Make Decisions like Benjamin Franklin

If you are interesting in learning a bit more about Benjamin Franklin's decision-making process, you've come to the right place. Learn more about his framework in this guide.

How Benjamin Franklin made decisions

In a letter to Joseph Priestley on September 19th, 1772, Benjamin Franklin outlined how he recommended making important decisions. Read the letter and commentary below.

Franklin started off with the following caveat:

"In the Affair of so much Importance to you, wherein you ask my Advice, I cannot for want of sufficient Premises, advise you what to determine, but if you please I will tell you how."

Then, he outlined the problem this decision-making framework tried to solve:

"When these difficult Cases occur, they are difficult chiefly because while we have them under Consideration all the Reasons pro and con are not present to the Mind at the same time; but sometimes one Set present themselves, and at other times another, the first being out of Sight." 

In other words, our brain can't possible comprehend all the factors at play (and their relative importance).

 "To get over this, my Way is, to divide half a Sheet of Paper by a Line into two Columns, writing over the one Pro, and over the other Con. Then during three or four Days Consideration I put down under the different Heads short Hints of the different Motives that at different Times occur to me for or against the Measure. When I have thus got them all together in one View, I endeavor to estimate their respective Weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out.

If I find a Reason pro equal to some two Reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two Reasons con equal to some three Reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the Balance lies; and if after a Day or two of farther Consideration nothing new that is of Importance occurs on either side, I come to a Determination accordingly."

In other words, a pros and cons list, with a logic process of elimination.

"And tho’ the Weight of Reasons cannot be taken with the Precision of Algebraic Quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less likely to make a rash Step; and in fact I have found great Advantage from this kind of Equation, in what may be called Moral or Prudential Algebra. Wishing sincerely that you may determine for the best, I am ever, my dear Friend, Yours most affectionately."

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