In fact, the brothers began their career in the printing trade and then opened a bicycle shop. In addition to selling and fixing bikes, the brothers developed their own self-oiling bicycle wheel hub. I love that they approached every venture with such creativity! At the same time, I imagine dour-faced folk passing judgment: “What gives them the right to try something so outrageous?” Experts in the field may have protested , “They don’t have any professional training!” Well, it was true. The boys didn’t even attend college! And certainly, before aviation was a thing, the Wright brothers didn’t have pilot’s licenses.

So, how did the Wrights develop the confidence to build and fly a plane?

I believe it started with belief – in their powers of observation, wisdom accumulated through trial, and their own technical capability. The brothers believed they could understand and develop the principles of powered, sustained flight. They didn’t wait for someone else to build the machine, much less begin handing out pilot’s licenses. Rather, passion fueled the brothers’ belief. And after hundreds of tests, their belief was followed and validated by iterated progress.

In reading about the Wright brothers, three combinations appear to have fueled their incredible success:

1. Joy & Wonder

Orville and Wilbur looked upon common or habitual things with a fresh eye. Sometimes, they focused on a particular detail, wondering how it could be optimized. At other times, they unfocused their eyes to gain a different perspective. They wondered, “How?” and “What if?” Their lives harnessed and released the power of imagination and ingenuity.

Joy & Wonder fuel Innovation - W.Edwards Deming quote

2. Humility & Vulnerability

Much has been written about the brothers’ modesty. They stayed centered through both initial dismissiveness and later, international success. Humility and vulnerability must be close cousins, particularly when trying something new. The brothers were full of ideas but initially, no validation. And during that first glider flight in 1903, Wilber and Orville put their own safety on the line. C.S. Lewis once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Humility & Vulnerability enable Innovation - quotes by C.S. Lewis and Brené Brown

3. Doggedness & Discipline

Rarely do new innovations deliver as expected on the first try. So, this combination allows us to iterate with persistence, looking upon failure as a kind of success. Having identified another approach that doesn’t work, inventors get better with each try. Sounds exhausting and I believe that it must be. Yet, that kind of doggedness is fueled by the passionate belief which underpins breakthrough! And discipline ensure we intelligently, keep trying.

Redefining failure propels Innovation - Thomas Edison quote

What a Social Legacy!

These guys invented the airplane! Their determination to persevere in the face of adversity is inspiring. And their close, lifelong partnership role models collaboration at its finest. When he passed in 1912, Wilbur’s life was described by his father: “A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died.” Now that’s legacy.

What is your grand idea? Have you held back, doubting your credentials, or discouraged by those who say you can’t? Go back and have another look:

  • Do you look upon your idea with joy and wonder?
  • Are you approaching the idea with humility and vulnerability?
  • And if you begin, do you think you can face the inevitable challenges with doggedness and discipline?

If so, I encourage you to try and take flight!

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Photo of Orville Wright beginning the first successful controlled flight in history