Problem-Solving Methods from the Wright Brothers

When Wilbur and Orville Wright completed the first successful manned flight on Dec. 17, 1903, they not only astonished everyone in the world with their feat, they also demonstrated the power of their problem-solving methods. Business teacher and author Mark Eppler has examined these concepts and distilled them into seven principles that managers can use to find solutions to daunting problems.

After a detailed history of the Wright brothers' work that led them to that fateful day on the sand dunes of North Carolina's Kill Devil Hills, Eppler delves into the process that the Wright brothers used to attain heavier-than-air powered flight. Their systematic application of engineering principles helped them achieve their dreams, and Eppler adapts them to a more general problem-solving model that organizations can use to improve their businesses.

Launching the Era of Aviation

Eppler begins his book by arguing the case that the Wright brothers' accomplishment was the most important event of the 20th century. He writes that they not only solved a problem that others had found too complex and technical to solve, but they also did it without the help of anybody but themselves. Also, he writes that they not only launched the era of aviation and created new transportation options that brought distant parts of the globe closer, but they also did it with amazing speed, little formal training or education, and amazing brainpower. Eppler writes that "few accomplishments can match what these modest bicycle mechanics from Dayton achieved."

The problem-solving principles the Wrights used to invent and demonstrate their flying machine are still relevant today, explains Eppler. These key principles, which Eppler has labeled with his own titles, are:

  • Forging: The principle of constructive conflict. This conflict can be used to uncover and validate new ideas and strategies to find a practical solution.
  • Tackle the tyrant: The principle of worst things first. When "tyrant" problems are put first, costs for the whole are limited to this subset should a solution prove to be unachievable.
  • Fiddling: The principle of inveterate tinkering. New approaches can be created by tinkering with portions of a problem in an effort to understand it.
  • Mind-warping: The principle of rigid flexibility. Flexing the mind allows it to consider possibilities outside the plane of thought limited by policy, tradition and experience.
  • Relentless preparation: The principle of forever learning. Learning as a lifelong passion is essential to generating the information needed to solve problems.
  • Measure twice: The principle of methodical meticulousness. The fastest and most efficient way to solve a problem is by being meticulous and methodical in your approach.
  • Force multiplication: The principle of equitable teamwork. The force of a group with a common purpose is multiplied by interdependence powered by trust, effort, profits, power and honor.

Mind-Boggling Speed

Eppler illustrates each principle with the events and decisions surrounding the Wright brothers' work and describes how it can be combined with skills to solve problems when no previous procedure exists. He also points out that these principles have an added financial bonus: By using them, the Wright brothers minimized their costs to less than $1,000 and were able to solve the problem of flight with mind-boggling speed.

Why We Like This Book

The Wright Way is a passionate examination of the history of the Wright brothers and the lessons that can be learned from their historic contribution to the modern world. Eppler demonstrates the depth of his outstanding research and analysis by putting the information he has gathered into a usable form from which organizations can glean valuable business insights into innovation, speed-to-market, and hidden opportunities.

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