And that’s Wright as in The Wright Brothers. Wilbur and Orville Wright have been credited by history for being the first in controlled, powered flight as well as first to bring their planes to market for sale. There were naturally many other inventors and tinkerers fighting with them for the prestigious title and the Wrights fought relentlessly to the first position. But is being first always best?

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting. By John T. Daniels [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In his book, Originals, Adam Grant argues that coming in second if often more advantageous than being in first. Being second allows for stepping back and seeing the accomplishment from an objective view whereas the first place winner can often get caught up or overly preoccupied in the winners circle. This preoccupation can lead to narrowed thinking, not learning from mistakes or a lack of desire to continue to innovate. This is precisely how it played out for the Wright Brothers.

The Wrights, preoccupied with protecting their distinction, would go on to spend many years embroiled in law suits over patents much to the detriment of their health and company. They refused to look at better ways of building an airplane. Their “wing warping” design, although original, was rudimentary and less effective. Their stubbornness would result in the first aerial fatality in 1908 and cost them a successful partnership with the US military.

The Wright’s second place archrival, Glenn Curtiss, saw the advantage of being second. Although he spent years fighting off the legal pursuits of the Wright Brothers, his real focus was on building better, then best aircraft. He did and landed many large contracts during WWI and WWII. His aircraft became some of the most popular of the early 20th Century. He eventually sold his stake in the company for a hansom profit and later formed 18 other companies throughout his lifetime. In an ironic twist of fate, the Curtis Company would end up acquiring the Wright’s company in 1929 to form the Curtiss –Wright Company.

“Learn to see the advantages and disadvantages of each thing” 

-Miyamoto Musashi

 

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