September 18, 2013
James was drawn to art and design from an early age. His father died when he was nine, leaving James feeling different than other children, as though he was on his own and had a greater need to prove himself. At school he excelled in long distance running, not because he was the best athlete, but because he was immensely determined.
Ignoring the advice of his career advisor to become a real estate agent, James attended the Byam Shaw School of Art for a year, and then moved to London’s Royal College of Art to finish his formal education. Studying interior and furniture design, James was hired toward the end of his college career by an engineering company whose culture was characterized by plenty of young talent with fresh approaches to problem solving.
His first boss at the company put him in charge of designing and manufacturing the Sea Truck, a unique boat that could move cargo in difficult places. At that stage in his career, James had never designed a product nor sold anything. But the experience of having permission to make mistakes helped him learn much more effectively than if he was expected to get everything right the first time around. During this time, a wheelbarrow that got stuck in the mud inspired his creation of the Ballbarrow, which, instead of a wheel, had a large inflatable ball to keep it upright and make it more maneuverable.
Several years into his career, James stumbled across a new problem, this time at home. While vacuuming with a top of the line Hoover vacuum, he became frustrated with how quickly it lost its suction. Taking it apart, he determined that dust was clogging the pores of the bag and blocking the airflow. During a visit to a local sawmill, James noticed how the sawdust was removed from the air by large industrial cyclones. He wondered if the same principle could work on a smaller scale inside a vacuum cleaner. At home, he took his vacuum apart and rigged it with a miniature cardboard cyclone, then began cleaning a room with it. It picked up more than his old bagged machine.
Supported by his wife's salary as an art teacher, James worked on his prototypes. It took him five years and five thousand prototypes before he released the world's first bagless vacuum cleaner. However, the vacuum industry was not very supportive of this new invention. Offering his bagless vacuum to the major manufacturers, James was turned down by them all. It seemed they were determined not to interfere with their own sales of replacement bags, an industry segment worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the companies each year.
James found himself at a crossroads, but felt that if he did the sensible thing and gave up, he would always regret it. So, instead, he initiated sales of the vacuum himself through catalogs in Japan. Offered in hot pink, the Japanese catalog price of James’ G-Force vacuum in his native currency was almost 2000 British pounds… and it sold. After failing to sell his invention to the major manufacturers, James set up his own manufacturing company in England, applying for patents and continuing to improve the design.
It may not have been an instant success, but more than fifteen years after his initial idea, James’ bagless vacuum had become the fastest-selling vacuum cleaner ever made in the UK. Notably, other major players then attempted to copy his designs with their own versions. Forced to sue for patent infringement, James and his company eventually won $5 million in damages from one of the largest vacuum manufacturers in the world, a company who had not only rejected his original idea, but even inspired it: Hoover.
James Dyson is the inventor of the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner, with technology that changed the landscape of the industry. When asked for advice on dealing with adversity, he said, “A lot of people give up when the world seems to be against them, but that's the point when you should push a little harder. I use the analogy of running a race. It seems as though you can’t carry on, but if you just get through the pain barrier, you'll see the end and be okay. Often, just around the corner is where the solution will happen."
Give yourself permission to make mistakes and you will be giving yourself permission to persevere. All dreams reside on the other side of obstacles. Find your own way through them.
Until next week...