AN AIRPLANE IS LIKE A BICYCLE. John Pollack had an essay in the Wall Street Journal (November 8-9) about the importance of analogies for innovation (the essay is based on his book SHORTCUT: HOW ANALOGIES REVEAL CONNECTIONS, SPARK INNOVATION, AND SELL OUR GREATEST IDEAS.) The essay begins with the invention of the airplane by the Wright brothers. It may have been the way that my textbooks presented their achievement, but when I was young, I thought of their success as something of a fluke. Even allowing for Yankee ingenuity, it seemed strange that two bicycle mechanics could do what scientists had not been able to do. In the last few years, as I have read more about the scientific and engineering problems that the Wright brothers had to solve, I have changed my mind. Pollack points out the fundamental insight of the Wright Brothers—an airplane is like a bicycle. Says Pollack: “Both were unstable vehicles requiring nuanced balance and control in three dimensions; both fell if they lost too much forward momentum.” Given that insight, it makes perfect sense that it would be bicycle mechanics who would solve major problems of manned flight.

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