Wilbur and Orville Wright were ostensibly a couple of ordinary young men in Ohio earning a livelihood selling and repairing bicycles. In their invention of the airplane, the brothers changed the course of human history. Competitors in the quest to overcome that preeminent engineering challenge of the day had financial resources, training, standing–and yet these two untrained fellows were the ones to fly the first successful aircraft. How could this have happened?

According to writer Ian Leslie, the Wrights owed their success to their skill in the art of “scrapping.” When they were children, their father, Bishop Milton Wright, gave them topics to debate after the evening meal. The boys were encouraged to show passion without crossing the line into disrespect. After the first round, Wright had them switch sides. As a result of this training, the brothers became greatly skilled in wringing information from boiling hot arguments—critical information that failed to occur to their supposed betters. On the way to trying to outmaneuver one another in their verbal brawls, deficiencies of thought would be exposed and expunged. Winning concepts would become refined and strengthened.  With mental dross cleared away, unforeseen angles would become apparent, and from this process the first power-driven plane able to fly an astonishing 852 feet emerged. 

The brothers’ screaming, neighbors later related, at times seemed interminable. It seems unlikely to our way of thinking that Wilbur and Orville could have been close, but by various accounts they were. Part of their skill, their niece later related, was that in addition to yelling at the other, each listened skillfully and respectfully. No matter how hot an argument got, each consistently exercised his ability to remain quiet, take in and process the other’s thoughts.

Kj Bohmgarden

Wright Airplanes

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