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Dean Kamen’s Rude Realities and Somewhat Serious Suggestions about Innovation

January 27, 2014

“Being told ‘you’re crazy’ generally means ‘We should get started on this idea right away!’ “ – Dean Kamen

Recently, celebrated inventor and innovator Dean Kamen (creator of the Segway, iBOT wheelchair, and more) visited the FedEx Headquarters to speak to an enthusiastic group of FedEx employees about Innovation. Dean Kamen is an inspiring creative and scientific leader who holds over 440 patents, and also founded Deka Research as well as the FIRST Robotics Competition for students.

As part of our involvement with promoting STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – FedEx has supported FIRST Robotics for 13 years through in-kind shipments of robots and components. Kamen was joined on stage in his visit to FedEx HQ by FedEx Chairman Fred Smith, who presented Kamen with an additional $100,000 in support of rookie teams in FIRST Robotics.

Dean Kamen shared with our FedEx employees his Rude Realities and Somewhat Serious Suggestions for Innovation:

Rude Reality #1: Great technology alone rarely constitutes innovation. Innovation is not about the technology; it’s about the problem solving approach. Technology today is moving so fast that ideas equipped with the wrong technology simply will not work. It doesn’t matter how beautiful an adding machine you build, a calculator is still going to win.

Suggestion #1: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

Rude Reality #2: Risk, failure, and unpredictability are unavoidable.

Suggestion #2: Make sure you fall behind your schedule early…
Because the sooner you fall behind, the more time you have to catch up!

dean kamen collageSuggestion #3: Invent as a last resort. Almost all of the innovations you can think of didn’t start with a clean piece of paper. Find a way to use existing things and make them better.

Rude Reality #3: Invention does not equal Innovation. Inventions are wonderful technical gizmos, but Innovations are powerful enough ideas that they change the way that people work and live.

Rude Reality #4: It’s not what we don’t know that inhibits innovation…it’s what we do know that just ain’t so.

Rude Reality #5: Unlike incremental progress, Innovation is not a spectator sport.

Rude Reality #6: Incremental progress requires good management. Innovation requires great leadership.

Rude Reality #7: Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things .

Rude Reality #8: To err is human…* Unfortunately, it’s not company policy.
Far too often, big companies are focused more on how to punish failure rather than how to reward success.

There are more rude realities than somewhat serious suggestions, so why innovate?

Kamen reminds us that “Innovation is a messy, difficult thing, but remember that the stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stone…”

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