EXPERIENCE is invaluable. Or so says convention. But I argue that it's better to have an uninhabited mind ready to challenge. That's why I bring fresh engineering graduates to work at Dyson's facilities in Senai, Johor. We challenge them, giving them every chance to succeed. And the space to make mistakes.
I was given a chance as a graduate, thrown in at the deep end (literally) on a project to design a boat -- a flat hulled, high-speed landing craft called Sea Truck. Jeremy Fry, who entrusted me with the challenge, taught me the value of trying and failing. He insisted that I go outdoors, get my feet wet, and build models to prove my ideas.
In 1972, I came to Malaysia to sell the finished vessel. It was well received for its speed and ability to land directly onto beaches. What I didn't know was that 30 years later I'd be back to set up our manufacturing plant in Johor. Today we employ almost 1,500 people in the region developing some of our most exciting new technology.
We give young people opportunities, early and without overbearing guidance. But we also try to encourage them to follow in the footsteps of others. We recently brought a Skyhawk jet to Dyson as part of an exhibition on design and engineering heroes. It sits in front of the building, surprising but also inspiring.
The Skyhawk owes a debt of gratitude to the perseverance of one of my personal heroes: Frank Whittle. Whittle created the first ever turbojet engine during the 1930s, despite those around him insisting his idea wouldn't take off. He persevered and even 70 years later, his invention is the driving force of modern aviation.
There are lessons to be learnt from many of engineering's greats. Japan's Soichiro Honda began with a question. "What's new about this design? What's different?"
He would go on to invent the Honda A-Type motorcycle. Its patented, manually operated transmission mechanism was revolutionary for its time.
Instead of being embarrassed by failure, he embraced it. "Success represents the 1 per cent of your work which results from the 99 per cent that is called failure." Dyson engineers aren't afraid of failing. We test our designs and they fail. But we know that it's just a part of getting to the final product. In Malaysia, almost half the space in my 13,000sq m facility is used to run tests. The tests are not part of end stage quality control. Rather it's a part of the design and development of a machine.
That's the message my foundation communicates when it holds workshops in Malaysian universities. The James Dyson Foundation encourages young engineers to be fearless in their approach to design and engineering. They apply the same methods my engineers use at Dyson -- sketch, build, test, rebuild. Often, ideas end up on the scrap heap. Occasionally though, there's a spark of genius.
We run an annual international design award to support the young inventors who will shape Malaysia's innovation future. Last year, Rapid Energy Deployment System (REDS) by a group of four students from the University of Nottingham's Malaysia Campus was the national winner.
An ingenious idea, it looks to solve the problem of how to get a temporary energy source into an emergency situation. Like food aid, a large box with solar panels is deployed into the disaster area providing a vital power supply. Simple but effective use of existing technology.
It took me 5,127 prototypes and 17 years of development from the day I discovered cyclone technology for use on a vacuum cleaner to the day I launched the world's first bagless vacuum cleaner in Japan.
Whittle, Honda and other engineering heroes will inspire. But it will still be a long journey to success. To paraphrase another great inventor, Thomas Edison, "it's 1 per cent inspiration and the rest, perspiration."
By James Dyson
Source: New Straits Times Columnist 02 June 2012