An Excuse to Be Lazy? What You Can Learn From Ben Franklin’s “Lost Virtue


An Excuse to Be Lazy? What You Can Learn From Ben Franklin’s “Lost Virtue”

By Andy Snyder, Founder

“There’s a car in there somewhere. Just keep digging,” the old man with the crazy gray beard told us. “You can keep any parts you find.”

We cleared out the mess and loaded the old hunk of metal – it could hardly be considered a car – onto the flatbed trailer.

We stepped back to survey what we’d gotten ourselves into. We didn’t see a whole lot.

There was one fender… one door… and two wheels… the entire front suspension must have been donated to some other rolling charity.

For a 13-year-old, it was heaven.

But if we wanted to get where we needed to go, we had work to do.

We had three years – 156 Saturdays – and a rusty old toolbox to turn the pile of parts into an everyday driver.

We did it.

And we even picked up a trophy or two along the way.

It’s tough not to think about the old car, our busted knuckles and the time we spent under the hood as we ponder Ben Franklin’s sixth virtue.

“Industry need not wish,” the long-haired forefather once wrote, “and he who lives upon hope will die fasting.”

The lesson is clear.

We could have wished, begged or prayed for our first car… or we could have gotten our butt out of bed and made it happen.

But it’s not quite that simple. There’s a twist in our tale…

The Best Way to Get What You Want

Franklin’s sixth virtue has often been called the lost or forgotten virtue. But we beg to differ.

We’re convinced it’s merely being misunderstood.

The mandate is clear.

Here it is in his words…

Industry: Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

We’re not sure whether it’s written down anywhere, but it sure seems the opposite idea reigns true these days.

Work less… go to the beach more… watch this… then this… and you’ve got to see this.

Our culture, dare we say it, isn’t all that industrious these days.

But we’re not entirely convinced a workaholic mindset is what Franklin was aiming at.

That’s why we beg lazy folks to pay attention to what’s ahead.

As Robert Heinlein wrote in his book on the subject, “Progress doesn’t come from early risers – progress is made by lazy men looking for easier ways to do things.”

He’s right.

The man who gets up with the rooster and stares at the clouds all day won’t get much done.

But the man who gets up early looking to solve a problem will surely succeed.

By his own admission, Franklin was a lazy man. But – and this is key – he believed his laziness was his advantage.

He worked hard… so he could be lazy.

He invented… he tinkered… and he modified… all to make his life easier.

It wasn’t a flaw; it was his motivation.

That’s a very powerful idea and quite the twist on modern logic.

A Lazy Man’s Advice

It reminds us of an idea taught to us by a man we admire – Frank Gilbreth, a pioneer in the study of industrial efficiency.

For one project, he studied bricklayers.

He examined the best of the bunch… and the worst of the bunch.

We’d think he would have learned the most from the masters of their trade. But, no, it was the lazy who caught his attention.

Some of the biggest improvements in efficiency, Gilbreth believed, came from the men who were lazy – “so lazy that every needless step counted.”

Ah, so there’s our lesson.

Be lazy!

… Oh, you know us better than that. We’d never quit there.

That’s only step one. First, identify the problem.

Step two requires us to do something about it.

That’s what Franklin is telling us to do in this sixth virtue.

Don’t hope for a solution. Don’t pray somebody else will carry your bricks. Do something about it.

Always be employed in something useful, Franklin wrote. But don’t waste your time.

That’s the key.

Know your task. Find the best way to get it done. And stick to it.

Don’t get distracted. And don’t waste your time on other things.

Fast Cars and Fast Money

Our first car is a fine example.

We certainly had a problem. We had places to go… and no way to get there.

We could have walked. But that wasn’t much good.

We could have whined and begged. But that wouldn’t have worked.

Instead, we got to work and didn’t stop until we had what we needed.

For many folks these days, the problem is money.

They need more.

But instead of finding the very best way to get it, they whine and moan about their problems.

But Franklin would remind us to lose no time. He’d tell us to always be working toward the goal. And he’d tell us to cut off everything that gets in our way.

It’s a far different view of this misunderstood virtue.

Franklin isn’t telling us to work from sunup to sundown. He certainly didn’t.

He’s simply telling us to get off our butts and get the job done.

And don’t quit… until it’s done.

Be well,


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