Why We Should Focus on the Wright Brothers Failures

Joseph Dunn
5 min readFeb 13, 2018


Back in 1903, the Wright Brothers achieved powered flight. This is one of the most monumental engineering moments in history, and has changed the way that people travel all over the world. It took years of dedication and hard work to achieve powered flight. Although their success is a great part of American history, we could learn from the mistakes they made and apply those lessons to our personal lives and our careers.

Like other successful business people, the Wright brothers did not have degrees from a university. They didn’t even have a high school diploma. This is a lesson that we all could learn from. A degree from a high-ranking university is not what matters, what matters is if you can prove yourself. Needless to say, a degree is valuable but, you don’t need a degree to be successful.

The Wright Brothers proved themselves by learning from their mistakes, and moving forward using the lessons they learned.

In the Wright Brothers early years, they were just as entrepreneurial as they were building planes. In 1891, the brothers started their own daily news paper, called the Evening Item. Soon after creating their own daily news paper, they came to the realization that their printing press company could not compete with rival news paper companies. After this realization, they shut down their news paper operations and went back to printing for other local news papers.

“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance.” — Orville Wright

After their failure in the printing business, they decided to start a bike company. The bike company was following the growth of cycles in the late 1800’s. After starting their own company, they decided to design and produce their own bike. It took the Wright brothers two years to accomplish this feat. In the end, they made a good profit. Even in the success of the bike company, the brothers did not feel completely successful, as they had their eyes on a larger prize.

“There is no sport equal to that which aviators enjoy while being carried through the air on great white wings. More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost if you can conceive of such a combination.” — Wilbur Wright

Following more trends, the Wright Brothers set out for flight. With experience in engineering following their bike shop, they felt that they had the right mindset to fly. Orville Wright noticed one thing about other competing flying machines. He noticed that people were creating flying machines with unstable controls. Orville and Wilbur wanted to create an airplane with the same concepts that helped a cycle ride. The plane needed basic controls, like the handle bars on cycle. It needed a source of power, like legs pushing the pedals and a way of staying balanced.

Although planes can be related to cycles, planes are much more complicated. The Wright brothers needed a plane that could be controlled along three axis, pitch, yaw and roll. The main problem that was facing them was obtaining lift and an engine that could supply enough power for the duration of the flight that was also lightweight. They failed many times at obtaining lift, but succeeded with their glider. An engine described as light and powerful did not exist at the time, so they build their own.

The Wright Brothers story is true testimony that doing things yourself can help you succeed. Successful business people such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Elon Musk all have one thing in common. They took a leap of faith. The Wright brothers did the same when they decided to build an airplane. At the time, airplanes were being built by lots of other engineers, hobbyist, and even government contracted individuals.

Like the Wright brothers, Elon Musk didn’t have the tools to build electric cars or rockets, but he took a leap of faith into doing something that he loved. Steve Wozniak was just a young programmer who had a visionary friend. Bill Gates was just a guy who loved tinkering and programming. The most important aspect of beginning any project is asking yourself, “Do I like what I am doing?”.

“There have to be reasons that you get up in the morning and you want to live. Why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future? If the future does not include being out there among the stars and being a multi-planet species, I find that incredibly depressing.” — Elon Musk

Another reason why we should focus on the failures of the Wright brothers is even though the Wright brothers had many failed attempts at flying, they kept recording data. I can relate this to when I first started going to the gym. When I was first starting to go to the gym, I felt defeated. I saw no results after 2–3 weeks, and thought to myself, “Is this really worth it?”. After a couple of more weeks, I saw minimal results. But, after realizing that I needed to keep track of my exercises, weight and the food I ate, I began to see better results. After 4 months, I lost in total 50 lbs. Keeping record of your failures helps you realize what direction you need to go to succeed.

Things that you can keep track of to help view success in life:

  • Finances (Savings, Student Loans, Bills)
  • Health / Wellness
  • Grades
  • Time
  • Books Read
  • Tasks (Daily, Monthly, Yearly)
Keeping track of personal goals can help you stay motivated.

There is a lot that we can learn about concerning the Wright brothers. Although they had great success, they also had great failures. Failures are what define us as people, and something that we shouldn’t be ashamed of. Keep track of things like finances and grades to view how far you’ve come. Take a leap of faith into something that you love and often times, you’ll find success. Wilbur Wright says it best: “We could hardly wait to get up in the morning.”



Joseph Dunn