What does Ben Franklin have to do with Networking?

Ben Franklin was an amazing man – most people are familiar with several of his more famous inventions.  As an outcome of his studies of electricity he invented the lightning rod.  He also invented the bi-focal glasses that he’s often pictured with (he was both near and far sighted and got frustrated with having to switch glasses while he was working).

Beyond that, he’s also credited with creating the first Fire Insurance Company, he came up with the idea behind Daylight Savings Time and he helped form the first Library (as their known today) in 1731.

However, in addition to all of those great accomplishments, Franklin is also arguably the father of Social Networking (at least as it pertains to business). 

One of the better definitions of Networking that I’ve seen comes from Bob Burg – author of Endless Referrals:

Networking is the cultivating of mutually beneficial, give and take, win-win relationships.

Old Ben certainly knew a thing or two about the power of relationships and networking – even back in the 1700s!  He drove a lot of the ideas that make networking what it is today.


Ben Created the Junto – the first Networking Group?

After a pretty challenging childhood and teenage years, Ben Franklin ended up in Philadelphia in 1727 at the age of 21 trying to make a name for himself.  One of the many things he did during this period was to create a club called the Junto.

I found a great write-up on the history of the Junto at the Mutual Improvement blog – check out the article, but here are a couple of highlights:

It was a club established to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy and to exchange knowledge of business affairs, which took as it’s goal the “mutual improvement” of its members.

The Junto was one part Toastmasters, one part Rotary Club, but its civic output was amazing.

Franklin’s Junto was unabashedly interested in personal success, yet the members show a deep understanding that their reputations and happiness would be best served by helping others.

In other words the Junto included a lot of the best qualities you might find in many modern networking organizations – Chambers, Tip Clubs, Service Organizations, etc.

I don’t know that it was the first networking group ever (Aristotle and his buddies probably got together on a regular basis outside of the classroom) but it certainly is a clear precursor to modern business networking groups (and online social networking groups) that you can find in every corner of the country.

Ben pioneered the idea of ‘Pay It Forward’

The idea of Paying It Forward was popularized in 2000 by the book by Catherine Ryan Hyde and subsequent movie “Pay It Forward”.

“You see, I do something real good for three people. And then when they ask how they can pay it back, I say they have to Pay It Forward. To three more people. Each. So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven.” He turned on the calculator, punched in a few numbers. “Then it sort of spreads out, see. To eighty-one. Then two hundred forty-three. Then seven hundred twenty-nine. Then two thousand, one hundred eighty-seven. See how big it gets?”

The author went on to create a the Pay It Forward Foundation to generate momentum behind the idea that anyone can make a major impact by helping someone else.

But it was Franklin that is credited with coming up with the concept in the first place in a letter he wrote to Benjamin Webb in 1784.  I don’t think it’s an accident that most successful networkers and business people believe that the best way to help yourself is to help others.  Ivan Misner, the founder of Business Networking International coined the motto “Givers Gain” to reflect a very similar concept.

Ben just knew a lot about being successful in business

Here are a few quotes from Mr. Franklin:

He knew it was important to invest in learning from others:

An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.

He knew that it’s actions that you take and not what you say that really mean something.

Well done is better than well said.

And finally he knew that a focus entirely on money and material things will tend to make people not trust you.

He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.

So when you go to your next Networking event, or the next time you Twitter to your contacts, think about the foundation that was paved almost 300 years ago by Ben Franklin.

What are your thoughts on networking or Ben Franklin?  Share them here in the comments below.

Shawn Kinkade – Kansas City Business Coach