How Ben Franklin Raised His Social IQ and So Founded America

A Smart Guy with Poor Social Skills 

The young man was prodigiously smart. In fact, he was one of the brightest guys that had ever lived in his town, and he was establishing himself as a successful businessman and community leader. But all was not well in his social life. At some point, his awareness that he was the brightest guy on the block seems to have “gone to his head.” Finally, he confessed, a friend “informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing and rather insolent; of which he convinced me by mentioning several instances.”

Clearly, all this showing off, letting people know how smart he was, and making sure he trounced them in every argument, must have felt good to this young man. But it was starting to undermine his success, both socially, and probably in his business as well. Frankly, the guy sounds like a pain! Who would want to deal with him?

But all was not lost. The young man decided to apply himself to presenting a more humble side to others, and practiced this for a very long period of his life. Ultimately, his ability to deal with other people became one of the great sources of his success.

Recognize the dude? You’re right if you guessed that this was Benjamin Franklin. As a young man, he took on the task of changing how he interacted with others. Through hard work and a system for self-improvement, Franklin became more socially intelligent.

In fact, due in part to his matured social intelligence, Franklin became one of the most successful leaders of early America. His charm, wit, and grasp of very complicated social situations led to great success during his years as a diplomat to France during the American Revolution. He “won the hearts and minds” of the French people and the very “socially astute” French court. Franklin was thus able to persuade the court to offer financial and military help to the young United States. Historians agree that if it weren’t for Franklin’s highly developed social intelligence, our country might never have won its independence!

Ben Franklin’s Surefire SI Improvers 

When he decided to improve his social skills, Ben Franklin went about the job in a systematic way. (He described it all in his Autobiography.) He made a list of the most important “virtues” that he wanted to improve in himself, and listed them on a weekly calendar. Not all of his virtues had to do with social functioning, because he also added things like Frugality and Industry. However, a number of his 13 virtues did have a great deal to do with social functioning, such as Sincerity, Silence, and Humility.

His method was simple, and one which you can certainly copy. (He wanted you to copy it, in fact!) He wrote his “virtues” down the left margin of a sheet of paper, and across the top put a column for each of the seven days of the week. Each week, he would concentrate on one particular virtue. Franklin would think about that virtue, and devote special attention to improving on it. At the end of the day he would put a mark for each time he violated that virtue. Over a year, he would cycle through each of his 13 virtues four times (e.g., spending four weeks of the year on each virtue.)

The result was that he was more aware of, and constantly working to improve on, the areas that were important to him.

You wouldn’t need to adopt Ben’s list of virtues to adopt his method. In fact, the best approach is to decide what SI areas you need to develop or improve, and to begin to track a few key things that you would like to change in yourself.

The legend of Franklin’s self-improvement success has inspired many people, from the early 1800s to the present. Modern psychologists would agree with the soundness of Franklin’s ideas for making changes in your behavior.

(Excerpted from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Enhancing Your Social IQ; copyright 2008, Greg Korgeski)