To be, or not to be…
That is the question! Typically, the question is obvious. It’s how to go about making a wise decision that’s not always clear.
To reduce uncertainty and doubt, Ben Franklin suggested a powerful tool that can help you make more confident choices.
A revolutionary idea!
Ben Franklin’s method (also known as the weighted pros & cons method) is useful in situations where there’s only one alternative and many factors to consider. In other words, “yes-no”, “go-no go”, or “to be-not to be” type questions. The method was described by Benjamin Franklin in a 1772 letter to his friend, English scientist Joseph Priestly (the discoverer of oxygen).
According to Franklin, “though the weight of the pluses and minuses cannot be taken with the precision of algebraic quantities, yet when each is thus considered, separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less liable to take a rash step.” You’ll find many opportunities where you can use this practical tool to your advantage!
Making decisions like Ben Franklin.
Franklin’s cost-benefit analysis is useful to assess thorny “yes-no” type questions such as, “Should I take this job?” or “Should I move to the big city?” The problem, notes Dr. Franklin, is “all the reasons, both for and against, are not present to our mind at the same time.” Under pressure to decide, we may neglect to consider some critical factors. Also, some reasons may be less important than others.
Like a pendulum, we mentally swing back and forth, swayed by impulses that muddle our thinking and cloud our judgment. Franklin solves this by encouraging us to be more thorough in our analysis and to think about the decision over time. He extends the Pros & Cons format (see: Every pizza is a personal pizza) with three refinements. Here they are:
Here’s how it works.
Decision question: Tracy asks, “Should I move to the big city?”
- The amenities and the night life!….(+4)
- One-hour drive from Auntie’s house….(+3)
- Public transportation makes it easier to get to places I want to go….(+5)
- Great community college system….(+6)
- Growing region for jobs in my field….(+8)
- Open and diverse culture….(+3)
Total Pros = +29
- Where did all the grass go?….(–5)
- Winters are cold and clammy….(–3)
- Cost of moving from home will be substantial….(–7)
- Will miss my family and friends….(–9)
- Very expensive—may have to live in low-rent district to afford….(–10)
- More pollution and stress….(–2)
- Will have to give up my horse….(–7)
Total Cons = –43
- Freedom to start my own life! ….(+3)
- The prospect of moving out on my own is a little scary….(–2)
- Meet more people….(+1)
Total Implications = +2
Final decision total = (+29) + (–43) + (+2) = –12
A strongly positive score indicates that action should be taken; if strongly negative, it should be avoided. A moderate score suggests a compromise or taking no action at this time. For Tracy, the security and comforts of a settled rural existence outweigh the call of the “bright lights.” After conferring with two tribal elders (her mom and her aunt), she decided it would be better for her to live outside the city near her Aunt, but close enough to commute if necessary.
Did you ever have to make up your mind?
~ The Lovin’ Spoonful, American pop rock group
Learn more about this, and other interesting topics, in the Young Person’s Guide to Wisdom, Power, and Life Success.