There have been many great personalities in the course of modern history. We have had unparalleled scientific minds like that of Albert Einstein, great literary figures like Ernest Hemingway, artists who have made incomparable contributions like Pablo Picasso and folks who have made contributions to several aspects of knowledge and literature like Leonardo da Vinci and Rabindranath Tagore. But among all the great historical personalities that I have read about, I am really fascinated by one person who was what they call as a polymath. This person had expertise in several fields and made his mark in all of them. He was a well known editor, scientist, industrialist, institution builder, sea farer, politician and statesman. He is none other than Benjamin Franklin, who lived in the United States of America in the 18th century. He achieved all these things in a single lifetime, at an age when information was scarce and resources non-existent. Such ambitions are unimaginable to any of us even today, with all the resources that we have in our disposal. He is truly among the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin viewed virtue as a path to personal happiness and social utility.
Here are some of the key achievements from the life of Benjamin Franklin. I have picked up a few of them to illustrate one point which I feel has been key to his success. And it is collaboration. Franklin was a master at networking and collaboration. He was able to work with many people simultaneously and produce work of great value. This was one of his key capability.
1. Network of Printers: Franklin established the ‘The Pennsylvania Gazette’, as a successful newspaper in Philadelphia. He tried to establish an inter colonial network of printers which grew to be one of the prominent and influential informal network. One of his aims of setting this network was to promote virtues among people. As recorded by Ralph Frasca, “Franklin intended for his network of printers to teach virtue and encourage its adoption. The network would disseminate his moral truths to a mass audience, and this would in turn further his own political, economic, and moral ambitions”
2. Freemason: Franklin joined the Freemason club in 1731 and became a Grand Master in 1734. He also produced several Masonic books and remained in the organization for the rest of his life.
3. Gulf Stream Discovery: Franklin worked with Timothy Folger and other experienced ship captains to chart the Atlantic ocean current and named it Gulf Stream. It is known by the same name even today.
4. Socializing with Chess: Franklin was an avid chess player. He used chess as a means to network and meet new people during his time as a civil servant and diplomat in England. Old Slaughter's Coffee House in London was the place he visited to play chess and socialize, and he made many important personal contacts during that time. When he was in Paris, later as an ambassador, he used to go to Café de la Régence, where the best French chess players met.
5. Volunteer Fire Fighting: In 1736, Franklin established the Union Fire Company, a volunteer firefighting company, comprising of volunteers, who will be pressed into service as and when needed. These were on-call fire fighters who would be pursuing other vocations in their regular life but could assemble to fight a fire when the need arose.
6. Ameriacan Philosophical Society: Franklin established the American Philosophical Society in 1743. The main objective of this society was to help scientific men discuss their discoveries and theories.
7. Model College: Franklin worked with Dr. Samuel Johnson and Dr. William Smith to establish the new-model college would focused on the professions, with classes taught in English instead of Latin. This college later became one of the constituent college of the University of Pennsylvania.
8. Raising an army : In 1756, Franklin organized the Pennsylvania Militia. He recruited a regiment of soldiers to go into battle against the Native Americans.
9. Royal Society of Arts: In 1756, Franklin had become a member of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce. This society is now the Royal Society of Arts or RSA. In 1775, Franklin became the Society's Corresponding Member, continuing a close connection.
10. Military Alliances and treaties: 1776–1785: As the Ambassador to France, Franklin conducted the affairs of his country toward the French nation with great success, which included securing a critical military alliance in 1778 and negotiating the Treaty of Paris (1783).
As you can notice from all the above examples, Benjamin Franklin knew how to work with people, in groups, big and small. In most of his endeavors, he formed superlative teams which propelled him to success. He was part of various literary and scientific societies and alliances and drove them towards a common objective. No doubt, Benjamin Franklin was a great person and he had immense personal virtues. He professed and cultivated the 13 virtues to improve his character. But the virtue of collaboration was something he practiced and practiced well to perfection! This is something which as a student of habit we all have to learn.