Inventive Trial-and-Error: James Dyson’s Vacuum Cleaner

September 30, 2010

If you’ve been alert for the past few years, it would be difficult not to have seen one of the funky vacuum cleaners developed by James Dyson, the British engineer, inventor and entrepreneur.  The September 20, 2010  issue of the The New Yorker recently profiled Dyson and one of his latest inventions, the Air Multiplier fan.  A passage from that article caught my attention in light of a recent post on TechRazorBlog about iteration in the business process: 

In engineering his vacuum cleaner, Dyson followed the trial-and-error method developed by Thomas Edison in his Menlo Park invention factory.  He would build a prototype, test it, analyze why it failed, make one change, and build another prototype.  Dyson built 5,271 such prototypes over four years, until he had a machine that satisfied him. 

Wow!  That’s a lot of prototypes, which should make Dyson the king daddy of trial-and-error design.


Another Excellent IEI Program: David Cummings on Iteration

September 30, 2010

Earlier this month I attended a meeting of Atlanta’s Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (IEI), an organization with a lot of heart about which I’ve posted before (see TechRazorBlog, 4/25/10) at which the featured presenter was David Cummings, a serial entrepreneur whose Hannon Hill was listed as an Inc. 500 company several years ago and whose Shot Put Ventures is involved with funding so-called “seed stage” web services companies.  Cummings offered a number of useful insights and reminders about basic start up business blocking and tackling as he recounted how he and his business colleagues grew Hannon Hill into a substantial content management software company.  Among these, were:

  • He cited the iterative process in business as a key to success, which is the idea of continually going back to the drawing board to fine tune a particular business model or activity until the desired result or a profitable business model is achieved.
  • As his business grew his notion of what it meant for his business to be successful evolved from getting to a certain size and being able to sustain itself without his direct involvement to a much simpler notion of creating an environment where he and those he worked with could do good work with good people for good pay.
  • A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed tomorrow — make the most of the product, the people, the situation that you have now rather than waiting for what you wish you had.   This is, of course, a variation on the idea about not letting the great be the enemy of the good.

There were other spot-on observations about challenges faced by bootstrapping entrepreneurs and approaches to overcoming those obstacles.  IEI is planning to record and archive its monthly presentations, so this is one worth checking out.