to bypass the testing steps. It would have been easy just to expect the idea to sell itself. After all, isn’t everyone afraid of fire and hadn’t the city almost burned down twice within memory? But he still kept to the process of testing and development building a successful execution from the ground up.

Watch how Franklin takes even the best of his ideas and carefully works them into reality. How many of us once convinced of an idea can proceed intelligently and cautiously to build consensus for it? No, generally we tell everyone how great it is and reflect astonishment when disagreed with. We can learn from Franklin’s example.

There is certainly an ethical element in the level of respect he is demonstrating in this process for other opinions, the thoughts and ideas of the other members. He is recognizing the importance of these other individuals in the community. He is celebrating their importance, communicating clearly the importance of their thoughts and their support.

He doesn’t just sell an idea. He build allies, develops friendship and allows others to mature and develop by being his friends and associates.

Can you do that?

James Pilant