My rating: 81/100
See Book Notes for other books I have read. If you like my notes, go buy it!
- Dyson was successfully able to pay back a massive amount of debt ($900,000), and he says he thinks “prodigious borrowing is putting money to good use.”
- It is very important for inventors to maintain ownership of their inventions, and if possible, to run their own production operation.
- It can take 5 years to launch a new Dyson product. The hair dryer took $75M and 103 engineers, making over 600 prototypes.
- Patent applications should be made easier and less expensive, and the terms last longer.
- Dyson believes patents should be awarded on a “first to invent” basis instead of a “first to file” basis.
- During the move to high rate production, one should focus significant efforts on dual sourcing materials and developing alternative suppliers.
Dyson was born in 1947.
We need the visceral experience of trying something out to understand and to be convinced that we are doing this right way for us. Learning by trial and error, or experimentation, can be exciting, the lessons learned deeply ingrained. Learning by failure is a remarkably good way of gaining knowledge. Failure is to be welcomed rather than avoided or feared. It is a part of learning. It should not be feared by the engineer or scientist or indeed by anyone else.
Chapter 2 Art School
We ran up huge debt that rose to astronomical level of £10,000 ($13,000), the equivalent of £50,000 ($70,000) today. It was only paid off when I was forty-eight, by which time it had reached £650,000 ($900,000). I like to think that prodigious borrowing is putting money to good use.
At the time it went against the grain for an engineer to be a designer as well. You didn’t switch professions.
I dared to dream that I could be an engineer, designer, and a manufacturer at the same time.
Bernard Myers … was especially keen on the meeting and mingling of art, science, engineering, and design together, and on the value of technology.
“When you design something, everything about it has to have a purpose. There has to be a reason” – Bernard Myers
I have based all of my design on this ever since – honest, purposeful design reflecting its technology and engineering.
At Dyson, we don’t particularly value experience. Experience tells you what you ought to do and what you’d do best to avoid. It tells you how things should be done when we are much more interested in how things shouldn’t be done. If you want to pioneer and invent new technology you need to step into the unknown and, in that realm, experience can be a hindrance.
Engineer Tony Hunt … Tony taught us that structure was architecture. Most enduringly good modern buildings of the past fifty years, like the Pompidou Centre in Paris or the Lloyd’s building in London, as well as medieval cathedrals and ancient designs like the Pantheon in Rome, are defined by structure that holds them up rather than by cladding or style.
Chapter 3 Sea Truck
The ultimate challenge, I suppose, was to design, make, and sell inventive and wholly new products. To do this, you need to be more than a designer or engineer. You need control over the whole process just as my exemplars Soichiro Honda, André Citroën, and Akio Morita (creator of the Sony Walkman) had.
It can take five years to launch a new Dyson product
Jeremy Fry taught me not to try to pressure people into buying but to ask them lots of questions about what they did, how they worked, and what they might expect of a new product. Equally, I learned that most people don’t really know exactly what they want, or if they do it’s only from what they know, what is available or possible at the time.
In 1966 Raleigh brought out a bad copy [of the Moulton bike design] that hit sales of the Moulton original. Moulton sold out to Raleigh the following year with Alex retained as a consultant. It was not an easy partnership. When sales slumped in the early 1970s, Alex reacquired rights to his design and began manufacturing the bike, and versions of it, on his own at Bradford-on-Avon. Alex’s story reminds me of how important it is for inventors to keep hold of patents and rights to their designs and, if possible, to run their own show.
…Even so, Citroën was to make a key commercial mistake. Between 1955 and 1970, the company launched no new models. Then, realizing that the car-buying public was looking for something new, the company appeared to panic, investing in and launching a host of new cars. The expense bankrupted the company. Taken over by Peugeot in 1974, it was never the same again, making money yet losing its character and drive for innovative design, engineering, and styling.
Today we need a great deal of secrecy and security to protect our research and inventions.
Once you have a factory, how are you going to make your inventive new product? Are you going to make your own plastic components, or buy them? And what about motors and gaskets and a hundred other parts that, one way or the other, you have to will into being? Experience taught me that ideally a manufacturer should aim to source as little as possible from outside the company.
We design our own components. We don’t buy them off the shelf.
Chapter 4 The Ballbarrow
If you have new technology and a new product, a journalist’s opinion is more important than an advertisement.
Even if cement was left to go solid in the bin, it didn’t stick to the polyethylene but just dropped out. Polyethylene is nonstick, with no known adhesives for it.
In 1974, when I had wanted to do the Ballbarrow and my brother in law generously offered to part fun it, I had rather stupidly assigned the patent of the Ballbarrow not to myself but to the company.
I had lost five years of work by not valuing my creation. I had failed to protect the one things that was mot valuable to me. If I had kept control, I could have done what I wanted and avoided a big interest bill. I learned, very much the hard way, that I should have held on to the Ballbarrow patent and licensed the company, in the event, I lost the license, the patent, and the company.
From now on, though, I was determined not to let go of my own inventions, patents, and companies. Today, Dyson is a global company. I own it, and this really matters to me. It remains a private company. Without shareholders to hold the company back, we are free to make long-term and radical decisions. I have no interest in going public with Dyson because I know that this would spell the end of the company’s freedom to innovate in the way it does. I want to think about the future and to keep going forward with invention, engineering, design, technology, and products even if this means sailing against the prevailing tide and into those uncharted waters I find so exciting.
Chapter 5 The Coach House
I had tried to interest my fellow directors and shareholders at the Ballbarrow company in the concept of a cyclonic and bag-less vacuum cleaner to solve the clogging and loss of suction problems. No such luck. If it was such a great idea, they said, Hoover and Electrolux would have been making it already.
One of the important principles I applied was changing only one thing at a time and to see what difference that one change made. People think that a breakthrough is arrived at by a spark of brilliance or even a eureka thought in the shower. … Eureka moments are very rare.
In this demanding yet engrossing and enjoyable process of evolving thousands of prototypes, I gained a great deal of knowledge about cyclonic technology. However, like Jeremy Fry, I am cautious of expert.
Experts tend to be confident that they have all the answers and, because of this trait, they can kill new ideas.
Hoover wanted me to sign a piece of paper saying anything that came out of discussion with them belonged to them. I didn’t sign, and that was the end of my collaboration with Hoover. They did … say that Hoover regretted not buying my invention because they would have “put it on the shelf,” ensuring that it never saw the light of day. Charming.
My note: Be careful who buys your ideas. Ensure there is a clause in contracts that if they company does nothing with the idea in X years, you have the right to own it yourself again.
Commercially, the Cyclon upright vacuum cleaner was not a success either because Rotork chose the wrong person to run the operation, the company’s finance director. As an inventor one of the risks of licensing to other companies is that while they might be keen when you sign the license, they may decide to drop it later on. This frustrating but common experience left me needing to find other licensees.
Chapter 6 DC01
When I dared to ask Mike Page [banker] why he had lent me the money later, he said, “Well, you had fought a five-year lawsuit in America, so I could see you had determination, and I went home to my wife and told her that you were doing a vacuum cleaner without a bag, and what did she think of that? She thought it was brilliant not to have a bag.” And that was that, although what we didn’t know at the time was the Lloyds had turned his request down.
I was also told that no one would want to see dust sucked up by a cleaner inside a transparent container. Simple market research confirmed this. However, Pete, Simeon, and I enjoyed seeing the dirt we had extracted in all its gory detail, so we ignored the market research. Curiously, and aside from the fact that the new cleaner was powerful and with constant suction, this is exactly what customers I did like to see.
[The Eastern Electricity Board] told us, “It’s a really good vacuum cleaner. I like it. It works really well. But I’m not going to take it because you can’t afford to advertise on television.” PP I did a quick mental calculation and said, “If you buy two thousand, I’ll spend £40,000 [$55,000] on telly. So, for every thousand machines you buy, I’ll spend £20,000 [$27,000] with Anglia Television.” He said, “Deal.” And we sold a lot of vacuum cleaners in East Anglia. While it was great to discover how well it was received, and especially by those who chose to use it instead of existing vacuum cleaners, it was almost impossible to know why some retailers would take it while others wouldn’t. Sometimes our dealings with retailers bordered on the bizarre.
Chris Wilkinson … impressed me. Instead of telling me what he thought I needed, he asked lots of questions that helped me think about what we really needed and drew sketches for me in response to my answers. This is what Jeremy Fry had taught me to do when selling the Sea Truck: ask your client what they think they want and then suggest solutions.
Increasingly, I felt the factory should be like a university campus – although one where products were designed, prototyped, tested, and made.
I have always loathed companies that use “greenwash” as part of their marketing. I would rather reduce our environmental impact quietly and through action.
At Malmsbury we began reducing the weight of the vacuum cleaner from the word go. We thought it ridiculous, for example, that plastic moldings needed to be as thick as they were. The thicker the plastic, the more of it you need. The more of it you need, the more electricity you need to melt and mold it. We had a standoff with our plastic material suppliers who insisted we needed moldings 2.5-3.5 mm thick in order to push the plastic through the cavity of the mold. This is what their mold-filling computer programs predicted. We designed and made one of our clear bins with a 1 mm thick wall. Lo and behold, unlike the plastic supplier’s computer program, it worked.
In the late 1990s, a Belgian court banned us from talking about vacuum cleaner bags. I didn’t realize they could do this, and I would have thought it was illegal. But Belgium had tight comparative advertising laws and our European competitors ganged up to sue us, arguing that we shouldn’t say that we didn’t have a bag as this gave Dyson a comparative advantage. While this seems absurd, the court found us guilty. We produced an advertisement, shot by the photographer Don McCullin, with the word “bagless” blanked out repeatedly and a line that said “Sorry, but the Belgian court won’t let you know what everyone has a right to know.” This got the media interested. We were able to tell them the story of how European manufacturers, as a group, were trying to silence competition.
Dyson Contrarotator, a washing machine. … We started trying to reduce the cost of production, rather unsuccessfully. The marketing team said to me, “If you make it £200 cheaper, you will sell a lot more.” So we made it £200 ($275) cheaper and sold exactly the same number at £899.99 as we had at £1,099 and ended up losing even more money. I had made a classic mistake. It might sound counterintuitive, but I should have increased the price.
Chapter 7 Core Technologies
In spite of the Digital Slim cleaners being lighter, using fewer materials, and less energy, they have greater performance than their predecessors and are more pleasurable to use. This is the result of design, engineering, and science coming together. This, I fundamentally believe, is why scientists and engineers will do more than politicians and activists to solve today’s environmental problems. They have more than words; they have solutions. PP Our new Digital Slim vacuum cleaners now outsell our main-powered machines 15:1, and the usual vultures – hundreds of them – have jumped on the bandwagon, all making machines that look remarkably similar to the one Pete and I saw develop before our eyes. Typically, they waited until we had established the benefits and performance of this new type of vacuum cleaner in consumers’ minds before happily riding on our coattails and enjoying the spoils. Many of these rival products are flagrantly reverse-engineered copies. Their makers go further, immorally copying everything, including our imagery, our marketing claims, and even our typeface. PP At school you can be expelled if you copy someone else’s work. In the commercial world, it is allowed, even encouraged, under the guise of “competition.” The senior British patent judge, Lord Justice Robin Jacob, argued (Apple vs. Samsung, 2013) that this kind of copying should be encouraged. He was wrong. Copying reduces choice for consumers, rather than encouraging different products working in different ways and achieving different objectives. Plagiarism is lazy, while avoiding the costs of developing and introducing new technology. Patents exist to allow the inventor to commercialize an invention without being copied for twenty years from the date of filing the patent, which in practice means ten to fifteen years of production. If the inventor didn’t have that opportunity to make a return on his efforts, why would anyone invest in researching new and better ways of doing things? PP Lord Justice Jacob’s comment applied to the design of products, but if you followed his line of thinking, artists, musicians, and writers could simply copy one another. Surely we want difference and originality, not similar products? We don’t all want to listen to the same song over and over again, or look at the same painting, all done by different artists. Quite rightly, the law rules against plagiarism to protect the rights of artists. Why not the same in engineering? After all, patents are described as art – “Prior Art” is a term for previous patents, and “state of the art” summarizes the sum total of what has gone before. A patent will not be granted if it is “obvious to one skilled in the art.” … Patents need a longer life to reflect today’s long research and development cycles. The weakening of patents due to obscure and irrelevant “Prior Art” (something disclosed in previous patents) needs to be overcome as patents are too narrow and easy to engineer around. They need to be made cheaper to apply for and renewal fees should be reduced, particularly for individual inventors and small companies. Finally, one change that was made recently should be reversed. This altered the principle by which an invention should be owned by the “first to invent” rather than the “first to apply for a patent,” which is the current ludicrous position. An inventor should hold the patent and not a plagiarist who sees it and files first, as sometimes happens today.
My thoughts on this: At times here, Dyson just sounds like an old grumpy man. Perhaps these people who are copying his ideas do not have the same moral framework as he does and copying is encouraged in many places. The classical composers did this frequently, Bach’s Goldberg variations and Rachmaninoff’s variations on Paganini are a couple examples, and no one complained about that. In analogy, it sounds like a defender of a castle getting attacked by tanks and complaining that they are using techniques that aren’t allowed in war. Frankly, there are many people who want a Dyson knockoff that’s not as good but is less than half the price. I actually agree with Dyson, patent law exists for good reason and perhaps we’d get more original ideas if it was followed. Especially the part about longer patent terms, it is hard for a cash strapped inventor to monetize their ideas within 20 years.
In 2006, the Dyson Airblade hand dryer, powered by our first mains-powered digital motor, went into production without any market research on our part. … It has a carbon footprint six times less than that of paper towels.
During four years in development and at a cost of £55M ($75M), we made some six hundred prototypes of the hair dryer with 103 engineers working on the project.
Chapter 8 Going Global
Production issues dominated the early days. Suppliers, for example, let us down with components, so we needed to find alternative and reliable, good quality suppliers, especially as our volumes escalated. The dual sourcing of supplies became important in case of stoppages and to maintain a competitive edge between suppliers.
At this high rate of expansion, predicting sales volumes is critical. We usually underestimated what we needed, although this is a better problem to have than being overstocked.
I didn’t want anyone to buy our vacuum cleaner through slick advertising; I wanted them to buy it because it performed.
No one could have tried harder than I did to make things work in Britain. One logical move had been to try to buy land around us and to put up new buildings. But when we did a design by Chris Wilkinson for a new factory sunk into the ground and invisible from the surrounding countryside, it was attacked by local interests, including the local conservative MP.
Dyson’s presence in Asia has built up significantly since we started in Singapore, to the extent that we now have our global headquarters there.
Despite what local and national press and media said back home, we were not going to Southeast Asia for cheap labor.
Chinese authorities are taking IP protection increasingly seriously and driving progress, with the criminal prosecutions in relation to counterfeits of Dyson products being some of the most significant seen in this country. In one raid in 2020, thirty-five counterfeiters were arrested and 277 hair dryers, along with accessories, packaging materials, and other items were seized. The Shanghai courts subsequently delivered guilty verdicts, prison terms, and fines for the four principal offenders and thirty one accomplices.
We don’t approach a subcontractor and say, “Make me a product of this or this design.” We tend to go to outfits that have never made vacuum cleaners before or hair dryers, robots, fans and heaters, purifiers, or lights, and we teach their people to make these things using our production methods.
The Singapore government has several sovereign wealth funds specifically there to invest in new technology ideas and ventures. Intelligence from these wealth funds helps government form their policies.
My note: we need this here.
In Singapore it has been relatively easy to find bright new graduate engineers and highly skilled workers, the same is not true in Britain.
This global perspective encouraged me to back Britain’s departure from the European Union. I do believe that Britain needs to be free to operate competitively around the world.
We were not allowed to employ [engineers] unless they were from the EU. If we wanted to hire a foreign engineer, it took four and a half months, if we were lucky, to go through Home Office procedures.
Since we became members, our trade balance with the EU has declined while our imports from the EU have rocketed. In other words, it was a good deal for the EU and a bad deal for the U.K. Meanwhile, our exports to countries outside the EU have been rising during our membership.
Chapter 9 The Car
Chapter 10 Farming
We must move ever closer to a culture whereby we minimize the use of materials through lean engineering along with the recycling of products at the end of their lives. It’s not okay just to politely offset our carbon footprint. We have to deal with it at the source.
Chapter 11 Education
Having studied and practiced engineering, there is nothing quite as instructive as seeing a test fail before your eyes. This is why at Dyson we don’t have technicians. Our engineers build their own prototypes and then test them rigorously so we understand how and why they might fail. The action of making the parts to do a test is also important. It allows you to spot opportunities to do things in different ways, hopefully for the better.
In Australia, Edward Linacre from Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology created his Airdrop irrigation system and was awarded for it in 2011. Airdrop pumps air through underground pipes in dry land, lowering the temperature to the condensation point. The water produced is moved to nourish the roots of the plants that would otherwise wither and die in conditions of extreme dry heat. Edward had studied the Namib beetle, an ingenious species that lives in one of the driest places on Earth. With half an inch of rain per year, the beetle survives by consuming dew it collects on the hydrophilic skin of its back in the early mornings. Even the driest air contains water molecules, while biomimicry is a powerful weapon in an engineer’s armory. Edward’s research suggested that 11.5 ml of water can be harvested from every cubic meter of air in the driest climates.
Chapter 12 Making the Future
I have got to the point where I worry if everything is going smoothly.
The advantages of family businesses are that they can think and invest in the long term, in ways public companies are unable to do.