Ignite Birmingham 1: Connecting-the-dots

Posted on June 12, 2010


I am honored to have had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Ignite Birmingham event held Thursday, April 29, 2010. As I listened to the other talks throughout the evening I began to realize that most of them featured themes or ideas that were compatible with points I planned to touch on in my own talk, also named The Ben Franklin Follies. I thought it might be fun to commemorate the first Ignite Birmingham event by explaining these connections here.

Sheree presents The Ben Franklin Follies at Ignite Birmingham

I’ll begin with Tom Brander and Wade Kwon.  These two brave (and talented) men delivered free-flowing-yet-focused Ignite karaoke talks. Their respective abilities to deftly maneuver through the minefields of seemingly disparate concepts and images while maintaining a thematic structure calls to mind Ben Franklin’s  eclectic range of interests and talents.

Ben Franklin’s invention of the efficient home heating system we now know as the Franklin stove relates to Ike Pigott’s talk on green energy in the sense that Ben’s stove was more energy efficient that anything else available at the time. I’m pretty sure Ben would have been open to the idea of telecommuting to the state house when he served in the Pennsylvania Assembly. And  Ben was big on the idea of “waste not, want not.” So Ben was pretty green, I think, for his day.

Although Ben Franklin didn’t specifically work in sustainable development. Ben was the kind of man who spent his time looking for pragmatic ways to solve problems and make life easier (for others, as well as himself). As Karim Budhwani pointed out, true sustainable development depends on democracy and grass-roots solutions. Ben Franklin was all about grass roots solutions. Two examples: He developed the idea of the volunteer fire department and the subscription-based lending library to build and sustain the community of Philadelphia. Ben invented the lightning rod and then gave it away for the benefit of society by refusing to patent his invention. If Ben were alive today, I’m pretty sure he would be engaged in sustainable development at some level, through his ideas or his personal involvement.

Duncan Lamb explained the reality of stock market performance over time (not so good), relative to the more consistent savings options, like Treasury bills. Think Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare. As debt-averse Ben famously wrote: “A penny saved, is a penny earned.” Ben would not be a fan of collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps and the casino-investment mentality exhibited by Wall Street.

Dr. Warner Huh described his plans to use UAB’s new cervical cancer vaccine to minimize–maybe eliminate–a modern killer. In his day, Ben Franklin was a proponent of the smallpox vaccine but failed to have his son, Franky, vaccinated before he contracted the disease and died at age 4. It is clear from Ben’s writings that he was devastated by this failure, which he attributes to a procrastination due to professional obligations.

Ben Franklin wore the powdered wig on occasion and a Coonskin cap while in France. If a woman is brave enough to take Jason Gilbert’s advice and shave her head at some point, she’ll probably want to don a powdered wig or coonskin cap until her replacement tresses are ready for the Paul Mitchell treatment.

Ben Franklin was a writer, like Gigi Douban, and the preeminent journalist of the mid-1700s.  Ben also emphasized the importance of maintaining a professional appearance–he was diligent but he wanted to also appear diligent, so Ben didn’t work in his pajamas. He put his publishing business first but took advantage of social networking to build connections and relax with friends. Today we have Twitter and Facebook–Ben networked through The Junto.

Ben Franklin was all about setting goals, collaborating with others and sharing ideas. He started The Junto with friends in Philadelphia and the goal was networking, self-improvement and idea-sharing. In other words, The Junto was about collaboration. George Barckley’s Collaboroscopy and Ben Franklin’s skills at organizing and sharing ideas fit together like hand-in-glove.

Nicola Grissom riffed on how to hack your stress response. Ben Franklin’s long life, wit, many hobbies and his attitude of carpe diem would seem to indicate he had a healthy response to stress.    Ben recommended that we eat an apple each day to keep the doctor away. Not bad advice if stress makes you want to eat.

One of Ben Franklin’s greatest talents was his preference for listening over talking. Ben writes at length in his autobiography about how he came to realize that it was best to listen, facilitate discussion and let others take credit for ideas. Ben attributes much of his success to his use of the Socratic method–ask questions, listen, follow-up with more questions to probe the responses. Daniel Walters shared his own experience to emphasize the importance of listening to others.

I’m pretty certain that, like Shaun Chavis, Ben Franklin discovered inner foodie. Through his writings, Ben advocated temperance in matters of food and drink but his years in France were filled with evenings in Parisian salons, where food and conviviality were at the center of social life. Gout (and complaints by John Adams) indicate Ben was a lively participant in the French culture.

Ben Franklin had many talents and is known for his many contributions across a wide spectrum of fields or, as we call them today, disciplines. Ben was not the sort of person who could be pigeon-holed. Ben wasn’t stuck in a disciplinary silo. The first Ignite event in Birmingham was also wide-ranging in the scope of topics covered and you might think it would difficult to connect the disparate ideas back to a single individual. I think I have and I’d love to hear what you think about my efforts to, for lack of a better phrase, “connect-the-dots”.

Sheree presents The Ben Franklin Follies at Ignite Birmingham