Creativity: Benjamin Franklin, the Writer
I think that an important element of being a creative person involves being able to adapt to a plethora of different situations. The creative mind transcends any particular field of study and sees how they all are related. For example, while mathematics is a very algorithmic and procedural field of study, the greatest breakthroughs are not made by following a procedure- they are made by straying off the beaten path and being inspired by what you observe. Many of history’s greatest scientists were actually avid artists and musicians as they recognized the beauty and complexity of the sciences.
One outstanding example of a jack of many trades was Benjamin Franklin- one of the founders of the United States, a printer and publisher, author and an inventor and scientist. Franklin did not limit himself to one area of expertise, instead he spent his time developing his skills and pushing the limits of his knowledge. His ability to write at a high level accompanied with his wit and humor and scientific knowledge made him one of America’s most significant influencers. How did Franklin go about working towards his creative breakthroughs?
Franklin was not actually born into a privileged environment. He was born in 1790 in Pennsylvania as the tenth of seventeen children. Thus, he was not given much attention or opportunity as a child. He learned how to read at a very young age and studied under a private teacher but his formal education ended at age 10- after that he was a self-made man. As a young teenager he was apprenticed to his brother James as a printer. As he mastered this art he also read tirelessly and taught himself to write well. One of his biggest influence was a volume of The Spectator featuring Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele’s periodical essays that he used as a means for perfecting his writing. He would read them over and over again, copy and re-copy them, turn them into poetry and back again, and memorize them. He learned the ins and outs of the writing and picked up on subtleties that were used to make the writing professional. This was a key element of developing his creative potential- he had to put the work in to develop the preliminary skills necessary to succeed. No one is simply born with the ability to succeed, everyone needs to take the time and effort in, even if it is tedious to put oneself in a position for opportunity. The advantage of living in any particular age is that you already have all of your predecessor’s knowledge at your disposal. Thus it is easy to catch up quickly without needing to waste so much time on innovating what has already been innovated. This puts you in a position to innovate beyond what has been already established, and this is how society progresses. Benjamin Franklin recognized that writing competently was such a rare talent at that period that this was a way he could set himself apart. So he decided to master a tool that he could use at his disposal to contribute to society.
Once he arrived back in Pennsylvania after leaving for a few years, he was able to let himself loose to use his prowess and skills to become one of the wealthiest colonists in North America. He made his initial money through some writings entitled A Modest Inquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency (1729) and used this money to establish a business printing money. He then went on to publish the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanac both of which profited him immensely. Franklin had developed his ability to communicate effectively and used this ability to succeed and prosper. Of course, he also failed sometimes- but her persevered and came out on top. And what does being successful put you in a position to do? It puts you in a position to use your extra resources to innovate and contribute to society.