In November 1847, a civil engineer named Charles Ellet Jr was commissioned to build a suspension bridge across the Niagara Gorge. Ellet was extremely anxious to be the first man to build a bridge over the Niagara River. This had been his burning desire as he believed the Niagara offered him his greatest challenge. Ellet had to figure out how to stretch the first wire across an 800-foot gorge with 225-foot cliffs on either side and rapids that ran toward a water fall. It was a seemingly impossible task. Ellet’s team brainstormed for ways of getting that first cable across the chasm. Rocket, cannon, boat through the rapids were all suggested and ruled out. That’s when Theodore Graves Hulett came up with an ingenious idea – a cash prize for a kite flying contest.
A contest was held, with a five dollar prize (quite a bit of money back then), to see who could fly a kite across the Niagara Gorge. After several days, a young American boy named Homan Walsh won the contest flying his kite from the Canadian shoreline. The string of his kite was fastened to a tree on the American shoreline and it was pulled across by light cord attached. They later tried a heavier cord, then a rope, and finally a wire cable. So this amazing bridge all started with flying a kite.
I read something recently in a book called “Win the Day” that basically said with deliberate practice and desirable difficulty there is durable learning, or a lasting outcome as in this case. Each time Homan flew his kite and the string broke or he failed, he learned something new, something not to do or something to continue doing. He did not quit as many others did. He tried again with a new plan. First flying his kite from the American side and battling the winds, then from the Canadian side where he finally had success. Some versions of the story say eight days later, after flying his kite all day and well into the night, he finally changed his strategy and maneuvered his kite over the chasm and brought it down on the other side. This is deliberate practice and conviction. Conviction usually takes us out of our comfort zone, challenges us, and we most definitely learn something along the way. Charles Ellet Jr did not want to hear, “well-thought or well-planned or well-intentioned.” Neither did Graves Hulett or Homan Walsh. They all wanted to hear, “well-done.”
Sometimes it starts with flying a kite.
LeadAdvantage leadership programs deliberately simulate (i.e. practice) and discuss real-life difficult situations so that there are transferrable actions (kite flying) and durable/lasting outcomes.