One of the issues in the way of the Wright brothers was their secretiveness. After their initial successes, they packed everything up and didn't make another public showing for several years. By that time, others had joined the fray.
Then, much of their energy went into patent litigation (sound familiar to today?) against Glenn Curtis. They also held on to a technology (wing warping) that, given the materials limitations of the day, was not as viable as the alternative (ailerons) developed by others.
They were absolutely brilliant designers. No question about that. Their business sense, however, maybe not so much.
A great engineer that also understands human behavior and business, has a lot of potential for becoming a successful entrepreneur. A good business person can do the same by using (or exploiting) the work of others, despite limited technical knowledge. Sad, but ture.
I think the difference is that the Wright brothers did not corner their market. They were the first to prove a concept (that is if you choose to dismiss Gustave Whitehead's claims) and then others jumped on board. (No pun intended) So if there is a lesson to be learned here its about the importace of protecting one's own intellectual property.
I beleive that theme is being well discussed in a few other pages of this forum.
The Wright brothers would probably be classified better as great practical scientists, rather than designers. They figured out what were the essential problems, and solved them with the crudest possible mechanisms. (If you think "crude" is harsh, take a look at the Flyer's motor. http://wright.nasa.gov/airplane/eng03.html "Agricultural" and "feral" are other plausible adjectives.)
Once they had shown what was possible, others, including Glenn Curtiss, designed better solutions. Eventually, the Wrights and Curtiss stopped fighting each other, and merged their corporations. Look at what Curtiss-Wright builds now: http://www.curtisswright.com/ Not aeroplanes, but circuit boards.
I would say that your classification of their engine/design/building skills is not taking into account some factors. They had to design and build their own engine because they could not get an automotive engine. Because of the low power to weight ratio, things had to be designed with weight in mind. Lack of aero loads (due to low max speed) and need for lightness pointed towards a concept without a fuselage as we know it. Similarly the biplane concept offered structural efficiency while allowing for low tortional stiffness which was required for their wing warping method.
I read an article years ago about the colleges that graduated the greatest entrepreneurs ... and the answer was that "dropout" scored highest. That doesn't, however, mean that we should advise ambitious engineers to dropout to ensure their success. There are plenty of unsuccessful people who didn't graduate from college. The highly driven innovators who already have an idea worked out in their minds (Bill Gates) may be able to succeed without the degree but most people are better off getting an education to enhance their chances for success. The "dropouts" also tend to replace structured learning with self-education. If you are highly motivated, self-education can be more efficient.
What I think is remarkable here is how closely the billionaires stayed to the first industry that they worked in. The biggest departure was the entrepneur who steered his dad's soap company into an IT company. And for those engineers who didn't inherit their wealth, they put those degrees to good use in the early part of their careers, and then managed to parlay that into much bigger riches.
My theory is that tech companies started by 2 guys with the same name do well. I mean, 2 Steves started Apple - phenomenally successful. 2 Henrys started Broadcom, my employer, - greatly successful. And 2 Bobs started Linear Technology - very successful. So where's my other Jim?
Seriously, I tried the entrepreneurial thing (not with another Jim, though), but I found it was Business XOR Family. I met too many divorced entrepreneurs (e.g. Henry Nicholas III), and I chose family over business.
@alex_m1: ...to sucseed in business you must be ruthless and secretive. Such person wouldn't show the world his rubber duckie :)
"The quickness of the hand deceives the eye," as they say .. while your attention is captivated by this bright yellow duck in my left hand, the "sucker punch" is coming from another direction (Karen will pounce on you from behind :-)
@kfield: And all along I thought it was your lucky traveling mustache!
I never said anything about it being lucky -- just that it was my travelling moustache (a wise man is always prepared for every eventuality, including a surprise moustache party, such as the one I was invited to at Design West 2013).
On the other hand, should the Robot Apocalypse come to pass, I guess that it will prove to be lucky as I explained here.