If THEY Could Fly, You Can Fly

A couple of days ago (Dec. 17), we commemorated the 115th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' 1903 historic first flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Actually, when I say we "commemorated" it, what I really mean to say is that we largely ignored that auspicious anniversary. It barely hit my news feed. I didn't hear or see anyone talking about it or writing about it. Sheesh, there wasn't even a Google Doodle on it, and they do plenty more obscure stuff than that. Kind of a shame we didn't make a bigger deal of it, in my opinion, because it represents a great milestone not just for aviation, but for business. And it reinforces an important lesson for all entrepreneurs.

See, Orville and Wilbur Wright really had no business being the innovators responsible for the first manned, controlled, powered flight. Remember, these guys were the proprietors of a bicycle shop in Ohio. They didn't know a whole lot about engineering per se, or about aerodynamics. There were tons of other firms out there who were better funded, better staffed, and simply better equipped to create a sustained effort to break through the heavier-than-air flight barrier. And many of these other efforts had a significant head start over Orville and Wilbur.

But Orville and Wilbur's perspective gave them three points of emphasis that their competitors didn't have. And these three factors were ultimately the fuel for their success.

1) Better Control -- From the beginning, the Wright Brothers knew that the failings of some of the earlier attempts at flight weren't due to the lack of power, but rather the lack of control. They believed that, given all of the variables involved in flying, the pilot needed help to maintain complete control over the aircraft to keep it airborne for a sustained period of time. (This was partially informed by their experience with bicycles -- they knew that keeping the bike moving was largely a factor of maintaining balance through making countless minor adjustments in real-time, based upon little more than "feel".) They focused their efforts and resources on inventing the "three-axis control", which gave the pilot unprecedented levels of control over his craft, and which is still a standard of feature of fixed-wing aircraft today. The idea of spending time and resources on tools that give the pilot more control over a potentially-chaotic situation is a metaphor that certainly applies broadly to entrepreneurship today.

2) Better Data -- Unlike some of their better-funded competitors, Orville and Wilbur could not afford to do field-test after field-test. Their budgets weren't as open-ended, and they had their business to run. (Perhaps their aviation experiments can be considered history's first "side hustle"?) So instead, they developed an in-house wind tunnel and experimented on scale models. So when they DID do their limited field trials, they were prepared and knew more of what to expect. They got more "bang for the buck" by running small scale prototype programs first.

3) Better Persistence -- The Wrights were fascinated by flight, and were determined to create a powered, manned aircraft. Countless alternative efforts to that end had taken place over the prior decade, and a number of courageous adventurers had even lost their lives in the attempt. Undeterred, the Wrights vowed to learn from the mistakes of others, and even some of their own. During the three-year period between 1900-1903, the Wrights made a number of full-scale efforts with non-powered gliders, banking the learnings each time to help them develop their final design. Orville and Wilbur made a number of significant design flaws, which led to some significant crashes and even injuries. But their attitude was that they would learn from these failures, and adjust as necessary. In 1901, after a particularly painful failure, Wilbur lamented to Orville that manned, powered flight might not occur for a thousand years! And yet they continued.

Many entrepreneurs today have the same intrepid spirit that enabled Orville and Wilbur Wright to persist through the pain and failures, and ultimately to achieve great success. So, if you're a smart business owner or leader, and you're a bit down in the dumps about a recent setback or underperformance, remember how distant victory seemed to the Wrights, even they were ultimately only a few more tries away from success. Keep plugging away, keep learning from your mistakes, keep adjusting, but above all KEEP MOVING and KEEP GETTING BACK UP. Never give up hope.

And, like Orville and Wilbur Wright decided to be, 115 years ago this month. . . Whatever you're going to be. . . Be Outstanding!

Are you facing a setback, and in need of an outsider perspective? Book a no-cost phone call with me at the this link, and let's talk it over.

Ellis Mass


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