Back in the early 20th century, the pursuit of a ‘powered manned-flight’ was like the ‘dot-com’ of the day. Everyone was into it, trying to develop the first manned aircraft. Now, when the subject of aircraft and flight is mentioned, you immediately think of the Wright brothers, because we all know them as the pioneers of flight. However, there is someone else most people do not know about, this man is Professor Samuel Pierpont Langley.
Professor Langley, like the Wright brothers, also made attempts at creating a working, piloted aircraft. His project had what we would assume to be the perfect recipe for success.
When people are asked why their business venture failed, they usually list the same three things; also called blame game: under-capitalization, bad team, and bad market conditions. In the case of Professor Langley, he was given a $50,000 grant by the war department for the project. He was extremely well connected as he had a seat at Harvard, worked at the Smithsonian and knew all the big minds and could hire them.
Thirdly, the market conditions in New York were fantastic at the time. In addition, he had the press and general public backing his venture, with the New York Times following him around everywhere. However, despite all the support, we have to wonder how come many of us have never heard of Samuel Pierpont Langley.
A few hundred miles away in Dayton Ohio, Wright brothers were also working on this similar project. They had no money and paid for their dream with the proceeds from their bicycle shop. There was not a single person on the Wright brother’s team who had a college education, not even Wright Brothers themselves. They didn’t have the recognition of the press nor publicity, as the New York Times never interviewed or followed them. Yet, despite the unfavorable conditions, their dream turned out to be a success, whereas Professor Langley’s two attempts at the same goal failed miserably.
Fascinating, but this clearly shows success in your venture is much more than capital, education or expertise. It also shows that it is not about the exposure or publicity of your venture. The simple difference between both scenarios is Orville and Wilbur were driven by a cause, a purpose, and a belief. The Wright brothers had the deeply-rooted belief that if they could figure out the flying machine, it would change the course of the world
Professor Samuel Pierpont Langley, on the other hand, had other ideas. He was more concerned about being rich and famous. He wasn’t actually in the pursuit of something he thought would revolutionize transportation. The only results he was interested in, were riches and fame.
The people who believed in the Wright brothers dream, worked with them with blood, sweat, and tears while others just worked for the paycheck. Eventually, on December 17th, 1903, when the Wright brothers took flight, no one was present to even witness the moment. It was not until a few days later that the story got out. Langley quit his project the same day he learned that the Wright brothers took flight successfully —which is further proof he was motivated for the wrong reasons. He could have said, “that’s an amazing discovery guys, I will improve upon your technology” but he didn’t. As he wasn’t first to make this discovery, he didn’t get rich or famous, so he quit the venture altogether.
In our world today, what most people are searching for in their lives, is a sense of meaning and purpose. To be successful in any aspect of your life, finding your ‘why’ is non-negotiable. Are you ready to find your ‘why’?