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#205 James Dyson (Invention: A Life)
September 18th, 2021 | E205

What I learned from reading Invention: A Life by James Dyson. 


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This is a story told through a life of creating and developing things, as well as expressing a call to arms for young people to become engineers, creating solutions to our current and future problems.

I have tried to seek out those young people who can make the world a better place. I have seen what miracles they can achieve. This book is aimed at encouraging them. 

Some may well  become heirs to my heroes—inventors, engineers, and designers—who make their appearance in these pages. Like them, they will not find it easy and they will need oodles of determination and stamina along the way

That was the last time I saw him. His brave cheerfulness chokes me every time I recall the scene. It is impossible to imagine my father's emotions as he waved goodbye knowing that he might be on his way to London to die. Sixty years have not softened these memories, nor the sadness that he missed enjoying his three children growing up.

I felt the devastating loss of my dad, his love, his humor, and the things he taught me. I feared for a future without him.

Running also taught me to overcome the pain barrier: when everyone else feels exhausted, that is the opportunity to accelerate, whatever the pain, and win the race. 

Stamina and determination, with creativity, are needed to overcome seemingly impossible difficulties.

I admire Soichiro Honda greatly for his addiction to the continuous improvement of products.

Craziest of all, during the first thirty years of our marriage, she agreed unselfishly to keep putting her signature to endless bank guarantee forms in front of solicitors, signing away our possessions. If we had defaulted on the bank loans, we would have been evicted from our home.

At Dyson, we don't particularly value experience. Experience tells you how things should be done when we are much more interested in how things shouldn't be done.

Jeremy Fry encouraged me to think for myself and to "just do it."

Jeremy Fry taught me, without saying a word, that each day is a form of education.

I wanted to make new things—things that might seem strange—and not things you make because you know they will sell.

I was left with a burning ambition to emulate designer-engineers like Issigonis and Citroën in my own small way.

I happen to find factories and production lines romantic places. They are truly exciting.

Selling goes with manufacturing as wheels do with a bicycle

Products do not walk off shelves and into people's homes. And when a product is entirely new, the art of selling is needed to explain it. What it is. How it works. Why you might need and want it.

He believed, most of all, in the power of enthusiasm.

I still find myself putting into practice at Dyson some of the same things Jeremy said and did when I worked for him half a century ago

He believed in taking on young people with no experience because this way he employed those with curious, unsullied, and open minds.

Jeremy was always looking for a better way of doing things.

He loathed arrogance and experts, by which he meant those who want you to believe that they know everything about a subject when the inventive mind knows instinctively that there are always further questions to be asked and new discoveries to be made.

Alec's view was that market research is bunk and that one should never copy the opposition.

I was also putting into practice ideas I'd learned directly from Jeremy Fry and indirectly from Alec Issigonis: Don't copy the opposition. Don't worry about market research. Both Jeremy and Alec Issigonis might just as well have said "Follow your own star." And this is indeed what successful entrepreneurs do.

I was penniless again with no job and no income. I had three adorable children, a large mortgage to pay, and nothing to show for the past five years of toil. I had also lost my inventions. This was a very low moment and deeply worrying for Deirdre and me. It was deeply upsetting, too. My confidence took a big blow, and it would take some years to regain it.

Here was a field-the vacuum cleaner industry-where there had been no innovation for years, so the market ought to be ripe for something new.

For the following fifteen years I lived in debt. This might not sound encouraging to young inventors with an entrepreneurial spirit, yet if you believe you can achieve something then you have to give the project 100 percent of your creative energy. You have to believe that you'll get there in the end. 

You need determination, patience, and willpower.

Experts tend to be confident that they have all the answers and, because of this trait, they can kill new ideas.

I had various degrees of perseverance underpinned by a kind of naïve intelligence, by which I mean following your own star along a path where you stop to question both yourself and expert opinion allong the way.

How best could I share my enthusiasm for what I knew was a great and innovative product?

We knew this was the most exciting adventure of our lives.

As Buckminster Fuller said, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

En route, there are multiple failures, sleepless nights, a great deal of frustration.

This was another of those products, used frequently by hundreds of millions of people, stuck in a technological time warp.

The general idea was to show that Dyson was founded by Mr. Dyson and that he was responsible for Dyson products. Big, long-established multinationals, most of them public companies, would not be able to put forward an individual in the same way.

Dyson has become as much an Asian as it is a British business.

The fourth Industrial Revolution is not going to dissipate anytime soon.

Learning by doing. Learning by trial and error. Learning by failing. These are all effective forms of education.

Children love making things and yet, all too often, this innate curiosity and experimentation expressed through our hands is stamped out by educational systems that see no virtue in such natural creativity.

Education should be about problem solving.

Invention is a human imperative.

If I wasn't getting anywhere with the education system in my quest to raise the number and quality of engineering graduates, why didn't I start a university of my own?

There were to be no tuition fees. Our undergraduates would work three days a week with Dyson on real research projects alongside young Dyson engineers, earning a proper salary, and we would teach them for the remaining two days. When the first undergraduates complete their four-year course they will be debt-free.

I also have an interest, verging on obsession, with the past.

It is about understanding and celebrating the progress that has been achieved, learning from it, and building on it.

Each artifact has its own story of against-the-odds progress and lessons on why having faith in your ideas and believing in progress is so important.

It is hard for other people to understand or get excited by a new idea. This requires self-reliance and faith on the part of the inventor.

Remember that there is nothing wrong with being persistently dissatisfied or even afraid.


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