Passion and Performance

Why is passion so powerful?

German Wright Flyer stamp. Source: Wikipedia

We all know that 113 years ago the Wright Brothers were first to fly an airplane. But did you know that they had a well-financed, expert administrator as a rival? Samuel Pierpont Langley wanted to build the first airplane. He was Secretary of the Smithsonian and taught at Annapolis. He obtained a grant from the War Department and hired engineers, inventors, and a test pilot. What he didn’t understand—like the internal combustion engine—he contracted out. He courted the press and famous writers, like Rudyard Kipling. He conducted his tests close to the corridors of power, in Washington, DC. How could he fail?

But in Dayton, Ohio, Orville and Wilbur were tinkering in their bike shop. Their team didn’t have a lot of credentials. None of them had ever attended college. In fact, neither Wright brother ever received a high school diploma. They didn’t have much money. But they had what money can’t buy: passion.

In 1878 Milton Wright came home with a cork, bamboo, and paper toy. When he tossed it into the air in front of his boys, it flew across the room and fluttered against the ceiling. The brothers were mesmerized. They played with it until it broke, then built their own. They were hooked. A decade or so later they opened their bike shop so they could work together and finance their flying experiments. Neither brother ever married: they were wedded to their work. Wilbur later told reporters that he didn’t have time for both a wife and an airplane.

First flight of Wright Flyer. Photo: John T. Daniels. Source: Library of Congress

In December 1903 the Wright Brothers made the first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier-than-air human flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. To do this, they had to re-envision what was needed to fly. It wasn’t not enough to get the machine into the air; they saw that they needed better controls. By using meticulous wind-tunnel experiments, they figured out how to simultaneously manage the aircraft’s roll, pitch, and yaw. Today, every student pilot has to understand the three axes of flight.

Why did the Wrights get there first? It wasn’t luck. Both teams had motivated, scientific minds. Both teams were talented and worked hard. But for the Orville and Wilbur, human-powered flight wasn’t a hobby or pet project. It was their life. Their passion was infectious, and it inspired others. Their bike shop employee, Charlie Taylor, designed and built an aluminum water-cooled engine to run the Wright Flyer—in just six weeks. Nothing else available was powerful and light enough.

Source: Farnum Street Blog

Have you ever worked on a project you loved? One you were so absorbed with that you didn’t notice the time? You have to remember to eat, you wake up in the middle of the night and scribble notes, you devour everything you can read on the subject. Some of your best ideas come to you while exercising or in the shower. It consumes you. Work doesn’t feel like work, it’s more like scratching an itch—the more you scratch, the more it itches.

Winning teams live, eat, and breathe their products. When Warren Buffett wanted to meet with Chick-fil-A’s executives, they ordered—naturally—Chick-fil-A sandwiches for lunch in their boardroom. Great leaders inspire followers with more than money. Inspired people overcome obstacles and change everything.

Calvin Coolidge once noted that the world was full of educated and talented derelicts. It’s passion—the slogan “Press On!’’—that wins the day.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

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