My Favorite Mistake: James Dyson
James Dyson on his 5,000 missteps while inventing his famous vacuum cleaner.
I started with an idea: a vacuum with no bag. The bag was a problem. The bag clogs with dust, the machine wheezes, losing its puff. So, inspired by an industrial cyclone at a timber mill, I created a vacuum that used centrifugal force to separate the dust and dirt. No bag, no clogging, no loss of suction. It didn't look great, but it worked. After five years of testing, tweaking, fist banging, cursing, and more than 5,000 mistakes--or prototypes, as engineers call them--it was there. Or nearly there.
I still needed to manufacture and sell the thing. I say "thing," but this thing was my life; I'd given up my job, relying on my very supportive wife. When you have an idea, licensing it to a big company seems the obvious option. You keep your idea; the pros make it a reality. So wrong. A mis-take that cost me years and gave me gray hair at 40.
I had visions of a vacuum revolution, burying the bag once and for all. The reality was different. For nearly three years I schlepped from one vacuum manufacturer to another. But no interest. Zero. They had a business model that made them bags of money (literally). No one would license my machine; it was good for cleaning but bad for business. …