Inventor James Dyson on learning to fail

Think:Act Magazine "Vigilant"
Inventor James Dyson on learning to fail

Portrait of Think:Act Magazine

Think:Act Magazine

Central Europe
December 28, 2016

The advantages of trail-and-error in product development


by Henrik Bork

In the case of the first ever bagless vacuum cleaner, Sir James Dyson tried and failed many times before he got his idea right. His perseverance paid off – today, his company sells $2 billion worth of products worldwide.

What was your best failure?

One of my biggest successes came from repeated failures. During a chance visit to a local sawmill, I noticed how the sawdust was removed from the air by large industrial cyclones. At the time, I was frustrated by my Hoover and its inability to pick up dust. I wanted to apply the cyclone concept on a smaller scale to a vacuum cleaner. I went home to create a prototype and applied a cardboard cyclone to separate dust in my vacuum cleaner. And that was the start of my journey. I made another 5,127 prototypes before I was satisfied with the first bagless cyclonic vacuum.

Sir James Dyson

Legendary inventor Sir James Dyson is Founder, Chairman and Chief Engineer of Dyson, the company that designs well-known household appliances such as bagless vacuum cleaners and bladeless fans. Now present in over 75 countries worldwide, the company has grown from one man and one idea to a global technology company with over 3,000 engineers.

What is your attitude to failure today?

One of the greatest risks I’ve taken was when I decided to make my own digital motor. Seventeen years ago, I was hugely dissatisfied by motor technology. They were bulky and inefficient. I decided to pull a team of engineers together to find a better solution and it’s what sits at the heart of most of our technology today. We’ve invested over £250 million ($312 million) in these motors and we make them on automated manufacturing lines. Their potential is hugely exciting.

How do you encourage others to make the best of failure?

My belief is that you should learn to fail. And fail often. Failure is the biggest driver of success and I encourage everyone at Dyson to do it. Risk is good and I encourage my engineers to make bold decisions.

Further reading
Our Think:Act magazine
blue background
Think:Act Edition



This issue of our Think:Act magazine leads on how global corporations ranging from BASF and Cisco to Corning and Haier are harnessing their innovation skills to pre-empt changes in the business environment.

Published December 2016. Available in
Subscribe to newsletter

Curious about the contents of our newest Think:Act magazine? Receive your very own copy by signing up now! Subscribe here to receive our Think:Act magazine and the latest news from Roland Berger.

Portrait of Think:Act Magazine

Think:Act Magazine

Central Europe