In the same year the Wright Brothers had their first successful flight, Simon Newcomb, a Canadian-American professor at John Hopkins University, said:
“But when we inquire whether aerial flight is possible in the present state of our knowledge; whether, with such materials as we possess, a combination of steel, cloth and wire can be made which, moved by the power of electricity or steam, shall form a successful flying machine, the outlook may be altogether different.”
Simon Newcomb echoed the voice of skeptics who believed it was near impossible to build a flying machine.
Humans have been fascinated with flight for as long as we have existed. But human flight as we know it today was not possible until two brothers from Ohio decided that they would dedicate all their resources to finding a way to achieve this feat.
Simon Sinek, in his notable TEDx talk titled, “Start with why — how great leaders inspire action”, likens the pursuit of flight in the early 20th century to the dot-com bubble of the early 21st century. Anyone and everyone was trying their hand at creating a flying machine, in hopes that they could strike gold.
In his talk, Simon mentions the name Samuel Pierpont Langley, a well-respected astronomer and aviation pioneer who was granted a large sum of money by the War Department to create a flying machine. Langley held a seat at Harvard, worked at the Smithsonian, and had access to the best resources available. But even with all of these tools at his disposal, Langley failed to match the innovation the Wright Brothers created with proceeds from their bicycle shops. On paper, it seemed that Langley would make the breakthrough in aviation, but that wasn’t the case.
Not only was there a disparity in financial resources between Langley and the Wright Brothers, no one on the Wright Brothers’ team had graduated college. With no technical training, no work experience, no eager venture capitalists backing their project and no college experience, the two were not even considered underdogs in the race to create the first flying machine.
If the Wright Brothers were so heavily disadvantaged, how did they manage to beat out Langley and the other aviation innovators of their era? It was their desire to continue learning.
Unlike Langley, who quit the day the Wright Brothers’ took their first flight, Orville and Wilbur didn’t see their first flight as the end of their journey. The brothers’ quest was rooted in curiosity and passion, and they identified the learning curve that lay ahead of them and found ways to overcome it. The two did not allow their pride and ego to interfere with analyzing their weakness and strengths.
With universities and high schools reopening in a month, set your pride aside and allow your natural curiosity to guide you. There is a natural desire in all of us to learn and grow. The Wright brothers were fascinated with aviation, and their natural curiosity allowed them to change the way mankind exists. Allow your curiosity to flourish, and you too can change the world.
“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 (excerpt from David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers
Photo Credit: theatlantic.com