JD’s ‘Successful Design by Failure, by Design’
In the late 1980s this engineer was up to his neck in dept, with little more than a small studio-cum-workshop, drawing board, a few basic of tools, his wife’s love and belief, and rare aptitude for transforming convention. Only now, 25 years on, he has a personal wealth of $5.2 billion; a Georgian estate in Gloucestershire, England; a Chateau in France, and town house in Chelsea, London; a Harrier Jump Jet; and owns outright the global brand and GigaConcern Dyson: a disruptive maker enterprise, turning-over $840 million in 2012/13 alone.
This billionaire’s name is Sir James Dyson. A graduate of the prestigious Royal College of Art. With a string of awards for design and technology. And a paradoxical passion for both the novel and the flawless. But how does Dyson achieve all of this and a GigaMarket business to boot?
The route of his modus operandi is perhaps best explained via an antediluvian fable. Dyson’s HQ is based in Malmesburry; a seemingly unassuming rural village in the Wiltshire Cotswolds. Only, this ye’old English hamlet has a legacy of quite valiant innovation. In 1010 AD, a Benedictine Monk known as Eilmer, on reading the Greek myth of Daedalus, coupled some home-brew winged-kit to his waists and arms; then leaped and made a 200 metre flight off Malmesburry Abbey - perhaps man’s madden flight - before a panic crash landing and breaking both wings and his legs; took to Mead; and never flew again.
Only, Dyson is far from a Benedictine Monk. Because when he leaps, flies short and crashes, he gets right back on up, examines and introspects, then moves on in germane and deliberate ways. By way of example, how many prototypes would you say is acceptable for proof-of-concept of a bagless technology vacuum cleaner? 10 prototypes? 100 prototypes? 500 prototypes? Try five years of sustained effort and 5,127 prototypes!
Beyond the taxing challenge of finding engineering solutions, JD next had to find a major manufacturer to license his gadget, obtain rewarding financial royalties, and make his bagless design. However, the first objection was that these companies sold retrofit refill bags and filters for their machines, which was significant revenue stream for them.
It became apparent that he would have to set up manufacturer himself! He sought partners, exhausted his savings, and even mortgaged his own home to get the company off the ground. Since he could not get a European manufacturer interested. The first Dyson vacuum was built and launched in Japan in 1985.
When Dyson first began to approach manufacturing companies take on his ideas for bagless vacuum cleaners, they reject his concepts unabashedly. Only, those wise old incumbents became Dyson’s competitiors, the machine quickly gained popularity with consumers. Within 18 months of its launch it had become the UK’s fastest-selling vacuum cleaner. In 2002 the company entered the US market, its innovative design grabbed the public’s attention; sales quadrupled in the first 2 years. The brand has since become the category leader in the US, and is now sold in over 30 countries.
In recent times, a capital investment of 10 million dollars, employing 125 engineers over four years was engaged to develop a radically new hand dryer called Airblade Tap, which reimagines the way we wash and dry our hands. A high-end design faucet that rinses and then dries your hands with a 420 mph blast of air. A striking piece of bathroom hardware that took 3 years and 3,300 prototypes to pass qualification.
And this is where the counterintuitive, and to a degree, cryptic logic of Successful Design by Failure, by Design, kicks in. Encrypted, because it takes some skilful reasoning to decipher one of innovation’s best kept secrets.
One of Dyson’s convictions and keys to unlocking innovation’s secret code, is that failure can be virtuous within the process of innovation (broken legs and wings or broken vacuums). It can be a kind of weather vane; not a painful calamity. In fact, success, he says, can be built through failure. Often, viewing problems as new starting points, which help figure out how and where to move forward. In Dyson’s case, it can take a decade and more to find a solution, and even then, the resolve, surprising. Innovation is a journey of learning and adaptation, not a clearly marked final destination.
Hence, Successful Design by Failure, by Design, means using failure as a deliberate and mediated tool to accelerate high value learning. Clearly, then, the highest value failures are the one that lead to the most salient solution.
He has a keen eye for weaknesses in homespun appliances and tools. But, more, also has an exceptional knack to reimagine devices giving step-change improvements in performance. And often in more than one critical dimension. In turn, often increasing utility, efficiency, and ease-of-use. Or, perhaps in this particular example, breeze-of-use!
The relatively new Air Multiplier fan is a prime example of identifying functional weaknesses and then using those deficiencies to drive ingenuity and speculative thinking. Curiously, you may have subconsciously noticed how uncomfortable a traditional fan is when nearby. This is partly ma result of school boy physics; that gas (air) under pressure acts like a fluid. Hence a mechanical propeller will chop up viscous fluids of flowing air into chucks or blocks; pulsing-out in a somewhat annoying manner.
Air Multiplier has no propeller, so kids can jam their heads into machines head and keep their ears on. But how does this clever ‘fan’ work? How does it blow its now famous smooth-as-silk, soft-as-cashmere, continuous warming, or indeed cooling, flow of air?
Cut a cross-section at the bottom of the fans supporting trunk, and you will find a digital motor unit that powers a 3D turbo-charged impeller, in turn forcing air-pressure and air-flow up into a so-called loop amplifier, splitting the flow in-half, pushing the compressed gas through the loop and out of 1.3mm silted annulus.
In turn, this process creates a jet stream that sucks in air from the back and sides, creating a strong even flow of up to 33 liters of air per second. Air is accelerated through an annular aperture passing over an airfoil-shaped ramp channeling direction. Then induced (inducement) from behind and drawn into the airflow. Then entrained around the machine amplifying it up to 18 times.
Dyson and his team have spent seven years and a staggering $42.3 million developing the new V4 motor, which is one of the smallest and quietest high-power motors, mainly thanks to a pressure-based sound dampening principle first observed by a 19th-century Prussian engineer named Hermann von Helmholtz.
The V4 is the world's smallest fully-integrated 1400W digital brushless DC motors was seven years in the making. That is digitally switched at 6,100 times per second, making the high compression fan spin 92,000 times a minute. There are only three moving parts, so there are no slip rings or carbon brushes to wear down. One of the smallest, quietest high-powered motors in the world is the V4.0 digital motor; taking 7 R&D years at cost ~$42 million. The specification, accelerates from 0-to-92,000 rpm in less than 0.7 seconds. Dyson labs have plans for V4.0 DM that extend far beyond bathroom sinks. 55 robots, capable of pumping out 4 million of the motors a year. engineers spent a year scouring the globe for the very best robotic equipment. A super-efficient electromagnet-based design has minute tolerances requiring precision, automated production. A dedicated $80 million investment factory facility in Singapore, increasing doubling production capacity. Four million digital motors are expected to be produced each year.
Dyson’s professional legacy and accent began with a fascination for furniture design; but soon developed a passion for industrial design and engineering. Constant frustration with incumbent or perennial domestic or commercial grade gadgets drives JD to develop and redesign his technology. This makes the technology expensive to develop, ploughing a lot of profits back into R&D.
Much is written about Dyson’s design engineering talents and innovation fortitude. But not so much about his GigaMarket mindset. He is a sublime and structured strategic thinker. What markets can be addressed, what markets can be expand or created. What platform products and service can be invented and developed to monetise those markets. And what core-technologies and core-capabilities and commence are necessary to realise those platforms and develop those markets?
After thoroughly reinventing the domestic vacuum cleaner, the commercial hand dryer, the office fan, the compact DC motor, and washroom faucet, it is intriguing to speculate what is next? One indicator here, to whether a company is serious about the future is to look at patents pending coming out of that firm. It is clear that Dyson is looking further out at more blue-sky fandango; filing a new patent on the order of every day.
For example, on reading his many interviews in the British and wider media, JD is more than aware that the smart home and office is burgeoning, and the internet-of-robots and other smart thingamajigs is just around the corner. Only this may be a hard sell to Baby Boomer types, as Generation-X simply do not appreciate what most Baby Boomers, like JD, experienced gadget wise back in and before the mid 1970s. The television, for example, had no remote control. Having to get up off the couch, kneel down impatiently in front of the TV, and physically flick through the few channels of limited choice. Now GXers and teenage Millenniumists are swarmed with breeze-of-use gadgets. They expect 24/7 convenience everything. And Dyson is on to this, because no doubt (my emphasis), GigaMarket are afoot.
The idea of reinventing the home and domestic spaces with these kinds of products that are integrated with the internet and can be controlled remotely. Dyson’s products already incorporate high-level software and artificial intelligence (AI). In the future, downloading software upgrades and new apps will be vital. Seamless and push botton breeze-of-use Wi-Fi and your computer’s down for an hour. so you don’t have that awful business of, ‘Do you want this? Do you agree to the new terms?’ When entering your home in 2030, discreet computerized agents sense your needs, monitor your environment, and await your spoken instructions. All electronic devices are connected, e.g. a message will appear on the wallpaper while you are watching your favorite 5D movie to tell you that your meal is ready. Every room is linked to any monitored public space, or you can also see any private spaces for which you have access rights. For working at home, all necessary high-tech appliances for virtual video conferencing, etc. are built in as standard features in your house, and in all hotels you stay at Like all newer buildings, your house will be carbon-neutral, meaning that it doesn't use greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuel energy to operate. Housing is based on organic, climate-adapted architecture for low-emission, recyclable homes and sustainability compliance. Since you have installed the latest technology, it is no problem for you to meet the targets set for water conservation, recycling and solar power usage In your hometown, like in almost any larger city throughout the world, "kit cities" have grown enormously over the past years. Accommodating the urban middle class, fast and modular housing is offered either through cheaper, pre-fabricated or flat-packed "kit houses" or in the form of instant roof-top add-on units that maximize existing rooftop space in high-density areas. Overall, more adaptable and affordable housing is mass-produced to enable three or more generations to live under one roof, e.g. to facilitate eldercare
Exponential GigaTechnologies that are at or near at tipping point. I have already deliberated a number of GigaMarkets that are lead by exponential technologies that have or are about to reach the point of take-off: Cobotics, 3DP, metamaterials, frugal medical equipment, AI design systems, et al. However, the industries analysed in part III, are a vanishingly small, however potent subset of what is going on out there.
The overriding mandate of James Dyson, is that he is more than a manufacturing advocate. Even more than a GigaInvestor in the maker world. He is one of a dying breed that actually makes sense about the importance of manufacturing to an economy. Making physical goods is not only important for creating and sustain volumes of higher-value jobs; or indeed the value created through international trade and supporting services.
When a manufacturing culture and infrastructure hits a critical mass, it become sustaining. You get synergy, because of the multiple and convoluted, mutually reinforcing value chains. Creating tier of value added. This of what it take to design, develop and then make Roll Royce jet Engine, or a JCB Digger, Williams or McLaren F1 Racecraft, GlaxoSmithKline or Astra Zeneca biochemistry to make up Ventolin Inhaler?
Caterpillar, by way of example, is a giant compared with social networking site like tweeter and Facebook. As it employs 620,000 people where Facebook employs 2400 people.
Dyson employs ~5,000 people across the world; hired an over 100 assorted engineers in Wiltshire last year to design the next generation of Dyson gadgets. There are few firms out there so doggedly committed to rethinking things, and fewer yet that do it so audaciously.
He’s more focused on rebuilding Britain’s design and manufacturing expertise, and enabling the innovation of others. Established in 2002, the James Dyson Foundation has inspired and encouraged students to think differently, to consider careers in engineering and industrial design. Dyson, invested $8 million in a student design incubator focused on engineering. From an early age children must be encouraged to have inquiring minds and develop their own ideas: designing, building and testing.