I just finished reading the new book about the Wright Brothers by David McCullough, and it was fabulous.

Wilbur and Orville Wright were utterly obsessed with the idea of creating a machine capable of allowing humans to fly.

Before the Wright Brothers began constructing their flying machine, they spent countless hours just watching and analyzing various birds in flight.

When it finally came time to construct the machine they were much further ahead than everyone else. The others, who were racing to solve the mystery of flight spent the majority of their time with their heads down running calculations on a chalkboard attempting to treat flight as a scientific equation to be solved.

Far too often we’re attempting to solve problems in our own businesses on paper without simply standing back and watching the others fly.

We can learn from analyzing and watching others, and sometimes that includes our competitors.

Here’s how you do it.

The first step is simple. Like the Wright Brothers, make time to simply observe.

Visit their websites, and call them.

Visit their businesses and buy from them.

Do they have a mailing list? If so, join it and see what sort of information they’re sending to their customers.

Use their contact form on their website and see how long it takes them to follow up.

If they send a sales rep out, take a meeting, and pay attention not to what they do, but HOW they do it.

There’s a concept my mentor talks about, and that’s the concept of breathing your own exhaust; believing that you already know everything you need to know.

There’s a classic story in the biography of Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza.

Even after Domino’s was a booming multi-million dollar business, whenever Tom traveled he would call up a local pizza joint from his hotel room and order a pizza.

He was continuously learning.

He wanted to see how they took orders, and how the phones were answered. He wanted to know how quickly the pizza was delivered, and how it was packaged.

Most of all, he wanted to know how Dominos could get better.

But that’s pizza. Let’s keep talking about the mystery of flight.

Even though the Wright Brothers took the time to observe and analyze the birds, they worked quickly to get their flying machine into action.

The Wright Brother’s knew something that almost everyone else also seemed to disregard. Flight wasn’t a scientific equation to be solved. The real challenge was developing the skills needed to keep a flying machine in the air. They knew there would be ups and downs. They knew there would be total failures. They also knew nothing would happen back at their office in Dayton, Ohio.

But here’s the most import point I gathered from the book.

Even thought the Wright Brother’s eventually managed to make flight possible, they never stopped watching the birds and were always able to learn something new.

Someone has already flown in your path.

Are you still keeping an eye on the birds?