Sir James Dyson discusses the value of failure

Sir James Dyson, noted inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaners, discusses how failure is necessary on the path to innovation:

It’s time to redefine the meaning of the word “failure.” On the road to invention, failures are just problems that have yet to be solved…

From cardboard and duct tape to ABS polycarbonate, it took 5,127 prototypes and 15 years to get it right. And, even then there was more work to be done. My first vacuum, DC01, went to market in 1993. We’re up to DC35 now, having improved with each iteration. More efficiency, faster motors, new materials…

The ability to learn from mistakes — trial and error — is a valuable skill we learn early on. Recent studies show that encouraging children to learn new things on their own fosters creativity. Direct instruction leads to children being less curious and less likely to discover new things.

Unfortunately, society doesn’t always look kindly on failure. Punishing mistakes doesn’t lead to better solutions or faster results. It stifles invention.

If the American Dream is now about attaining perfection, where is there room for failure? Dyson goes on to talk about how education might be changed to incorporate more room for failure but getting to the point where the broader society would be more accepting of failure is another matter.

I wonder how much this idea about innovation and failure could be tied to issues regarding publishing “negative findings” in academia.

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