Do You Test and Learn or Just Fail?

Samuel Pierpont Langley dreamed of being the first man to fly an aeroplane.

His approach was simple, build the most powerful engine he could.  Strap a couple of wings to it and watch it go.

He was well funded.  He and a large staff focused all their attention on developing a big muscular engine, something that was so strong it couldn’t help but drag an aeroplane into the air.

On the 7th October 1903 Samuel Pierpont Langley had his first attempt at powered flight.  The “aeroplane” crashed immediately after leaving the launch pad, badly damaging the front wing.

Two months later he tried again, this time the tail and rear wing collapsed during launch.

Eight days after that the Wright brothers succeeded in powered flight.

The Wright brothers started by building a full sized glider:

  • They tested it, it crashed
  • The modified it, it crashed
  • They altered it, it crashed
  • They changed it, it crashed
  • They tinkered with it, it crashed

They spent three years conducting test after test after test.  When they were finally confident the glider would fly the way they wanted it to they strapped on the smallest engine they could find.

On the 17th December 1903 away they flew.

The secret to the Wright brother’s success?

Test and learn

Not big bang

So when you roll out your big idea, the innovation that is going to make all the difference, are you expecting it to work first time?

Maybe there is something to be learnt from the Wright brothers.

Read another opinion


  1. HEllo James

    Excellent. – short, sharp and valuable. You have inspired me to think/enjoy writing shorter posts.

    I have had some involvement in digital marketing especiallly website design and ecommerce. IN these fields the ‘fail quickly and often’ approach is the bedrock of how things should be done. Completely in line with the Wright brothers.

    However, in most other fields including building mainstream business systems the Samuel Pierpont Langley s the standard. It is also the case with so many other areas of business.


  2. James Lawther says:

    Begs the question what would you do if it was your money though doesn’t it? My neighbour is an entrepreneur. His attitude is to try lots of things and when he finds one that works he comes in behind it like a Steam Engine.

    I think we could learn a lot from small businesses


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