Franklin knew how to compete, but
he offered much more of a cooperative
model, more what we call win-win
versus win-lose business.
as a businessman. With it, he taught a nation of immigrants and
farmers how to run their own shops, employing phrases that
many of us still know today: “Early to bed, early to rise makes a
man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Or, “God helps them that help
themselves.” These kinds of phrases are peppered throughout
the almanacs, which were the colonial business schools, for lack
of a better word.
This advice was aimed at everyone, but Franklin was a
businessman, and if you look through the almanacs they’re not
about family management or about personal piety. They’re
really about working hard, keeping your nose clean, managing
your reputation, staying out of debt. They’re about how to s
uccessfully run a business.
Might that also make Franklin our first how-to business
Absolutely. He invented the genre with his Poor Richard’s Almanac, and then he followed that up at the end of his life with
his autobiography, which is the best-selling autobiography of all
time. The book only chronicles his life until his early 50s. Most
political historians lament it stops right when he was getting to th e
“interesting” years—the diplomacy, the politics—but he wrote
in a letter not long before he died that his autobiography would
be very useful for people who want to set up a life of business …
[It] chronicles his rise in business, from setting up his own shop to
making his first money to the civic involvement that comes hand
in glove with anybody who works in a community.
Lee Iacocca, in fact, says in his autobiography that the one
American he’d most want to have dinner with would be Ben
Franklin. Warren Buffett swears by Ben Franklin’s advice. You
look through the Berkshire Hathaway annual report, you’ll find
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, a landmark
book in American business history, Dale Carnegie says the one
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