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Speaking Franklin

We're not saying grab your kite and run out into a storm, but if you're cooking up entrepreneurial spirit, Ben's is the recipe to follow.

Before he became a patriot and founding father, Benjamin Franklin was a manager. This information may surprise those who have come to associate the bespectacled statesman solely with the patriots who founded the United States of America. But Franklin is, without a doubt, one of the great figures in American history. He is also one of the great figures in American business history.

The United States closed the 20th century with the most vibrant economy on the planet. According to some, the roots of America's current business success lie in the principles embodied more than 200 years ago in the life of Franklin, the founding father of American business. His life exemplifies the innovation, technology and ingenuity that have propelled the American economy to unprecedented heights in recent years. What follows is an examination of one of his rules of management, an ideal for lifelong learning that is as pertinent to entrepreneurs today as it was in the 18th century.

"From a Child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was ever laid out in Books. Pleas'd with the Pilgrim's Progress, my first Collection was of John Bunyan's Works, in separate little Volumes. I afterwards sold them to enable me to buy R. Burton's Historical Collections; they were small Chapmen's Books and cheap, 40 or 50 in all. My Father's little Library consisted chiefly of books in polemic Divinity, most of which I read, and have since often regretted, that at a time when I had such a Thirst for Knowledge, more proper Books had not fallen in my Way, since it was now resolv'd I should not be a Clergyman. Plutarch's Lives there was, in which I read abundantly, and I still think that time spent to great Advantage. There was also a Book of Defoe's, called an Essay on Projects, and another of Dr. Mather's, call'd Essays to do Good which perhaps gave me a Turn of Thinking that had an Influence on some of the principal future Events of my Life." -Benjamin Franklin


Blaine McCormick is a professor of management at Baylor University. He is currently writing a book about Thomas Edison for Entrepreneur Press, available at local and online bookstores and at Entrepreneur.com in 2001. You can contact him at Baylor University at (254) 710-2261 or at Blaine_McCormick@baylor.edu

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This article was originally published in the May 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Speaking Franklin.

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