“It is a fact, that man can’t fly”Washington Post, December 24, 1897
When you think of successful people in history, Wilbur and Orville Wright are often highlighted as exemplars of being able to achieve your goals against all odds.
Perhaps it was their humble background that has made them such a fascination for study – an inspiration that you too can achieve your dreams through sheer grit, determination and dedication alone.
But what were the real reasons the Wright brothers succeeded where countless others failed?
In this post we will explore the values that led the Wright brothers towards success, allow you to understand how to apply the learning in the pursuit of your own dreams.
What values did the Wright brothers possess that helped them achieve success against all odds?
The Wright Brothers were successful in achieving motorised flight because they:
- Were driven by their vision to keep pursuing excellence even in the face of multiple setbacks.
- Were Diligent in everything they did – they worked hard on their goals making sure to carry out research to ensure they were following best practice of the time.
- Saw the value of putting everything into practice – learning by being in the driver’s seat (literally!).
- They weren’t afraid of failure and dealt with setbacks using their problem solver mindset.
- Had great people around them – from having an upbringing encouraging their exploratory minds, to not being afraid to ask for advice, support and utilise the expertise of others to help build their flying machine.
- Took a methodical approach to everything they did and pursued excellence – so that by the time they achieved their goal, they had developed mastery in their understanding of aeronautics.
“What the two had in common above all was unity of purpose and unyielding determination. They had set themselves on a mission”The Wright Brothers: The Dramatic Story-Behind-the-Story, David McCullough
In his famous TED talk, “Start With Why” Simon Sinek used the Wright brothers as an example to explain his theory.
Despite having no college experience, technical training, a massive support team, financial backing, connections or government support, the Wright brother were driven by their own commitment to achieving their goal.
This was against bettered resourced competitors, such as Samuel Pierpont Langley who had with him a team of boffins, media hype and 50 grand in his back pocket courtesy of the war department.
Yet Langley failed, and the Wright Brothers were a success in their goal – why?
Well Sinek’s “Why” theory says that people who are intune with why they do something are inspired by the sense of purpose in what they do – a vision that will keep you going even when facing setbacks.
In the case of achieving motorised flight, Sinek states that Langley was driven more by “What” he had to do, and “How” he had to do it, which is why after experiencing multiple failures, Langely ended up quitting this pursuit.
The Wright brothers had intrinsic motivation – motivation that comes from within, which is why they were happy to finance their endeavours from the money made from their bicycle shop despite continued failure.
In an era where flying machine innovators were often ridiculed as nuts, and their ambition could have potentially killed them, the brothers had a dedication to see their mission through to the end.
When pursuing success be passionate, believe in what you what do and don’t let anything stop you.
…the Wrights were “two of the workingest boys” ever seen… and when they worked, they worked… they had their whole heart and soul in what they were doing.John T. Daniels
The Wright Brothers success wasn’t just down to “because they really wanted it.” The brothers wer some of the most diligent workers who would spend their days thinking, reading and experimenting ideas – all in anticipation for when they would next be up at the sands of Kitty Hawk to perform future test flights.
The brothers weren’t just some loons strapping an engine and some wings onto them and hoping for the best – they would spend hours watching how birds fly, drew on all the existing literature on aeronautics, to writing to the United States Weather Bureau to identify the windiest and most remote spots for their testing.
The latter led them to Kitty Hawk, North Caroline, which was not an ideal commute from their home of Daytona, Ohio being 700+ miles away!
The Wrights knew the importance of doing their homework, and the dedication to their craft is what led to them finding breakthroughs to multiple problem, the first being to achieve flight required understand the basics of achieving equilibrium – balanced flight!
Therefore, if you want success you need to be prepared to keep showing up, do the research and put in the work.
“Every mind should be true to itself – should think, investigate and conclude for itself”Robert Ingersoll, The Great Agnostic
The above quote came from one of the books the Wright Brothers owned, and you could say this summed up their philosophy of conducting experiments
They believed in the importance of being active at the wheel of the plane as this was the best way to observe, and identify any problems with the flight process.
Wilbur Wright compared this to riding a horse:
“One is to get on him and learn by actual practice how each motion and trick may be best met; the other is to sit on a fence and watch the beast a while, and then retire to the house and at leisure figure out the best way of overcoming his jumps and kicks. The latter system is safest, but the former on the hole, turns out the larger proportion of good riders”
This is in comparison to other flight innovators of the time who would use pilots to test the flying machines.
It was this hands-on experience that helped the brothers conclude in August 1902 after a series of disappointing tests that the existing calculations they were working with from pre-existing research of the time was not reliable and they had to gather their own data.
When achieving success, existing knowledge can only take you so far. To achieve your goals, to be having real life, practical experience!
“For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life.”Wilbur Wright
The whole process of going to Kitty Hawk was an annoyance. Not only was it difficult to get to, but the Wright Brother’s first task on arrival was always to fix up the camp that had been battered by the harsh wind conditions.
While facing a series of tests which weren’t always fruitful, they had to live of canned rations and sleep in a place where the fire keeping them warm at night kept blowing out.
The brothers lived in a reality that to succeed, they needed to be in a state of constantly designing, building and testing their work, and often were making repairs to their glider after failed tests.
Instead of letting this put the brothers off their dream, they use their precision to identify, isolate and resolve the problems – one small step at a time.
The brothers in their failure had a fantastic problem solver mindset and realised a lot of failures from other flying machines was prioritising the motor over addressing a glider that could achieve balance.
Although the brothers were taking a risk every time they got in their glider, they weren’t reckless. Every chance they took was methodical with careful research and testing to reduce the chance of death.
But constant failure is demoralising to even the most determined. After facing a period where testing had not performed as expected, Wilbur got so low that he said to his brother Orville,
“Not in a thousand years would man ever fly.”
After a night’s sleep, the Wright brothers came back to the problem more logically, and decided to make a fresh start when approaching their scientific experiments.
This illustrates the importance of embracing the process of failure, it’s okay to have your doubts and frustrations – but by taking lessons from these you can become more resilient and get yourself back on the path to success.
“But it isn’t true, to say we had no special advantages… the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.”Orville Wright – his response to a friend reflecting on their success saying the brothers were an example how far Americans with no special advantages could go.
The Wright Brother’s father, the Bishop Milton Wright encouraged his children to pursue their own interests. There were times Wilbur and Orville skipped school, but this didn’t concern the bishop as long as the boys were pursuing a worthwhile project!
And their mother – Susan, who although they lost at a young age, had a mechanical aptitude, a library of books and also encouraged her children to pursue intellectual curiosities – something they obviously inherited.
You could say that growing up in a supportive environment allowed them to pursue success, but they didn’t do it all alone.
In their research they sought advice writing out for support – when starting the endeavour Wilbur contacted the Smithsonian Institute requesting all the pamphlet’s they had on aviation, and sought out experts such as Octave Chanute – a leading authority on aviation and gliders, who gave them the benefit of his knowledge over dinner.
Because a plane couldn’t just have an engine from a motor car strapped to it because it was much too heavy, they tasked their bike shop worker Charlie Taylor to custom build an engine. By recognising their weaknesses, the brothers were able to utilise the talents of others to get them closer to their end goal.
To be successful you need to recognise you can’t do it all alone – don’t be afraid to ask for help, utilise your supportive environment and make sure to build your network of people who have a shared value of similar goals.
“They would watch the gannets and imitate the movements of their wings with their arms and hands. They could imitate every movement of the wings of those gannets; we thought they were crazy, but we just had to admire the way they could move their arms this way and that and bend their elbows and wrist bones up and down and which way, just like the gannets.”John T. Daniels
Ever since their father brought a helicopter like toy made of cork, a propeller and rubber bands the Wright brothers were fascinated about flying.
In this pursuit they read every text, spoke to anyone who could help, built test environments like a six-foot-long wind tunnel so they could get accurate data on lift and drag…
…They trekked across the country enduring harsh weather conditions, and endured failure after failure, where they would identify and solve all the problems they faced…
…And they stood on the sands watching and mimicking every move the birds made, until they fully got the mechanics of flight.
By the time their heavier than air aircraft the Wright Flyer took controlled flight on 17 December 1903 they had reached a level of mastery in building and flying a motor operated airplane.
In the pursuit of your own success are you prepared to pursue excellence, so you break down each requirement into the tiniest, molecular detail?
History is filled with examples of people succeeding against all odds – by examining literature about these individuals we can study the attributes to their character that helps them achieve in their pursuits and apply when chasing our own visions.
Following the approaches of names throughout history does not guarantee success in what you do, as nothing is guaranteed, but as we learnt from the Wright Brother’s experiences, to achieve a dream requires having the resilience to keep going even when battered by multiple failures.
When they started, the Wright Brothers were far from the perfect package to achieved motorised flight, their journey involved making several trips to North Carolina to carry out flight tests, but through the traits they possessed they were able to grow throughout the journey – a pedigree of values that would have guaranteed success in whatever they set their minds to.
Use the lessons of the Wright Brothers to achieve success:
- Make sure to have a vision that will keep driving you to your goals.
- Put in the work and make sure to study all the literature that will improve your abilities.
- Make sure that you put the theory into practice, and gain the experiences to influence your learning.
- Be prepared to accept failure as a symptom when chasing success – don’t see it as a bad thing, reflect and learn from them to become better.
- Surround yourself with a supportive network and utilise the strengths of those around you to help you get closer to the goal.
- In everything you do strive for excellence. Learn everything you can about your passion, practice it 10,000 times – and keep going.
Wishing you the best in your success
James @Perfect Manifesto
This article was inspired by the book The Wright Brothers: The Dramatic Story-Behind-the-Story. This is an excellent book by David McCullough that covers the story of the Wright Brothers all the way to their challenges of achieving motorised flights, to what happened next.
I’m grateful for this book as it inspired the layout of this post, and it also is the source for the quotes throughout the post which are fantastic examples to highlight the values that helped the Wright Brothers succeed.
If this article piqued your interest in the Wright brothers, then this book is a great introductory read.
Another inspiration was the book Start With Why, by Simon Sinek, which along with the book he 42 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene have both influenced me to read and learn from history.
Thanks to Wikipedia which is valuable resource to fact check some details I was fuzzy on, and gave me further background knowledge about the brothers, their parents, and the background on making the first flight.
Finally thanks to Wikimedia – which in my opinion is a hidden gem that a lot of content creators are unaware of to find royalty free stock images that will really enhance your work.