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James Dyson’s biggest and best mistake

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Anyone who has used a Dyson vacuum knows just how revolutionary it is. Yet its inventor, James Dyson, didn’t find fertile ground for his idea easily.

After five years of testing and tweaking his bagless vacuum cleaner, he had arrived at a machine that worked.

Unlike every other similar product on the market, this one didn’t have a bag, which meant dust couldn’t clog the machine and slow it down. Instead, it used centrifugal force to separate dust and dirt. He had visions of a vacuum revolution, of “burying the bag.”

During the inventing process itself, Dyson had made more than 5,000 mistakes to arrive at his miracle machine. As an engineer, he has to make mistakes in order to make progress. But what he did next was his biggest mistake of all, he says now: He shopped his idea around to manufacturers.

“A mistake that cost me years and gave me gray hair at 40,” he says.

No one would license the machine. Why? Because in the vacuum manufacturing industry, bags were where the money was. No one wanted to make a product that would eliminate bags of money (literally).

Black & Decker, Eureka, Hamilton Beach—one after the other said “no.”

After three fruitless years, Dyson decided to make the vacuum cleaner on his own. His biggest mistake also turned out to be his most brilliant one.

“Believing that companies would choose good technology over short-term profit was a big mistake,” he says.

“What’s important is that I didn’t stop at the first failure, the 50th, or the 5,000th. I never will. I love mistakes.”

— Adapted from My Favorite Mistake, James Dyson, Newsweek.

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