If you were a prolific inventor with a 40-year career, and these sentences appeared in a major magazine profile about you, would you be happy?
– ”But as (he) has found out repeatedly, there is a big difference between coming up with an idea and making it happen.”
– ”Once again, (he) has had more trouble than he anticipated in trying to take an idea from a successful prototype to a successful product.”
– ” … (he) is pressing on with new ideas. If it takes a few years for society to catch up with his futuristic innovations, so be it.”
I don’t know Dean Kamen, the subject of the profile, but I have a feeling he doesn’t mind. In fact, I don’t think he takes it as a failure that, as The Economist wrote in “Mr. Segway’s Difficult Path” on June 12, 2010, “(h)is career illustrates the difficulty of turning innovative ideas into reality.” I think he’s probably proud that — he tried.
Mr. Kamen invented, among many other things (440 patents!), the Segway (“a gloriously over-engineered stand-up scooter … that could not possibly live up to expectations”), “the world’s first wearable drug-infusion pump” (which took 15 years to come to market) and $26,000 robotic wheelchairs that “transformed hundreds of lives, and inspire(d) fierce loyalty among their users, but are no longer manufactured.”
Mr. Kamen’s career/life has demonstrated that ideas take work. As an inventor with ideas, Mr. Kamen has to wrestle with problems that can be beyond his reach as a technologist, problems that include “infrastructure, mindset, logistics and sustainability” issues — “Technology is easy to develop. Developing a new attitude, moving the culture from one mental model to another, that’s the difficult part.”
And he is still trying. He knows he’s not unique — “For any one product I worked on, someone else would have. If I didn’t do it, someone else would have.” His latest effort, a hands-on technology competition for high school students called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), is aimed at finding the “someone else(s)” of the future, “all the scientists that are going to work on the really exciting stuff that going to happen over the next 15 years.”