- Learning Through Perseverance: A Conversation with Sir James Dyson at Yonsei University October 07, 2019
5th Yonsei Venture, Innovation and Startup Program (YVIP) Global CEO Talk
Student Reporter Cha Min-kyung
Sir James Dyson, the founder and chief engineer of British home appliance technology company Dyson, visited Yonsei University last September to share his vision on ideas, innovation, and improvement.
The 5th Yonsei Venture, Innovation and Startup Program (YVIP) Global CEO Talk of Yonsei School of Business hosted Sir Dyson’s special lecture at the Centennial Hall of Yonsei University’s Sinchon campus in Seoul, Korea in the afternoon of September 27. The venue was crowded with over 420 students, faculty, and staff, eager to learn about Sir Dyson’s journey and insights.
The special lecture combined aspects of both lecture and discussion, moderated by Shin A-young, announcer for the Korean TV show “Welcome, First Time in Korea.” After an introductory talk, Sir Dyson and a student panel of six Yonsei students from various majors candidly conversed their insights and thoughts on Dyson’s innovations and the future of engineering.
Sir James Dyson founded the company in 1993 by inventing the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner that works on the principle of cyclonic separation. His innovative technology revolutionized the wireless cleaner market, producing breakthrough items ranging from bladeless fans, air cleaners, lightings, hand dryers, hair dryers to stylers. Sir Dyson founded the James Dyson Foundation in 2002 to support design and engineering education, encouraging young engineers to think differently and make mistakes. Since 2004, he has also been hosting an international competition called the James Dyson Award for design or engineering students with innovative problem-solving ideas.
His lecture at Yonsei University was a continuation of his mission to support the next generation of design engineers by sharing his experience. The first part of the talk was an introduction to Sir Dyson’s early years as an engineer and his inventions after copious struggles. One of his most famous inventions is the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner; however, it did not come easy as he had to make 5,127 prototypes for five years before finally creating a satisfactory end product. Electric fans and hair dryers that do not contain spinning fans are also some of Dyson’s unique selling points that differentiate them from other home appliance companies.
The second part was held in a more casual conversational format between Sir Dyson and the Yonsei student panel, including Lim Jongwon (Biomedical Engineering), national winner of the 2016 James Dyson Award. The discussion dealt with topics related to Sir Dyson’s work ethics, his inspiration for the famous wireless vacuum and hair dryers, and advice for aspiring engineers.
In response to a student who asked for advice for people who want to integrate engineering with business, Sir Dyson replied, “Tomorrow is going to be different. So, my experiences may not really help you. What I can say, though, is that you should understand the work behind engineering and your products, and then find the right market to target those products.”
When another student inquired about Sir Dyson’s trial and error experiences as well as his innovative mindset, he replied, “The most important thing to understand as an engineer is failure. You may spend every day doing experiments and not yield anything. However, you should welcome such failures because the whole trial and error process is really exciting—it’s actually more interesting than success. If you always do what you think is right, you are just doing what everybody else is doing.”
Sir Dyson also amazed the audience when he mentioned that his company does not have a separate designer for the products; instead, he claimed that “as you develop the products, you are also designing the product.” He stated that his company focuses more on the functions of its products rather than the design because consumers often get disappointed when their “pretty” purchases do not meet their expectations.
A Yonsei School of Business student brought up the issues of fine dust and air pollution in Korea, asking Sir Dyson about his take on solving these environmental issues. He answered that all of their dust-free vacuum cleaners function with a cyclone system and come with fine dust filters or dust bags. Cyclonic vacuum cleaners are known for being able to separate dirt from the air, allowing the dirt to be collected in a separate bin so that air is left clean while vacuuming. Sir Dyson also added that his company is planning different projects that aim to improve air quality in the near future. When asked about other future plans, Sir Dyson mentioned that Dyson expects to launch its own electric car in 2021.
“Sir James Dyson is an executive and engineer who has proved that breaking stereotypes is the first step towards innovation,” said Suh Kil-Soo, Dean of Yonsei School of Business. “This event was an excellent opportunity to remind students of the importance of convergence thinking that connects technology, design, and management.”
At the end of the student panel discussion, there was a Q&A session for the audience, followed by a lucky draw event awarding various Dyson products.
The YVIP Global CEO Talk is a regular lecture series of the Yonsei School of Business which aims to raise students’ aspirations to develop into future entrepreneurs and to develop their intellectual openness and flexibility by learning firsthand about the success experienced by global business leaders and game-changers. Previous speakers include Chairman Risto Siilasmaa from Nokia, Chairman Suh Kyung-Bae of Korean cosmetics giant AmorePacific, and Chairman Chi Young-Suk of information and analytics company Elsevier.
[Editor's Note] This article was contributed by Yonsei University's student-led English monthly, The Yonsei Annals.