Franklin’s Gambit

We have been encouraged to believe that there might be a science of decision-making – a scientific procedure that should lead every conscientious person to the same objective answer. The distinction of the great business leader, the measure of financial acumen, would rest only in their ability to arrive at the objectively right answer faster than anyone else. I call this concept of scientific decision-making Franklin’s Rule, after the great American polymath Benjamin Franklin, who set it out in a famous letter to the English scientist, Joseph Priestley. Franklin explained that one should make decisions by listing pros and cons, and attaching weights to each item on the list.

But Franklin knew perfectly well that people – including himself – did not really make decisions this way. He went on to observe how ‘convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable person, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do’. This is Franklin’s Gambit – the process, so common in business and politics, of constructing elaborate rationalisations of decisions that have already been made on different grounds. Consultants’ fortunes have been made on the basis of Franklin’s Gambit.

John Kay discussing obliquity.