Most people don’t know about Samuel Pierpont Langley. At the turn of the 20th century, the world was full of major breakthroughs in science – from the discovery of penicillin to the structural mapping of DNA. The obsessive pursuit of the first piloted aircraft back then was like the dot-com mania. So many makers like the Wright brothers and Samuel Langley tried to invent the flying machine.
Samuel Pierpont Langley had everything going for him. He was highly educated and was extremely well-connected. He received a contribution of $50,000 from the Department of Defense and his stature at Secretary of the Smithsonian Instituted granted him another $20,000. He hired the best minds money could find. Everyone was rooting for him.
Orville and Wilber Wright, on the other hand, was in stark contrast. They had relatively humble educational backgrounds – not even a college degree. They worked quietly with just little financing from their bicycle shop.
On December 17th, 1903, the Wright brothers successfully flew in their plane, nicknamed the “Flyer I” and beat Langley to fly the first powered, controlled, heavier-than-air aircraft.
The Difference That Made The Difference
The Wright brothers were driven by a cause, a purpose, and a belief. They wanted to solve the problem of piloted flight. They believe they can break the boundaries and change the world. Their question was not of the money made from flying but how they could get enough money to sustain their experiments.
Langley was driven by fame, money, and glory. He wanted to be rich, and he wanted to be famous. His team worked for the fat paychecks obviously. He and his team hankered over the results and were motivated by the envisioned rewards of their success. When Langley heard of Wright brother’s accomplishment, he simply quit. He made no attempts to improve on their model or work with them. He was done. No first. No fame. And no fortune to be had.
Human beings, by their nature, are motivated by a mix of drives. We have a biological drive. We eat when we feel hungry, we drink when we are parched. We also have a carrot and stick drive, where rewards and punishments induce our behavior towards certain directions. Then we have this third drive, that if often neglected, where we are motivated to do things because they are challenging, because they are interesting, because we like them, and because they contribute.
The motivation behind WHY we do things is important to ultimately succeed. We want to do what we do, not because we are chasing incentives, not because we want rewards. We want to do what we do because we are motivated by the cause, the purpose, the belief that what we do matters and we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.