Introduction: The Wright Brothers and Mastering the Fundamentals
There is a popular parable in the Bible that goes like this:
“A wise man built his house on the rock. The rain fell, and the flood came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. A foolish man built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
That is the power of mastering the fundamentals – building a strong foundation.
This post is in response to James Clear’s post, “The Hidden Power of Mastering the Fundamentals.” In the post, he writes about how each season, Coach Vince Lombardi started with the fundamentals, making sure that his players mastered them before he moved on to more advanced plays and strategies.
The result is that he is known as one of the greatest football coaches of all-time. Likewise, the Wright Brothers mastered the fundamentals in the field of flight, and are credited as the inventors of the airplane. Good things can and do happen when you take the time to understand and master the basics in your niche and industry.
I am happy that James Clear wrote the post because this is something that I have been saying on this blog for a long time, that it is important to build a strong foundation, mastering the fundamentals. And Vince Lombardi is not the only person who did that.
If you look at the lives of the greatest thinkers and innovators of all time, you will notice that they invested their time mastering the fundamentals, so that they understood the basics of their field. When they felt confident, they then built on that knowledge. When you understand the fundamentals of your field, you are more discriminating when it comes to deciding which information is important and which to ignore.
This ability enabled the greatest thinkers and innovators to successfully decide whose work they should build and expand on, and what changes they needed to make. And that’s how many of them were able to make their mark on the world. Let’s take a look at the Wright Brothers who are credited for inventing the airplane.
Have you read?
Wise People: Wright Brothers, Inventors of the Airplane
The Early History of the Airplane by Orville and Wilbur Wright
Otto Lilienthal, King of Gliders
Samuel Pierpont Langley, American Scientist and Aviator Pioneer
How to Master the Fundamentals
The Wright Brothers Case Study on Mastering the Fundamentals
- The Wright Brothers always dabbled in aviation, it was an interest after their father gave them a toy helicopter in 1878.
- They became serious when Otto Lilienthal, the King of Glider, died in 1896.
- The brothers gathered all the information they could find on the topic and read them through until they thoroughly understood the subject. In other words, to master the fundamentals of the field of flight, Orville and Wilbur Wright studied the works of others in the field, on which to build a solid foundation:
- Octave Chanute’s Progress in Flying Machines
- Samuel Pierpont Langley’s Experiments in Aerodynamics
- Aeronautical Annuals of 1905, 1906, and 1907
- Several pamphlets published by the Smithsonian Institution – especially articles by Otto Lilienthal and extracts from Louis Pierre Mouillard’s The empire of the air: An ornithological essay on the flight of birds.
- They didn’t just read the data they collected, but also carefully analyzed it. The Wright Brothers determined that they would have to master the principles of flight observation by using gliders, after which they would combine an engine with the wing structure. They looked at the failed attempts with heavier-than-air machines. After reading the work of others, they were able to understand the problems associated with flight. By mastering the fundamentals in the field, the brothers were able to decide which path to take.
- They designed and built a prototype, which they rigorously tested.
- After experimentation, they discovered that some of the information they relied on, from the work of others, was inaccurate. Therefore, they conducted more thorough experiments.
If you are new to a field, and mastering the fundamentals is your goal of building a strong foundation, the first step is to start reading up on the history of the field. Who were the early pioneers, and who are the pioneers and trailblazers today? Do not just accept what you are reading, question things, and try to find areas where you can build on the work of others.
What were some of the major failures in the industry, and why? Were the major failures a result of unavailable technology? In Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Peter Thiel writes about the seven questions that a business must ask and answer to become successful, and the secret question is one of the seven questions.
When mastering the fundamentals in a field, if you study the works of others, questioning everything – having the curiosity of a child – that’s one of the ways to find the secrets that Thiel wrote about in his book. Look at the Wright Brothers, their curiosity, and questioning nature, enabled them to see what others couldn’t see. Their rigorous testing and experimentation allowed them to uncover the mistakes of other pioneers that prevented them from winning the prize of being crowned as the inventors of the airplane. The brothers were able to find the secrets of flight.
Final Thoughts: The Wright Brothers and Mastering the Fundamentals
How about you, are you willing to search for the secrets in your field by mastering the fundamentals, then building on the work of others? It is worth mentioning that Peter Thiel reports that there are two kinds of secret – secrets in nature and secrets that people keep. The pioneers in the field of flight studied birds in flight to understand aerodynamics. What secrets can you find by studying nature?