Secrets of success

Why the Wright brothers succeeded.

I am currently reading Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why – How great leaders inspire everyone to take action.

This story concerns the race at the beginning of the 20th Century, to be the first to pilot a flying machine.

Sinek draws an interesting comparison between Samuel Pierpont Langley and the Wright brothers. Most would know the Wright brothers and their achievements. But at the turn of the 20th century, Langley was the famous one with no one having heard of the Wright brothers.

Langley was a noted astronomer with many high ranking and prestigious positions. He was secretary of the Smithsonian.

He was well connected. His friends included Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell. Langley had captured many an imagination in his quest to be the first to fly. The Department of Defence had granted $50,000 for the project.

Langley had assembled some of the greatest minds and intellects of the day including test pilot, Charles Manly, a brilliant mechanical engineer and Stephan Balzer, the developer of the first car in New York.

The New York Times reported on Langley’s every move.

A few hundred miles away in Dayton Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright pursued the exact same dream. They had no funding or government grants. They relied on the proceeds from their bicycle shop.

Not a single person in their team had a college education and some had not finished high school. They were not well connected and received no publicity for their work.

Despite the disparities, on 17 December, 1903 in North Carolina, the Wright brothers took to the skies for a 59 second flight at an altitude of 120 feet. The world was about to change.

Why did the Wright brothers succeed when Langley had what appeared to be the ingredients for success?

Both teams were seeking to achieve the same objective. Both were highly motivated and hard working. Both had scientific minds.

Sinek puts it down to leadership. The theme of his book is that there are leaders and then there are those who lead. Those who lead inspire their charges. They have a cause. As the title of the book states, they start with why. They tell people why they are doing what they’re doing, rather than what or how they are doing it.

Sinek explains that the Wright brothers were excited by the prospect of changing the world by giving people a new means of conveyance. This was their cause. This is why they pushed themselves and their team pushed themselves.

On the other hand, Langley was obsessed with securing fame for. himself. He was chasing his place in history. His team did not share a common vision. They were paid for their services.

It interesting to note that after the Wright brothers’ success, Langley lost interest in his project. His own unmanned flight crashed in the Potomac River, causing much humiliation. He wasn’t interested in learning how the Wright brothers succeeded. He didn’t want to improve on their work. Langley quit a few days after the Wright brothers’ flight. He wanted to be the first and that was no longer possible, so he quit.

It is incredible that less than 70 years later men were walking on the moon.

How many of us know the “whys” of our lives? How many pursue a cause? When we are inspired, why do we get excited?