The work of Orville and Wilbur Wright presents several lessons for innovators:

  • Learn greedily. The brothers wrote to the Smithsonian institute for reading materials and took up bird watching as a way to learn more about flight (this is where they got the idea for ailerons, crucial to steering).
  • Learn on the job. The brothers estimated that the most experienced glider pilot of their day had a total of about 5 hours of flight experience, spread across many years. They realized that experience in the air was crucial for understanding how to build and operate aircraft, and focused on getting as much time in the air as possible.
  • Find an unfair advantage. The strong winds at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, allowed them to start with a glider rather than a powered airplane (furthering their ability to gain flight experience). The sands at Kitty Hawk also gave them a soft place to land, making it easier to keep costs down and try flying multiple times with the same equipment.
  • Keep your experiments cheap. The glider that the brothers built for their first trip to Kitty Hawk, in 1903, cost only $15 in materials. It was easy to abandon–they gave the materials to some local residents when they returned to Ohio, and the fabric on the wings was eventually made into dresses. Their total costs for the first three years of their experiments, including travel to and from Kitty Hawk each fall, amounted to less than $1,000.