The Wright Brothers and Commitment


When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.  ~Howard Schultz

I am writing this as I sit inside the cabin of a Boeing 767-400ER passenger jet on my way to facilitate a 4-day strategy alignment workshop. It still amazes me, after more than 35 years as a frequent flier, that this massive amount of metal can leap off the ground and stay aloft for over 8 hours while inside the cabin we go about our lives, reading, watching movies, talking to each other, even having a meal.

I wonder, did Orville and Wilbur Wright visualize all this? Better yet, did they really know what they were doing at all?  They weren’t aeronautical engineers; they ran a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. They fixed motors on the side. They weren’t successful serial entrepreneurs.  They didn’t have MBA degrees from MIT or Harvard.

So if they didn’t have advanced degrees or aeronautical know-how,  just what did they have that allowed them to build the first airplane capable of sustained maned flight and ultimately change the world?

wright flyer

They had commitment.

Tenacity, gumption, stick-to-it’ness, singular focus, burning desire, pig-headedness.  Whatever you call it, they had it, and they applied their commitment against some pretty big difficulties. For one, there were no test facilities, so they built their own wind tunnel, and their own models to test in it. There were no blueprints for guaranteed success.  Only a burning desire to fly and a commitment to do whatever it took to solve the problems of sustained human flight.

Knowledge vs Commitment

Today we have all of kinds of access to knowledge; computer models, business models, knowledge at the click of a keyboard, mentors, coaches, teachers, best-selling books on leadership secrets of the great and the good.  We have more than enough stuff, except the “Wright” stuff.  Commitment.

I am talking about the commitment to attack a persistent, challenging problem, even though we  don’t have a clue how to solve it when we start.  I contend that too many worthy challenges go unsolved not because we don’t have the knowledge or tools, but through lack of real commitment.  Many people back off from big problems saying they don’t have the right skills, the time, the experience, the education, the money.  The Wright brothers didn’t have knowledge in aeronautics, but they did have commitment. And that made all the difference!

Commitment is an act, not a word.  ~Jean-Paul Sartre

Every time I see costly project overruns or abandoned strategic initiatives, I usually find lack of commitment, lack of desire, lack of burning passion.  As the Wright Brothers taught us, real problem solving takes a little know-how and a great deal of raw commitment.


Commitment Ladder 

Next time you find a project with costly overruns, a strategy failing to be implemented, good project plans lying abandoned on a shelf, or a myriad of excuses as to why we can’t get it done, take a look at the Commitment Ladder™.  Where are you now? What will it take to get “above the line”? Success in any endeavour is simple:  There are only excuses or results. Nothing else matters.

Commitment ladder

Written and Posted by:

John R. Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid


PS: John also writes thriller novels




About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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