James Dyson: To compete, U.S. must take risks
James Dyson with vacuum cleaner. (Getty Images)
October 10th, 2011
04:00 PM ET

James Dyson: To compete, U.S. must take risks

Editor's Note: Sir James Dyson is a British industrial designer and founder of Dyson Company. Fareed Zakaria recently interviewed 

By James Dyson - Special to CNN

When it comes to taking risks, governments are notoriously reluctant. But in times of global economic uncertainty, it’s important to look beyond the short term. Debt reduction is necessary, but it’s not an economic cure all. Without fueling new ideas, long-term growth will stall. Investments are needed in new technology and infrastructure - expansive (and expensive) projects. Taking a risk requires brave decisions.

I had to borrow $900,000 to start up my vacuum cleaner company. It was a serious gamble. None of the major manufacturers were interested in my technology and I was already knee deep in debt. But I took a chance. And within 18 months I had the best selling vacuum cleaner in the United Kingdom. It was a risk, but one I had to take.

For governments the potential for encouraging invention is very real. But they’re even more prone to hesitation. In Britain, we umm’d and ahh’d about nuclear power while the French just got on with it and in doing so developed an expertise to export around the world. Today, our new nuclear power stations are designed by French engineers. And our new high-speed rail link will run German or Japanese locomotives. If successive British governments had bitten the bullet, we’d be the ones reaping the wealth of exports.

The right decision doesn’t make the headlines. It’s the gamble lost that makes the front page. In the U.S., the spotlight is on a risky investment that didn’t pay off. After receiving $500 million from the government, Solyndra, a solar equipment maker, went bankrupt. A substantial cost, to be sure. But, what of the projects that bear fruit? Of the nearly $14 billion awarded to 17 solar projects, only one sought bankruptcy. Playing it safe doesn’t lead to scientific breakthroughs. And, it can open the door for other nations to take the lead.

China is looking to grow its share of the solar global market to 13% by 2015, from 7% this year. The country spent $33 billion on solar power loans in 2010 alone. That’s real ambition. That’s risk taking.

While the U.S. can’t compete with Chinese on raw volume and low cost, it can compete on ideas and invention. Another U.S. solar manufacturer, Solaria, developed technology that uses fewer materials while delivering the same amount of power, lowering costs. This is a new idea that is driving competition.

Ideas like this need the right environment in which to flourish. The U.S. government provides 30% tax credits for solar projects and will continue to do so through 2016. It’s not just a boost to the solar industry. Research and development tax credits encourage innovative businesses to experiment with new ideas without the government having to pick winners.

Google has seen the opportunity, and is investing in new solar technology. Not necessarily philanthropic - it makes good business sense. The solar industry employs over 100,000 workers - double that of 2009 - and is America’s fastest growing energy sector.

Facing an economic recovery pockmarked with political potholes, investment in new ideas can help pave the way forward. Without taking the risk and supporting the things that matter - technology, infrastructure - you don’t generate wealth and jobs in the long-term. China puts money where it sees growth potential. So should Britain and the U.S.

In the U.S., investments in renewable energy projects are already feeding back into the economy. But, it’s the big investments that I find most interesting. Plans to give $150 million in grants to fund energy research projects could lead to world-leading technology. Risky. And potentially ground breaking.

One such project on the receiving end of these grants aims to re-engineer tobacco plants to generate fuel. Others are working to develop magnets which may reduce the need for rare-earth materials. From powering electric cars to the digital motors we engineer at Dyson, this research has the potential for far-reaching rewards.

Never at a shortage for ideas, the U.S. should not be held hostage by the fear of failure. Job creation comes with investments in infrastructure, energy and technology - funding creative and cutting-edge solutions. Now is the time to bank on the unexplored. Failure never held such promise.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of James Dyson.

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Topics: Competitiveness • Economy • Innovation

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soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Rz

    So where do they actually make these amazing vacuum cleaners? The USA or the UK? Wouldn't it really suck if it was made in Malaysia?

    October 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Reply
    • Occupado

      Dyson's vacuum cleaners are made in China by slave labor.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:36 am | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Think of Steve jobs, who advised, "Be hungry! Be foolish!" One has to be adventurous and crazy if he wants to be ingeniously innovative!

    October 10, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  3. Aaron

    who loaned Mr. Dyson the $900,000 – the govt or banks? was it a lump sum, or was that the total over a period of time? he left some key details out that make me question the message he is trying to convey.

    October 10, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Reply
    • skytag

      Why would you question his message, because you don't want to believe it?

      November 6, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  4. Occupado

    Maybe that's the answer. All we need to do is make more vacuum cleaners.

    Please shut up, Mr. Dyson.

    October 27, 2011 at 11:37 am | Reply
    • skytag

      Why are you belittling Dyson? If you disagree with his position, why don't you present a counter argument?

      November 6, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  5. skytag

    "Never at a shortage for ideas, the U.S. should not be held hostage by the fear of failure."

    And yet sadly we are. There's a common sentiment that if the government does something that isn't a resounding 100% success it's a complete failure and example of how government shouldn't be involved in anything. This standard is not applied anywhere else. Individuals and private companies don't need a perfect track record to be respected, but somehow anything less than perfection from government is cause for condemnation. It makes no sense. Yes, government has wasted money on ideas that went nowhere, but so have businesses, and as Dyson observes, this is just part of the game.

    To win big you have to go big, and that means sometimes you'll try things that don't pan out. I don't understand why people would expect anything different. The low risk, safe paths are followed early on by lots of people. The breakthroughs often come to people willing to invest time and resources pursuing ideas that don't guarantee results.

    November 6, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Reply
  6. Muriel Glasgow

    He failed forward more than 5,000 times to arriving at the perfect prototype – much fewer failures than Edison – lesson learned is to love failures as we fail we progress as long as we learn the lessons provided – why do we teach children that failure is "bad" and they should focus on succeeding – instead of letting them fail forward to success; keep trying, keep growing and learn from the experience.

    November 27, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  7. moqtada al qather is criminal

    فيلق القدس الايراني سينفذ عمليات نوعية لتاجيج الحرب الطائفية في مدن ( سامراء ، الضلوعية ، بلد ، الدجيل ، المشاهده )

    شبكة المنصور
    منظمة الرصد والمعلومات الوطنية

    وردتنا معلومات من مصادر مطلعة وموثوقة مفادها مايلي :

    خليه تابعه لفيلق القدس الايراني تتواجد حاليا في مدينة البصره عدد عناصرها من ( 50 – 60 ) عنصر يشرف عليها من ناحية الدعم اللوجستي احد قيادات فيلق بدر المدعو ( ابو حسن الركابي ) من اهالي مدينة ( الزبير ) وهو من اهم مساعدي ( هادي العامري ) في البصرة ومن عناصر فيلق القدس المعتمدين في الداخل العراقي ستنفذ هذه الخليه عمليات مرسومه لها من قبل فيلق القدس في المدن التاليه :

    ( سامراء / ضلوعية / بلد / الدجيل / المشاهدة ) والغاية من عملياتهم هي أشعال ( الحرب الطائفية ) انطلاقا من هذه المناطق المذكوره . والعمليات هي :

    1 / تنفيذ عملية ارهابية ( تفجير ) تستهدف اما مرقد ( الامامين العسكريين ع ) او مرقد ( السيد محمد ع ) في منطقة بلد .
    2 / تنفيذ عمليات اغتيال لشيوخ عشائر من ( السنة والشيعة ) تظهر العمليات على اساس طائفي .
    3 / ضرب جوامع سنية وشيعية في كل من ( بلد و ضلوعية و المشاهدة ) وتكون الضربات بالتزامن وبأوقات متقاربة .

    عناصر الخلية التي ستنفذ العمليات مرتبطة بصوره رسميه بفيلق القدس الايراني ومن المقلدين لولاية الفقيه .

    العناوين التي يتردد عليها بعض عناصر الخلية من ( العراقيين و الايرانيين ) وذلك من خلال المتابعة المستمرة لهم هي :
    1 / البصرة / شارع الجمهورية / بداية فرع فندق الامراء / دار رقم 128 على 45
    2 / البصرة / الطويسة / قرب مكتب الصدر بحوالي 45 متر / دار رقم 67
    3 / البصرة / الطويسة / قرب مدرسة البنات / دار رقم 91 على 3
    4 / البصرة / 5 ميل / قرب محطة القطار / دار رقم 84 على 2 على

    December 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Reply
  8. iraqi government of NORI AL HALEKI ,KILLING CHRISTEANS

    لا يتعلم العملاء من دروس التاريخ ، فهم مدفوعون باحقاد متجذرة في نفوسهم على كل ما هو عراقي وعربي ، فمع اقتراب موعد الانسحاب الامريكي المفترض من العراق تسارعت خطوات المهزومين باتجاه التخلص من قادة العراق في الاسر في اقرب وقت ، سواء باساءة معاملتهم اكثر مما سبق بمنع الدواء والعلاج عنهم لاجل قتلهم ، او التهديد بتنفيذ الاعدام بهم كما حصل مع شيخ الاسرى المناضل طارق عزيز . ان المزيج الواضح من الحقد والرعب من تحرير العراق هو الذي يدفع العملاء في بغداد للتهديد باعدام قادة العراق الاحرار والشرعيين ، ولكن هؤلاء لا يفهمون التاريخ ولذلك لا يأخذون العبر منه ، فالتاريخ يقول بان الاعدامات التي تنفذ للتخلص من الاحرار تزيد لهيب الثورة اشتعالا بدل اخمادها ، وامامنا مشهد اغتيال سيد شهداء العصر القائد صدام حسين حيث تحول الاغتيال الى مناسبة لزيادة عزلة الاحتلال والعملاء وتوسع شعبية القائد الشهيد والبعث .

    واذا كان العملاء يعتقدون بانهم سيفلتون من عقاب الشعب فهم واهمون ، لان جرائمهم اكبر من ان تمر بلا عقاب ، ومنها اغتيال مئات القادة وتصفية الاف الكوادر المقاومة للاحتلال ، واعتقال عشرات الالاف من معارضي الاحتلال ، بالاضافة لتدمير العراق وتبديد وسرقة ثرواته علنا بحيث اصبح العراق المحتل في مقدمة الدول الفاسدة والفاشلة . ومهما اعتقد العملاء بان الاغتيالات سوف تضعف الثورة المسلحة ضد الاحتلال فان النتائج ستظهر لتؤكد بان الدم كلما سفك زاد لهيب الثورة وعجل موعد الحسم .

    ان طارق عزيز يمثل احد اهم الوجوه المشرقة والمشرفة للعراق الحر والمستقل والسيد وصانع انجازات التقدم العلمي والتكنولوجي ، وهو كان يعد من افضل الديبلوماسيين في العالم ووصل امر الاعتراف بقدراته حد ان جورج بوش الاب حينما كان رئيسا ، وبعد فشل المفاوضات في عام 1991 بين وفد العراق برسائة طارق عزيز والوفد الامريكي برئاسة جيمس بيكر وزير خارجية امريكا وقتها ، قال امام بيكر وغيره بانه يتمنى لو كان لديه وزير خارجية بمواصفات طارق عزيز . هؤلاء هم رجالات العراق العظام سواء الاسرى منهم او من استشهد ومن مازال يقاوم الاحتلال بلا كلل .

    ان اسرانا يخطون بتضحياتهم تاريخا مشرف للعراق ةوالامة العربية ، بصمودهم ورفضهم الانحناء لغطرسة الاحتلال ووحشية عملاءه ، وهم يعرفون منذ البداية بان درب تحرير الوطن وتحقيق اهداف الشعب ليس نزهة وانما هي تضحيات كبرى لا تنتهي الا بتحقيق اهداف الشعب ، ولذلك كانت وقفة رفاقنا وهم في الاسر مشرفة وتجلى ذلك في تمسكهم بمصلحة الشعب ورفضهم الرضوخ لتهديدات بالموت رغم ممارسة ابشع انواع التعذيب معهم وحرمانهم من ابسط حقوق الانسان الاسير ومنها العلاج وتوفير الدواء .

    البعث الذي كان ومازال يناضل من اجل تحرر الامة وتحقيق المجتمع الخالي من الفقر والامية والمرض ...الخ وهذه الاهداف لا تتحقق الا بتضحيات مناضليه الذين يعرفون ان الاعدامات والاغتيالات مصير متوقع ومحسوب ، مثلما يعرفون ان الموت دفاعا عن الوطن هو خير خاتمة للحياة ، ففي النهاية جميعنا سنموت في يوم ما ولذلك فان اختيار الموت المشرف هو احد سمات صناع التاريخ والحضارات والتغييرات العظمى في مسار الانسانية . في ضوء ما تقدم فان التهديد بتنفيذ الاعدامات او تنفيذها فعلا لن يوقف مسيرة تحرير العراق واعادة العراق الى حالة الدعالة والاستقلال والامن وامان لمواطنيه كلهم بل على العكس سيزيد اصرار الثوار على التعجيل بالنصر وطرد الاحتلال وعملاءه .

    وهنا لابد من تكرار التنبيه الى ان ما يسمى منظمات حقوق الانسان التي كانت تنظم الحملات الضخمة ضد العراق تحت واجهات خرق حقوق الانسان وكانت حملاتها احد اهم ممهدات غزو العراق تلتزم الصمت المطبق الان تجاه معاناة اسرانا وتعرضهم لاشد انواع خرق حقوق الانسان وعلنا ، ومع ذلك لا تفعل هذه المنظمات شيئا وكأن الامر لا يعنيها ! واذا كانت الدعوة لحماية حقوق الانسان جادة فان من الحتمي معاملة كل البشر بصورة متساوية لا ان تجري عمليات انتقاء وتزوير وتضخيم من اجل الدفاع عمن تريد امريكا حمايتهم لكن مناهضي الاحتلال الامريكي لا ينالون اي قدر من كشف ما يقع عليهم من مظالم .

    وبهذه المناسبة فاننا نكرر دعوتنا للكتاب والصحفيين الاحرار في العراق وفي الوطن العربي لرفع اصواتهم دفاعا عن اسرانا وكشفا لما يتعرضون له من مظالم فظيعة ، وذلك احد اهم واجباتهم الوطنية والاعلامية والاخلاقية ، والصمت بازاء ما يحصل لاسرانا ليس سوى خيانة للامانة ونكوص عن مسار النضال الوطني والتحرري ، والتاريخ الان يسجل كل شيء .

    المجد لاسرانا الشهداء الاحياء وفي مقدمتهم شيخ الاسرى القائد طارق عزيز .
    تحية لرفاقنا الصامدين في سجون الاحتلال والعملاء .

    December 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Reply
  9. Muin

    This guy's idea about education seems right. Jon Stewart was trying to make Melody Barnes understand kinda the same thing by saying that arbitrary objective don't work. Successful old educator says the same thing too.

    December 16, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  10. GAG AND MAGOG

    VOICE IN THE WIND AND FU WAHABI THOSE ARE SHIIA VILLAGE IDIOTS LIVE IN USA .
    most of those shiia thigs who lives here are terrorists help iran and hizboallah and send money to them those evil shiia kelab al majoos al safween worse than kelab al wahabeen .....middleast should run by non rlegion group. keep your faith in your home and in QUM AND THE EVIL CITY OF NAJAF AND KARBALA THE HOORE CITIES WHERE MOTAA ( LEGAL ADULTERY -ZENA IS PRACTICED ). LA3ANAKUM ALLAH YA KELAB YOU DESTROY ISLAM IRAN MUST END HIZBOALLAH MUST DIE AND END AHMEDI NEJADI THE CHIEF OF THE SHIIA MUST BE ELEMENATED. HE IS RETARD LIKE ALL THE SHIIE3A WHO MARRY THEIR COUSINS AND SISTERS, INBREED NATION OF EVIL ( GOG AND MAGOG)

    February 6, 2012 at 9:36 am | Reply
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