I’ve been listening to the Sir James Dyson read his book, Invention, describing the history of his company and many of the amazing inventions launched with great success.
It’s true that he built 5,127 prototypes in a shed behind his house to finally arrive at the solution for the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner. And we ate that up in the US (see this ad), but also found the story easy to poke fun at (SNL skit).
I’ve cherry-picked my favorite three lessons from his book.
I recommend checking out the book trailer just for a glimpse at his life and success.
1) Learn to sell
Dyson helped complete the design of the Sea Truck, a flat hulled watercraft, while finishing his studies at the Royal College of Art.
He then had the job of going out and selling the product, which taught him the challenges of convincing people to buy something new and unique.
Learning to sell a product prepares you to invent and manufacture something even when it won’t just sell itself. This was definitely the case with most of Dyson’s inventions.
2) Build it yourself
Dyson frequently looks at a complicated problem, breaks it down to the simplest elements, and then rebuilds from the ground up.
They needed a cyclonic separator to improve their powder coating process for the ballbarrow but it cost $75,000. Instead Dyson got two metal workers to help him build their own over a few weekends.
With his knowledge of the cyclone, Dyson went on to invent the cyclonic vacuum, the DC01.
What else did they build from scratch?
- Motors – featuring their own control software, Dyson produces >11 million motors per year
- Bladeless air fan — a low energy solution for blowing air around the house (details)
- Car chassis – for their electric car project they built a wide chassis for better clearance
3) Explore what customers resist
Many of Dyson’s biggest breakthroughs came from designs that initial surveys found would not be popular.
Did people want a see-through vacuum that showed how much dirt and crud had been collected? They initially said no, but after launch it was one of the favorite features among customers.
More projects that started out disliked:
- Handheld Vacuum — with the motor under the hand so the weight is balanced
- Ballbarrow — a new wheelbarrow with a ball for easier manuevering
- Dyson Airblade — thin layer of fast moving air to squeegee hands dry