Today, we look at three quotes from Benjamin Franklin that deal with our own personal development:
- “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished” – Some “experts” say that we need to re-invent ourselves every five years in our careers to remain relevant, upgrade our skills, and stay ahead of our competition. That may actually be true. When I first began my career, there were no computers, no word processors, no e-mail, no voicemail — essentially, there was nothing electronic. If you needed to write a memo, you hand-wrote it, gave it to a secretary, and waited. There were copiers, so you had to maintain hard-copy back-ups for everything you did. There were never enough filing cabinets in those days. Everything done in laboratories was by hand. Nothing was automated. Yes, I know that you are thinking that I must have been a contemporary with Thomas Edison or Eli Whitney, but you need to understand that technology has changed immensely in just a few decades. Now, it is almost as important in our laboratories or manufacturing sites that we understand software, control systems, and touch-screen navigation as chemistry basics or equipment operation. Even in the last five years, a significant amount of change has occurred in what we do and how we do it. Franklin was right… if we are unable or unwilling to change and modernize our skills – almost constantly – others will surely pass us by.
- “He was so learned that he could name a horse in nine languages; so ignorant that he bought a cow to ride on” – Often, the key to being effective is possessing the ability to convert knowledge into wisdom. Taking that which we know and using that to make innovative change. In other words, because things are not always black or white, we need to be able to operate effective, using the knowledge we have, in those gray areas. Being practical or pragmatic. So, how can you do this? Three things come quickly to mind on this:
- Be open to other ideas
- Engage with others with similar experience or more experience dealing with these issues or opportunities
- Use a tool to help guide your thinking (for example, the “is/is not” tool, or “five why’s” or some other similar system that guides your thinking)
- “Being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn” – How willing are you to learn something new? When is the last time you intentionally decided to learn a new skill, such as play a musical instrument, create a work working masterpiece, repair your own plumbing, or learn to swing dance? In the workplace, those that “get ahead” are those that often are the first to volunteer to learn a new software program or the person willing to take on project no one else wants. Re-inventing ourselves means that we become something more than what we are today (not necessarily different, but more). Have you been avoiding or delaying that activity that could expand your skills or knowledge? Maybe this is the time.
To me, the words of Franklin are an encouragement to consider a next chapter in my life. What will I do different in the next year than I’ve done this year? What new skill or ability or experience do I want to have next January that does not exist in my life today? Benjamin Franklin, I accept your challenge!