The path of an inventor is not an easy one. From his first invention in the 1970s (it was the Ballbarrow — a wheelbarrow with a ball) to his latest “baby”, the Supersonic hair dryer, Sir James Dyson has forged his own way.
If you want to follow in his footsteps, be warned — its not for everyone. We sat down for a chat with the man who sees failure, obstacles and complaints as positives.
“It’s such fun,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Developing new technology and designing new products, I’ve been doing it for the last 40 years — and that’s what I do.”
You’d be forgiven for assuming that someone sitting on a fortune of over £3.4 billion from a lifetime of hard work might take a step back, but James Dyson is still completely hands on when it comes to product development.
“I spend my days with the engineers, looking at new technology, developing new technology, engineering and designing products,” he enthuses. “It’s just great fun.”
Working on something new and exciting is one thing, but working on the same product (like the Supersonic) for years on end must take the shine off that fun. But Sir James has an interesting — and highly productive — way of staying motivated.
“Trying to make it work, for a start,” he laughs. “That’s a pretty good motivation. Solving all the problems. Because things never work first time.”
“In fact you’ll often develop thousands of prototypes before you get things to work.”
For Dyson, failure isn’t a setback. It’s a driving force.
“I just find failure really rather interesting. I overcome it. I solve problems. That’s what being an engineer is all about.”
Continuing his rather unconventional methods, something might bother the rest of us — complaints — serve as an unlikely source of inspiration for Sir James.
“We all see problems in things, and complain about things,” he muses. “That’s inspirational.”
It’s like the old saying — small minds talk about people, average minds talk about events — but great minds talk about ideas. Now imagine combining a great mind, with the patience and perspective of someone who can be inspired by what the small and average minds are discussing.
“When someone complains about something or you notice a complaint, that’s an opportunity to develop a new product or to develop a new piece of technology. That’s often how it starts.”
Getting started is step one, but keeping on going is the rest of it, forever. And Sir James Dyson has the advice budding inventors need to hear.
“You need a lot of determination. You must never give up — that’s the most important thing. You must patent your product. And you must get used to failure. No,” he pauses, correcting himself. “You must thrive on failure.”
Rae Johnston travelled to Tokyo as a guest of Dyson.
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