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James Dyson - Creativity and InnovationJames Dyson - Creativity and Innovation


James Dyson (1947- )


English inventor (pictured right) of the bagless vacuum cleaner (the Dual Cyclone), first sold in 1993.

Another of his inventions was the ballbarrow (pictured right below), a wheelbarrow with a ball instead of a wheel.

 James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

Why is he so creative?


1. Passionate purpose

He has always passionately pursued his desire to:

  • make something that works brilliantly (function)
  • then concentrate on making it beautiful ( what designers call form).

 James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

2. Inspiration

The idea for the Dual Cyclone (pictured right) came from a visit to a saw mill near Bath in England in 1978, which was using a huge cyclone (or cone), to spin off dust, not suck it in.

He rushed home and made the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner with a cardboard cyclone!


3. Persistence, patience and experimentation

Dyson believes in “constructive failure”, learning from failure and gradual change on the road to success.

It took 5,127 prototypes and 15 years to make the Dual Cyclone.

He spent two years trying unsuccessfully to sell it to all the big producers like Hoover.

So he had to make it in his own factory in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

“An overnight success takes years of effort”, he says.

He was driven by:

  • passion for his idea. 
  • optimism
  • the fear of failure.
  • his father's death during his childhood (which forced him to be self-reliant).


4. Risk taking and continuous improvement

He had to borrow millions to make his vacuum cleaner, and all his wealth is tied up in the business.

Despite his $1 billion fortune, he still spends most days in his workshop: 

  • working on his next design.
  • thinking how to improve his existing products.

For example, his new products include:James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

  • the cylinder bagless cleaner (1995). 
  • a  toilet hand dryer, the Airblade, pictured right (2006).
  • a bladeless table fan, the Air Multiplier (2009).


5. Learning

He learns from

 James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

a) existing products 

(things they do badly or not at all)


b) comments from his employees and customers

He only believes what he discovers not what people tell him.

 James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

c) his failures

(like his washing machine, the Contrarotator, pictured right, which was innovative but too expensive).


6. Customer satisfaction

His vacuum cleaner has been a huge global success - why?

 James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

a) happy customers

Satisfying people’s needs better than competitors:

  • efficiency and reliability. 
  • attractiveness and ease of use

Dyson doesn’t totally rely on market research, because it only tells him what customers want now, not what they might need in the future.


b) knowing customers

The British vacuum market is split evenly between:

  • uprights (which Americans prefer).
  • cylinders (which the Japanese and Europeans like).

 James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

c) thinking global

Dyson sells in all the big world markets

  • America.
  • Asia. 
  • Europe.

The Japanese like pink and the Americans love

  • his Britishness.
  • ‘small guy beats big business’ image.

 James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

d) word of mouth

People telling each other about his vacuum cleaner has been its biggest sales booster.


e) advertising

(using the slogan “say goodbye to the bag”) .


f) after-sales service

His products are guaranteed and can be replaced within 24 hours.


g) style and design

People love his cleaner’s bright colours

In America it has become a fashion item, encouraging men to do the cleaning!

 James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

h) branding

The Dyson brand is cool and has appeared on the TV comedy, Friends (the cast is pictured right in the first 1994 series).


i) novelty

His bagless cleaner was revolutionary and the first on the market.


j) combining different management skills

New product development involves:James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

  • design and research and development (where Dyson spends most of his money).
  • marketing (using the excellent Dyson brand image - see above)
  • production (his products are made in Malaysia and Singapore to reduce wage costs).

 James Dyson - Creativity and Innovation

7. Creative thinking

Like his hero, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (pictured right), Dyson always:

  • breaks unnecessary rules.
  • challenges the status quo. 
  • seeks new and better ways of doing things.
  • loves solving problems and overcoming failure (what he calls “living on the edge”).


8. Self-confident and tough


a) has always had total confidence in his products,

b) takes people to court for copying his inventions (to “defend what is yours”, he says).

c) is tough enough to make difficult decisions (like transferring his factory to Malaysia in 2002).


9. Support

He has received vital help from:

  • his wife, Deirdre, an artist. 
  • Lloyds Bank (which initially gave him a vital bank loan).


10. Picking and motivating good people

He recruits talented engineering and design graduates straight from university (to avoid learning bad habits from other companies).

He improves their creativity by encouraging them to:

  • experiment.
  • make their own decisions.
  • dress casually (no suits and ties!).
  • discuss different ideas face-to-face (so memos are banned).


Key quote on design

Good design is determined by good engineering.


Key quotes on creativity

Experimenting and failing (on the key to invention).

Frustration is what motivates me. Frustration with things that don’t work properly.


Key quotes on success

Hope is the most important element in success.

Success is made of 99 per cent failure.

Enjoy failure and learn from it. You can never learn from success.


Key quote on product strategy

The product is the most important thing.

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