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Sense of Life

Experiencing Objectivism through Franklin Covey
by Luke Setzer

Franklin Covey Company began as two separate companies called the Covey Leadership Center and Franklin Quest. Both arose in the 1980s to train people in skills to bring them higher productivity and inner peace. The two companies merged in the late 1990s to become Franklin Covey. This article discusses the relevance of each company's core principles to living the Objectivist life.

Covey Leadership Center

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey stated that a skilled observer can identify three key components of every effective habit:


  • What
  • How
  • Why
One must know exactly what results one wants to produce, how one will produce those results and why one desires those particular results. Moreover, Covey argued that highly effective people act first from character rather than personality and center their lives about principles derived from natural laws. He called this focus on character the private victory and the subsequent development of personality from sound character the public victory.

Ayn Rand's fictional heroes consistently won their private victories first before engaging in their public victories and acted on reality-centered principles rather than wishful thinking.

Franklin Quest

In the Western world of the eighteenth century, cultural reverence for reason and individualism reached its zenith. This era, called the Enlightenment, created an intellectual climate that led to open declarations of individual sovereignty and rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. Dogma from both religion and government met with tremendous challenges from freethinkers. Great men such as Benjamin Franklin supported freedom of conscience and the right to shape oneself into the image of one's own chosen values. The concept of individual self-governance gained a foothold during this era and helped to fuel the publication of the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.

In time, Franklin came to pen one of America's first self-improvement books. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin contained a detailed treatment of Franklin's own program for self-growth and quest for "moral perfection" based on his well-researched ideals. After surveying the world's religions and philosophies and consulting trusted peers, Franklin summarized thirteen core virtues and his own brief definitions of them. He then cycled through a focus regimen of one virtue per week, seeking to align his behavior with that virtue. With thirteen virtues and 52 weeks in a year, he spent a total of four weeks per year focusing his mind to perfect his manifestation of each of his explicitly identified virtues. He tracked his progress toward "moral perfection" through the use of his "little book". Though Franklin admitted late in life that he fell far short of the ideals he had sought to embody, he nevertheless recognized that he had become a far better man for the exercise than if he had not undertaken the endeavor at all.

In 1984, Hyrum Smith and his associates formed the Franklin Quest Company to offer a radically new approach to traditional time management. Rather than focus on mere "to do" lists and "appointments" as other companies had done, Smith drew upon Benjamin Franklin's methodology. Franklin Quest undertook to teach each seminar client how to discover his own idealized vision of himself his Governing Values. With these values identified, the client could build goals aligned with those values and then break those goals into daily tasks and appointments. This methodology empowered clients to become authentically productive and happy.

As part of its one-day time-management training seminar called Time Quest, Franklin Quest employed a key Objectivist relationship. Smith's book The Ten Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management states:

Psychologist Nathaniel L. Branden, author of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, once pointed out the direct relationship between self-esteem and productive work. In essence, Branden observed that the better you feel about yourself, the more productive you will be; and the more productive you are, the better you will feel about yourself. I like Branden's observation, but it doesn't go far enough for me. If we add a third element to this equation, event control, it becomes what we might call a "tri-quation". The productivity tri-quation is shown below. Higher self-esteem raises productivity and event control. The easiest part of this tri-quation to attack is the event control piece. If I can exert greater control over the events in my life, I can become more productive, better organized, and spend more time on activities that are of value to me. The natural by-product of that is an increase in my sense of self-worth.


Despite Smith's contention to the contrary, Branden did go far enough in The Psychology of Self-Esteem to address the third element in the relationship between productivity and self-esteem. Branden called that third element reason, a term he repeated throughout the book. Reason, our unique human faculty for identifying facts of reality and then acting productively from those facts for our own benefit, serves as the genuine foundation for event control. Furthermore, Branden noted that the virtue of productivity simply serves the higher and more general value of purpose, i.e. a life-affirming goal. A candid comparison of Smith's tri-quation with the earlier diagram of the Self and its spiritual values shows an exact correlation between event control and reason and between productivity and purpose. Thus, Smith's tri-quation amounts to a re-statement of the Objectivist ethics in slightly different language.

Future articles will address two of Franklin Covey's powerful illustrations of human behavior. They call these the Productivity Pyramid and the Reality Model. The articles will show how Objectivists can employ these models advantageously.
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