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The Wright Stuff

  Although a lot of attention has— rightfully—been paid to the centennial of the Ford Motor Company, there is another centennial event that is being celebrated this December 17, marking the Wright Brothers’ nearly legendary flight just south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on Kill Devil Hills.

 

Although a lot of attention has— rightfully—been paid to the centennial of the Ford Motor Company, there is another centennial event that is being celebrated this December 17, marking the Wright Brothers’ nearly legendary flight just south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on Kill Devil Hills. Wilbur and Orville perhaps didn’t change the world quite as much as Henry Ford, but it is interesting to speculate on what might have happened if the owner/operators of a bicycle shop decided that the automobile was the real challenge. The magnitude of the Wright Brothers’ accomplishment is, I think, taken for granted. And if we do think about what the two men from Dayton did, our perspective is somewhat limited because of our general acceptance of what is now the status quo. But consider this observation vis-à-vis what the duo did in terms of the magnitude of their achievement: “The only thing that might come close would be if Neil Armstrong had landed on the moon in a craft he had built himself and paid for with a part-time job.” That’s from Mark Epplier in his new book The Wright Way: 7 Problem-Solving Principles from the Wright Brothers That Can Make Your Business Soar (AMACOM; $21.95) Perhaps the Wrights/Armstrong comparison is an exaggeration for effect, but it does serve to remind us of the importance of individuals in developments, as well as to make us recognize that ordinary people can have extraordinary consequences. That’s can have. Not must. Not will. But can—if and only if a person decides to make a difference. It is not a sure thing that it will happen, but those who simply wait for things to happen are more likely to become victims than heroes.

Epplier provides some recommendations vis-à-vis becoming someone who can make a difference. The seven elements are:

  • Forging: This is constructive conflict. The two brothers respected one another, but they each had ideas such that the friction caused the final results to be tempered.
  • Tackling the tyrant: Too often, we start by doing the easy things first rather than the biggest challenge. Start with the tough issue. Then other things can more readily fall into place.
  • Fiddling: Test and tinker, both mentally and physically. Don’t be satisfied with what is; develop what could be.
  • Mind-warping: Break down the mental rigid barriers that we tend to form with time about how things are. That’s calcified thinking. Flexibility is required.
  • Relentless preparation: This is about learning. Always learning. Too often, people think that a diploma is a ticket for an endless free ride. That, especially today, couldn’t be further from the truth.
  • Measure twice: Detail matters—even when big ideas are involved. Freethinking is required, but so is method.
  • Force multiplication: Yes, individuals are key, but a driven group is powerful.

In our daily lives, we may feel that we have too much to do. We may think that we are limited by our circumstances. We may imagine that the way things are—e.g., what our job requirements are—are the way that they must be. We may consequently just surrender to the ordinary. Which is really rather sad. What the Wright Brothers accomplished was something that people considered to be impossible. They didn’t come from wealth. They had “day jobs” and other things that they had to get done. They were pretty much like the rest of us. But because of their imagination, drive, persistence, and effort, they became extraordinary.

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