Were the Wright Brothers Benevolent Capitalists?

Updated: Feb 10, 2018

I must be one of the weirdest people in the world. I found this article on Forbes.com about The Wright Brothers and how they failed in their business endeavors. I love it. I read it ravenously. I love hearing about how people create their businesses. I love reading about the successes and what was chosen that was different than what everybody else was doing at the time that created their success. I also very much enjoy hearing about business failures. I love seeing what they chose and where they chose from that created their failure. That’s what this article gave me:

How The Wright Brothers Blew It (Forbes.com)

The article is long….I know. Most people don’t like reading as much as me, so here is a brief synopsis as portrayed in this article:

After creating their first working plane, the Wright Brothers made it extremely secretive so people wouldn’t steal and use their designs in their airplanes. They put tons of energy into the secrecy of their inventions, and when they did test runs they made sure there were very few people there and no press so their secrets didn’t get out. After they started showing their airplanes people started using and improving on their designs and they spent years in the courts fighting against their competitors and trying to get a percentage of all airplane sales. During this time, their competitors created better functioning airplanes and the Wright Brothers’ were left in the dust.

Wilbur ended up dying of typhoid fever, which left Orville with the company. Eventually they won their court battle, got a couple million of dollars, and Orville sold the business which began only designing and manufacturing airplane engines. Then the business ended up merging with their biggest competitor.

Now, of course, this is one person’s point of view about the Wright brothers and their business, and you can get a whole lot of varying perspectives on them and their careers from a wide array of sources. This point of view gives a different view than the usual American mythological status of these pioneers of flight, and selfishly gives me some great fodder to play with in exploring the practice of Benevolent Capitalism.

So what does this have to do with Benevolent Capitalism? What the hell is Benevolent Capitalism anyway?

Benevolent Capitalism is a way of doing business developed by three of the most brilliant people I know, Gary Douglas and Steven and Chutisa Bowman. It is based on the idea of doing business benevolently, benevolent itself meaning “wishing well for all”. Benevolent Capitalism looks at the idea of creating business that does no damage to the environment, communities, people, and even competitors. Truly looking at what will create the greatest possibilities for everyone involved.

Here is a brilliant article that begins to describe the energy of Benevolent Capitalism:

What is Benevolent Capitalism?

So, were Wilbur and Orville Wright functioning as Benevolent Capitalists? Let’s take a look see!

A Benevolent Capitalist views the world as an abundant place, and knows that no matter what happens they always have the creative and innovative powers of question and curiosity. No matter how often they fail, they know they will ultimately succeed. Their success comes not from the amount of money in their coffers, but from the change and impact they are creating in the world. They also know that no matter how often they succeed, that success is not an endpoint, but only the expansion of the platform from which they can create from. A Benevolent Capitalist is willing to lose and let go of what they created when it no longer works to create the change they desire to see in the world, and they don’t hold back the ideas and inventions that could make the world a truly better place.

A brilliant example of this in motion is the 18 year old teenager from Texas, Perry Alagappan, who created an inexpensive way for people to filter heavy metals out of water. He says “I became interested in water purification when I visited my grandparents in India, and saw with my own eyes how electronic waste severely contaminated the environment”. He created his invention to create a change and to benefit all people. Instead of patenting his invention, and making all of the money from it, he decided to make his designs “open source” which means that his plans are available for anyone to use, improve on, and profit from without any kind of legal recourse or percentage of sales having to go to him. He has no sense of lack about his ability to create more in the world, and this kind of innovation and creative ability will allow him to create all the money he desires in one way or another.

Wilbur and Orville Wright on the other hand came to the conclusion and decision that they should make all the money they can from their designs and they hid them and kept them secret and out of the public eye and out of the hands of the press to make sure that their designs were not stolen and profited from or even improved on. This led to a lack of sales in their early years since prospective clients couldn’t even see that they had planes that worked, they only had to take the Wright Brothers’ words for it.

Instead of using their energy on out-creating themselves and their competitors using the same ingenuity and innovation they used to create their first inventions, they put all of their energy into making sure nobody got ahold of the information of what they created. Once images of their planes did get out there, people did use and improve on their designs and they focused on years of litigation and convincing the courts that their competitors should pay them royalties. This stifled their own creations and eventually led to the downfall of their business.

The Wright Brothers bought into the lies of scarcity and lack that they wouldn’t be able to come up with any newer and better ideas, and they were eventually left in the dust as the other aeronautical innovators created new and better ways to create flying crafts.

What would have been created if the Wright Brothers were willing to be Benevolent Capitalists? Would they have shared their information openly and willingly, knowing that they would always be able to out create themselves and their competition? Knowing that they would always be able to use what they know and their creative capacities to excel in whatever field they chose?

What would they have created if they hadn’t spent years in the courts fighting for their share of the pay they believed they rightfully deserved? Would they have created money in different ways?

Their need for money created the greed that contracted their worlds, their creative capacity, and the kind of generative energy that creates and generates more money than ‘hard work’ ever will.

Choosing possibilities creates sparks, pops, and openings of energy in the world that are infectious. Have you ever been around someone or a business when they are functioning from possibilities and creation? You want to be around them. The energy is palpable, exciting, and generates an enthusiasm that is sorely lacking in most businesses. An example would be Apple when Steve Jobs was the CEO. There was a pull, a generative energy that people were very attracted to. When Steve Jobs died, that generative energy has left Apple and now their main focus is making slightly better versions of their existing products and keeping up with their competition instead of creating and generating new products and possibilities in the world for which they originally rose to success with.

I would guess that when they were in the design phases of their airplanes, the Wright Brothers had this generative energy of possibility I am talking about. They would have had to. They created something so different than what anyone around them had created at the time. Business for them, on the other hand, wasn’t an area where they had that same level of possibility. What could they have created so that the business aspect would have the same level of possibility that the engineering aspect had for them? Who could they have added to their business that would have created that?

A Benevolent Capitalist does what they love to do and hires people to do everything else who love what they’re doing. What would have been created if the Wright Brothers only did the part that was generative, creative, and expansive for them? Would they have created more than a couple of million dollars?

Where else could they have applied their creativity with engineering that would have created an even greater change on the planet?

We have the modern airplane as a result of the pioneering work that they did. I wonder what else they didn’t get to pioneer simply because they chose to get caught up in the lies of scarcity that kill all possibility.

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© 2023 by Bret Rockmore