This tale of what inspired Wilbur Wright’s discovery that would get an airplane off the ground is a perfect example of the leaps that are made through associative nonlinear thinking. He linked information about the characteristics of a common unrelated item – that we now often find on our doorstep – with the answer to controlled flight.
At the turn of the twentieth century, when Wilbur and Orville Wright, who had a bicycle business, were struggling to develop a workable airplane, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to get the plane to turn.
One day at their bike shop, Wilbur was absentmindedly twisting a cardboard box in his hands as he talked with a customer. Suddenly he recognized that this was exactly what he’d seen birds do to navigate stably in the wind. They warped their wings.
In that instant, Wilbur also realized he could do the same thing with an airplane’s wings. He could warp them.
It was the answer to the mystery of controlled flight!
Wilbur and Orville soon developed control wires to warp their plane’s wings, giving them the critical roll control they needed.
Wilbur’s associative nonlinear leap from box to bird to airplane wings not only solved a problem that had stumped everyone before him, it also signaled a way of thinking differently that has particular meaning for us today. Nonlinear thinking takes seemingly unrelated bits of information and connects them to make powerful creative breakthroughs. Can you think of a time when you made a creative breakthrough and how exciting that was?