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The Wright brothers’ conflict secret

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

The notion that people could fly remained the gold standard of impossibility right up until the Wright brothers actually did it.

One of the tools that made their feat possible: a practice called “forging”:  a form of constructive conflict in which ideas are subjected to the heat of discussion and the blows of contention until a practical solution begins to take shape.

In short, the Wright brothers learned how to disagree and sometimes delighted in it.

“I love to scrap with Orv,” Wilbur once said. “Orv’s a good scrapper.”

Here are the basic components of forging, which relies on a foundation of trust and respect:
  • Tough mental honesty. Never resort to gamesmanship, the feeble desire to win an argument instead of getting at the truth. Accuracy and perseverance in the face of hot rebuttals is what counts.
  • Focused listening. The brothers were good at both arguing and listening. Neither had to repeat himself because both were intent on the course of logic.
  • Open thinking. Don’t fall in love with your idea. You’ll probably need to revise it or cast it away. If you stay flexible and open-minded, that will be a lot easier.
  • Confident self-image. Orville was, by nature, a cheerful optimist. He didn’t take his arguments with Wilbur as personal attacks, so he was able to defend his positions fiercely without losing enthusiasm. Orville also used his good sense of humor to cool down a situation. And Wilbur knew he could “let it all out” without growing angry.
— Adapted from The Wright Way: 7 Problem-Solving Principles from the Wright Brothers That Can Make Your Business Soar, Mark Eppler, Amacom.

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