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Ben Franklin’s Decision Making Formula Listing Pros and Cons

Updated on August 2, 2017
Glenn Stok profile image

Over 35 years running a business has given Glenn Stok strategic management skills in organization, planning, logic, and policy development.

We all have a series of choices throughout life. Success is all based on choosing the right one whenever a decision needs to be made.

Think about it: Every choice we made in the past has brought us to the exact place where we are now ­– physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Some decisions are not so easy to make. If we have too many choices, then we need a good method of analysis.

Benjamin Franklin made lists of Pros and Cons in order to clearly analyze various situations to help with making the right choices. I learned this from reading his personal letters[1] that were published by Leonard W. Labaree (editor) in 1956.

I'll explain how he used his method of listing pro and cons. It must have helped him. He didn't have an easy life, as was evident with his commitment issues and his chasing after women.

Benjamin Franklin (Born Jan 17, 1706)
Benjamin Franklin (Born Jan 17, 1706)

Franklin’s Formula for Making Decisions

Make a list in two columns. One column contains all the pros and the other contains all the cons. This strategy has two advantages:

  1. You can visually see that one column ends up longer than the other, so it becomes obvious that either the pros win over the cons or the other way around.
  2. If the two columns are pretty much the same length, the list will still help you become more familiar with the good and the bad among the available options.

Clarity is so important in order to decide how you want to handle things or which path in life you wish to follow.

This helps avoid procrastination, which usually is due to a failure to understand the outcome of various options. When one does not know what to expect, they tend to do nothing.

Making lists provides a great benefit. It helps with making informed decisions, and the visual clarity achieved from the lists brings things into focus.

When you make the effort to write down all the pros and cons, you are actually forcing your brain to realize all the positive and negative aspects of the decision you are having difficulty with. That gives you the power to take action in the right direction!

Analyzing pros and cons may also help with commitment issues. It’s hard to make a commitment to something or to someone when you don’t have a good idea of the positive and negative issues. Making a list such as this brings it visually in focus.

Franklin's Commitment Phobia

Did Ben Franklin have commitment issues with getting married? He never officially married, but he did settle down in a common-law marriage with Deborah Read and had two children with her. She also had a child from a prior marriage.

The first of the two children they had together, Francis Folger Franklin, died of smallpox. The second, Sarah Franklin, took care of her father in his old age. It was good he had her there. She was a dedicated daughter.

I would not say Ben had a commitment problem. He probably analyzed the pros and cons of the relationship and settled on keeping it as a common-law marriage.

To him it obviously made no difference. He had a close family and was a decent man with the way he handled all the trials and tribulations of his life, such as with the loss of his first child.

Ben Franklin's Illegitimate Son, William

Nobody's perfect. Dispute all that, he liked to chase after women and had an illegitimate son, William, with an unknown woman. William Franklin became an attorney and was a colonial administrator.

During the American Revolution, William refused to join the patriotic rebellion against royal authority. Ben Franklin used his influence to make his son royal governor of New Jersey in 1767. However, William was unwilling to repay his father's generosity. They had a falling out because William was against anything that had to do with the plans for independence from the British loyalists.

Ben Franklin was involved with the Committee of Five[2] that drafted the Declaration of Independence. It's amazing how well they anticipated what is happening today.

Ben Franklin had a very interesting life, although a difficult one. I can see how he came up with the idea of applying pros and cons to his thought process to make decisions. I'm sure that he found it to be an easy way to analyze the options available in one's life.

I can also relate to his desire to share his ideas and solutions in his writing. I tend to do the same thing. I found his books help better than some present-day self-help books. He was a genius.

Ben Franklin Wrote Books Based on His Life Experiences

Ben Franklin's Books

Franklin wrote a lot about his life and about how he tried to solve his problems. I didn’t realize how much he wrote about his thoughts and ideas until I did the research for this article.

Ben was one of several philosophers from the rationalism period. With his inspiration he published many books that can help us all today with many aspects of life. Here are just a few…

  • Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack
  • Wit and Wisdom from Poor Richard's Almanack
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • The Way to Wealth
  • Franklin: Writings

Richard Saunders was Franklin's pseudonym. He wrote under that name for his Poor Richard's Almanack.

In case you're wondering, Almanac was spelled ending with a “k” in those days. That’s not a typo. English spelling is a very dynamic thing. We run into trouble with so many things. For example, I could have said, “Almanac was spelt with a 'k'.”

To say “spelt” is the proper way to say “spelled” in British English.

Image from "Poor Richard, 1733, An Almanack" by Ben Franklin
Image from "Poor Richard, 1733, An Almanack" by Ben Franklin | Source

Ben Franklin's Unfinished Guide to Living

He also wrote many notes for a planned guide to living, but he never completed it.

The notes were compiled and later published and authored by editor George L. Rogers using Ben Franklin’s various writings. Rogers named it "Benjamin Franklin's the Art of Virtue: His Formula for Successful Living."

It was clear that he was focusing on writing about solutions to life. He even created a short book about attaining wealth by reapplying his written content from prior books of his.

For example, Ben took his preface from “Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack” and made it into a short 30-page pocket-sized book he called “The Way to Wealth.”

Why would any author take a small part of one book and use it to publish another tiny reference book? Oh, but of course! Ben must have considered the Pros and Cons of such an odd endeavor in order to feel comfortable with that decision.


[1] Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Franklin: A Selection from His Personal Letters, Editor: Leonard W. Labaree, (Yale University Press, 1956)

[2] Committee of Five - Wikipedia

© 2010 Glenn Stok

Reader Comments

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  • Glenn Stok profile image

    Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

    Karmallama - Oh, but there are many people throughout history who are interesting, each one with something unique to offer. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Karmallama profile image

    Doreen Lucky 3 years ago from St. Paul, minnesota

    Very good subject matter. It is hard to choose a more interesting man to talk about. Good hub!

  • lemmyC profile image

    Ben 5 years ago from UK

    Thank you Glenn for the wonderful and well scripted article on Benjamin Franklin. Did you know he's the "father of time management?". The ideas on time management has been attributed to him. He's a great mind and an inspiration to us all.

  • Glenn Stok profile image

    Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

    Marisaupa, Thanks for adding that bit of information. I didn't know that he is most recognized outside of the US.

  • Marisaupa profile image

    Marisaupa 5 years ago

    As you stated, Ben Franklin was a very interesting and wonderful man. It is no wonder why of all the Founding Fathers he is often the most recognized by people outside of the United States.

  • Glenn Stok profile image

    Glenn Stok 6 years ago from Long Island, NY

    chefsref, I agree with you 100%. Thanks for your comment and thanks for following.

  • chefsref profile image

    Lee Raynor 6 years ago from Citra Florida

    Great hub, Franklin is my favorite founding father and if he were alive now he would be a major figure on the world stage. This country may have failed at the start if not for BF

  • Glenn Stok profile image

    Glenn Stok 7 years ago from Long Island, NY

    Neil, thanks for your comments. Interesting additional info.

  • Neil Sperling profile image

    Neil Sperling 7 years ago from Port Dover Ontario Canada

    Good Hub. The Ben Franklin sales close is used in sales all the time. Pros and cons.... Practical and effective. I was using it one time on another sales person LOL - he said "I use that close too." He said that trying to stop the sale. --- I replied "great you have met Ben then. I like this close because not only does it work, but it makes sense too doesn't it?" ... with that he bought. LOL

    There is also a great many who believe that the writings of Shakespeare were actually Ben and he used this Shakespeare chap to hide behind... but that's another story.

    Good hub.

  • Glenn Stok profile image

    Glenn Stok 7 years ago from Long Island, NY

    Thanks everyone for stopping by. Your comments are always appreciated.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

    Good hub. The pro and con list is a good idea. I have used that at times in my life when struggling to make an informed decision. I don't think Ben was interested in committee. He was brilliant, but like to chase the woman and enjoyed the drink.