Franklin’s Recommendation Helps Us Today

Toward the end of summer in 1772, Joseph Priestley required help from his friend, Benjamin Franklin. Priestley was a scientist, theologian, and liberal political theorist. 

Joseph Priestley

His dilemma was deciding between the acceptance of a scientific opportunity that would provide him a full lab, and continuing his ministry within the Unitarian church. Priestley wrote Franklin, hoping for a clear response. Instead, of suggesting an answer, Franklin explained his weighted process for difficult decisions.

The process was a weighted version of what we consider today as a pro and con sheet.

Franklin instructed Priestley to fold a sheet of paper in half and write the word “Pros” on one side and “Cons” on the other. He was then to write down all pros and cons that came to mind over a four-day period.

The four days were important to Franklin because humans think in groupings (or chunks) of ideas. When one grouping is at the forefront of our minds, it blocks other thoughts from coming forward. Franklin explained that our minds never think about the pros and cons at the same time. 

Benjamin Franklin

Once we write down the abbreviated central idea of each, we can forget about it and move on to other ideas worth capturing.

Franklin also suggested Priestley weigh each item based on the impact of purpose. 

At the end of the four-day process, Franklin recommended a review of the two lists. If there were similar items across from other items, Priestley was to strike through the words.

It’s important to use a single line to strike the words so they are still readable.

Franklin explained that if there was a single similar, yet more heavily weighted item in one column, across from two lesser weighted items, all three can be struck at the same time. Any combination of similar items that equates to a balance of weighting can be marked at the same time.

By following this pattern, Priestley quickly reduced the complex decision down to a couple of key factors. This made his decision simple. He left the ministry and opened up an incredible science lab.

This decision led Priestley to discover a process that creates Oxygen used by first responders and hospitals ever since.  Priestley described the O2 as being “five to six times better than common air.”

Copyright © 2022 by CJ Powers

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