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How Ben Franklin Analyzed Pros and Cons to Make Decisions

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Glenn Stok has always found ways to solve problems and develop a better way of doing things, such as what he discusses in this article.

We all need to make decisions in life. Some are of little consequence, such as deciding what color shirt to wear to a friend’s party.

However, other decisions can sometimes be stressful, such as choosing a career, voting for the right candidate, what car to buy, what town to move to when relocating, maybe even where to take the wife and kids on vacation.

The pros and cons that we should be considering, when making difficult decisions, are not all in our minds at once. Therefore, it’s difficult to reason with our emotions and determine which route to take. The absence of both sides of an argument causes confusion and uncertainty.

When we only consider one side of the case, we will most likely choose the wrong option. For this reason, it’s important to visualize all options, both pro and con, simultaneously.

How to Organize and Visualize Our Options

Every choice we made in the past has brought us to the exact place where we are now—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If we have too many options to choose from, then we need a logical method of analyzing and organizing them that will help with making plans.

Ben Franklin had a solution that I learned from reading his personal letters published by Leonard W. Labaree (editor) in 1956.1

He found a way to help make difficult decisions by creating a weighted list of pros and cons. That can be thought of as a balance sheet because he would apply a weight to each item for consideration.

I'll explain how that works, but I'll first show you a simple method that most people use. Franklin's method using a weighted list is a uniquely detailed technique to help make difficult decisions with the conflicts he had in his life.

Benjamin Franklin (Born Jan 17, 1706)

Benjamin Franklin (Born Jan 17, 1706)

Simple 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 evident 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 essential in deciding how you want to handle things or which path in life you wish to follow. That helps avoid procrastination, usually 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 an 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 have difficulty with making. That gives you the power to take action in the right direction!

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

Franklin’s Decision-Making Method Using Weighted Analysis

Franklin clearly explained the problem we all have with decision-making. I have my own way of explaining it based on what I learned from studying his methods.

Franklin’s technique was to make two lists side by side in two columns on a sheet of paper. He would list the pros in one column and the cons in the other column.

For many of us, that list may suffice to help visualize both sides of a decision. However, an extensive list might be too overwhelming to consider, and it may leave one with more confusion.

Ben solved that problem, and made his list much more enlightening, by applying an algorithmic technique to the process:

  1. Once he completed the list, he would analyze it and apply estimated weights to each item.
  2. Then he would strike out two items with the same weights.
  3. He continued by removing from the list all items where one pro would equal in weight two of the cons. That eliminated three items.
  4. Then he extended this in reverse by removing all items where two cons equal three pros. That’s five more things eliminated.

This process reduces the list to a manageable size and only leaves the most important items to consider for making the ultimate decision.

Did Ben Franklin Have Commitment Phobia?

Franklin didn't have a comfortable life. It was full of conflicts, as was evident with his commitment issues and his chasing after women.

He might have used his decision-making method of listing pros and cons to help with his commitment issues with getting married.

He dated Deborah Read while she was married to another man. Later, when her husband passed away, he settled down in a common-law marriage with her. They never officially married. She had a child from her marriage, and she and Ben had two children of their own.

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, with his weighted-list technique, and decided to keep it as a common-law marriage based on the results of his pro and con analysis.

To him, it 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.

To Conclude

Ben Franklin had a fascinating life, although a difficult one. I can see how he came up with the idea of applying the 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 his complicated life.

Reference

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

© 2010 Glenn Stok

Reader Comments

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on January 17, 2019:

Today is Ben Franklin's birthday. Born Jan 17, 1706

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 16, 2013:

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

Dreen Lucky from St. Paul, minnesota on September 16, 2013:

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

Ben from UK on April 19, 2012:

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 (author) from Long Island, NY on February 27, 2012:

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

Maria Sol on February 27, 2012:

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 (author) from Long Island, NY on March 01, 2011:

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

Lee Raynor from Citra Florida on March 01, 2011:

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 (author) from Long Island, NY on May 20, 2010:

Neil, thanks for your comments. Interesting additional info.

Neil Sperling from Port Dover Ontario Canada on May 20, 2010:

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 (author) from Long Island, NY on January 16, 2010:

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

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 15, 2010:

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.