Over five thousand prototypes and quite a number of rejections by manufacturers in a span of more than a decade, one would think that inventor and engineer James Dyson should have given up and pursued a different path.
In an exclusive interview with James Dyson, he shared that most of his life has been filled with failure, but that is what’s interesting about it. “You’ve got to overcome and learn from it [failure],” he continued to talk about the importance of experiencing this. When success happens, one doesn’t think of why it became successful. “So in this sense, failure is much more interesting, because it forces you to ask questions,” said the 73-year-old entrepreneur.
Unfortunately, society has taught us to fear failure, ingraining in the minds of the youngest of children that there is only one right answer to every question. But Dyson disagrees, “failure is a visceral experience which you learn from. Whereas if you learned everything by reading it, by a teacher telling you what’s right—well, clever people will remember it—but the people who want to really understand it and want to experiment won’t get it until they experience it themselves.”
It’s okay to fail
Even though modern society has embedded this concept into our minds, parents still have the power to teach their kids on how to look at failure in a positive way. Dyson looked back to how he let his children make things in his workshop, even on the kitchen table. Encouraging them to not be afraid to break things apart and try to put them together again helps to understand the parts separately and what keeps them together. He pointed out, “Even if they can’t put it back together again, but, at least, they’re understanding things—and failure—and how things work.”
For this academic administrator who put up the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology in 2017, he believes that it’s integral for everyone to be curious and to use both their hands and minds when it comes to design. “I think that’s one of the big failings of modern society, is that we think that using your brain and doing something cerebral is much more important than using your hands, and building and repairing things. We’ve gotten very snobbish about it,” he lamented.
This philosophy is implemented in his company, engaging its engineers to build and test their own prototypes. They do not hire technicians to do the legwork. “It’s satisfying in many ways,” says Dyson. “And, actually, all our engineers and scientists love doing that, and are happiest in the laboratory making and testing things.”
Investing in the new breed
Taking it a notch up, he established the James Dyson Foundation in 2002, supporting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math learning and educational works across the United Kingdom, United States of America, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. “I think that young people are less and less interested in engineering and manufacturing, and I think that this is a pity,” explained Dyson. To supplement the institution’s efforts and to inspire the younger generation of design engineers, the annual James Dyson Award (JDA) came to fruition with the requirement to “design something that solves a problem.”
What makes JDA stand out is that this annual search encourages the marriage of design and engineering and that it’s not just a theoretical concept—the product is here and it’s tangible and foreseeable in the very near future for the world to benefit from. “Young people at universities are very good at understanding today’s problems. Over the years that we’ve done the award, a huge number of projects have been about saving the environment in one way or another, or medical devices and aids for the handicapped and old people, which is most encouraging,” reveals Dyson.
Raising the PH flag
Though the Philippines only started submitting entries in 2018, it has already garnered two international top 20 finalists and the very first sustainability winner. Coincidentally, this year has the highest number of entrees recorded for the JDA, including a Filipino, Carvey Ehren Maigue, who didn’t win with his first entry in 2018 but worked even harder to submit an improved version of his original project.
So why a new category winner? Dyson explained, “We had a lot of entries, and it became invidious to choose between the two—someone who could design an early diagnosis system for breast cancer that you could do at home, and someone who made a much improved solar panel (using crop waste) that could go on buildings and be more effective. They’re two categories that really interest young people in particular, so we thought we’d split it. And I think that’s the right thing to do.”
Owning farms, Dyson knows all too well how crops can go to waste. “To be able to use something sustainable grown in fields which Carvey uses as a material is a brilliant idea. It’s a very clever system. And if what he says is right, that in fact you can generate power 24/7 as opposed to solar panels only working when there’s very bright sunlight—it’s a touch of genius.”
Other past entries that have made an impression on him are the Airdrop where this Australian uses the evening’s humidity to feed the plants during the day, and Eco Helmet where this American thought of using a foldable reinforced cardboard as a cycle helmet. Dyson added, “In fact, quite a few of the winners have gone on to make successful businesses from their invention, which is exactly what we want them to do.”
Dyson in PH
Most likely, the high number of Philippine entries to the JDA have made quite an impression on Dyson that he decided to set up their very first and only software engineering office in Asia in our country. “I’ve always credited the Philippines as producing more engineers than we do in Britain. You’re already better off because you have a greater passion and interest in engineering and technology than we do in Britain. And that’s really what attracted us to the Philippines. Plus, your ability to produce great products and great technology to great quality levels.”
Dyson already has an electronics manufacturing office in Laguna that makes 20 million new motors, providing more jobs in the Philippines. For next year, the British company has announced an investment of £2.75 billion in future technology, and they will also be hiring 400 young software engineers for their new office in Alabang. “We want people who are curious, who’ve just come out, who want to change the world and aren’t afraid of failure, and who want to feel that they’re pioneering,” said Dyson who added that experience can be a hindrance. “I’d love to be employing lots of young people who savor this and help us develop interesting technology. And to develop products that are different, that solve problems, that we can ship around the world. And to say these are developed and made in the Philippines, and they’re selling all over the world. That would be my dream. And we’ll get there.”