SAN JOSE, Calif. Dean Kamen, the innovator behind medical machines and unique transportation vehicles such as the Segway, offered rules of the road for innovation at the Embedded Systems Conference here on Tuesday (April 4).
"I don't know what innovation is, but I can give a guide to rude realities and somewhat serious suggestions about innovation and how to approach it," Kamen said.
The ESC Silicon Valley keynoter warned that he is known for being an "equal opportunity offender" to both developers and managers. He said great technology alone rarely constitutes innovation and exhorted embedded system designer to continue to press on "in the darkest night of the innovator." Quoting Winston Churchill, he added, "If you're going through hell, keep going."
By contrast, he added, "Management is about avoiding innovation."
Risk, failure and unpredictability are necessary to follow the path of innovation. "Make sure you fall behind the schedule on your project early; the sooner you fall behind, the sooner you have to catch up."
He urged his listeners to use technologies in toolboxes used by other industries, adding that the "definition of invention is the art of concealing your sources."
"Invent as a last resort', said Kamen. "If you can borrow from another technology and apply it to your problem, do so."
He also exhorted designers that innovation is not a spectator sport. "Innovation needs to be nurtured throughout an organization," said Kamen. "Management is doing things right, whereas leadership is doing the right things."
American industry innovates because individuals take risks and accept failures. Nevertheless, it is undergoing the greatest threat to its innovation process, because America is now in the middle of a "cultural crisis." "It's not an education crisis that the U.S. is facing in recruiting more younger people to take up studying science and engineering," said Kamen. "It's that the young are being pulled to emulate the heroes of sports and entertainment.
"It's up to you to work with them to make it interesting for them to want to pursue engineering. You need to instill the passion for tools and science, as much as they now have for nonsense," said Kamen.
Kamen urged designers to do more in their communities on par with the FIRST project he has headed for 15 years. For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology teams as many as 70,000 students a year with working engineers, at events in more than 23 cities.
As head of Deka Research and Development Corp., Kamen criticized corporate culture for rarely tolerating failure, patience, discipline and unorthodox processes that innovation requires. "As Albert Einsten said, 'The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits."