What We Can Learn from Ben Franklin and His Ingenious Society

What We Can Learn From Ben Franklin And His Ingenious Society

I inherited my fascination with the word “ingenious” from Benjamin Franklin, whose ingenuity is on display in his many achievements, from the legendary kite experiment, to inventions like the Franklin Stove and lightning rod, to his prolific writings. Despite the fact that he lacked the money to pursue a formal education, Franklin was a thirsty learner who believed that personal development was his ticket to better circumstances.

In 1727, while in his early 20s, Franklin founded “the Leather Apron Club” a group of men dedicated to support each other in personal development, business development, and community service. He carefully selected his ideal candidates for their intelligence, their character, and their willingness to support each other. The group met every Friday night in a pub to discuss questions written by Franklin to encourage debate around morals, politics and business affairs, as well to be informed of the important events in the community. He described the members of the club as “his most ingenious acquaintance in a club of mutual improvement.”

It is worth noting that the Leather Aprons were active at a time when America was still a colony of England, and yet they created opportunity despite political and economic uncertainty. The club endured for more than 40 years, and many of the men became influential and wealthy business owners. In addition, ideas discussed in the group evolved into public works such as the University of Pennsylvania, the first hospital, the first lending library, and the first volunteer firefighter organization—all ingenious ideas that have benefitted millions of people for generations.

In 2020, we also live in a time of political and economic turmoil, a landscape made more complicated by a pandemic. As was the case in Franklin’s world, we are dealing with tremendous uncertainty and lack experience in handling business development and community management in the face of major changes. The kind of thinking, exploration, and support that brought the Leather Aprons together in 1727 is sorely needed today.

The impact of the pandemic will not be understood until the constraints of social distancing are loosened and we can see the new economic landscape clearly. It is sobering to consider the businesses that have failed, the jobs lost, the lives overturned. The people in Franklin’s era didn’t wait for government programs to make things better, and neither can we.   We have to use our collective ingenuity and develop solutions for ourselves.

Scary, definitely. Hard, yes. And also an opportunity for those of us willing to ban together in personal development, business development, and community support, just as Franklin and the Leather Aprons did almost 300 years ago.  Yet, Franklin made a significant oversight in the creation of the Leather Aprons: he did not include women.

In today’s world, the voices of women will have a significant impact on the solutions that move us forward. It is why I founded The Society of Ingenious Women earlier this year, to explore personal growth, business development and community enrichment with creative and original women.

Starting a group is simple:

  1. Decide what your group will be about.
  2. Think about the kind of people you would like to connect with, and how often you would like to meet.
  3. Investigate technology options to keep the group engaged — tools like Facebook and Zoom make it easy to connect with kindred spirits from around the world.
  4. Send invitations to a seed group, host a connect call or post, encourage engagement, and ask the original members to invite others who would be interested.

My original intent was that the Society of Ingenious Women would be a local organization, and meet in person. However, working from home during the pandemic I have learned that a community is also made up of like-minded people, wherever in the world they might live. Today, the Society of Ingenious Women has members in Canada, Ireland, England, and Australia as well as the United States.

Interested in joining? Or would you like information about starting your own group? Contact me at newteacoaching@gmail.com. I would love to connect.

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