James Dyson's Advice to the Class of 2022

By Dyson
Book open Reading time: 4 mins

Speaking on Saturday 2nd July 2022, at the opening of the new Dyson STEAM Building and Gresham’s School Speech Day, Sir James Dyson offered some highly personal reflections for the class of 2022 caveating it that, “this is not advice, it’s encouragement!”

Speaking directly to the pupils, Sir James urged them to:

“Be different, embrace failure, discover your mojo, believe in your ideas, ignore the naysayers. Instead, through science engineering, the arts, ideas and ingenuity, shape the world in your image: for the better. My hope is that the Dyson STEAM building will nurture just these ideas. Never give up in your quest to see them through.”

The new Dyson STEAM Building was designed by architects WilkinsonEyre under the late Chris Wilkinson, who had worked closely with Sir James, developing Dyson’s Malmesbury and Hullavington Campuses over the past 20 plus years. The Dyson STEAM Building was funded by an £18.75m donation from Sir James and Lady Deirdre Dyson and brings together Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths in one space – to inspire future engineers.

The significant donation reflects the gratitude Sir James has for the school given the support it gave him whilst a pupil at the school when, in 1956, his father died of throat and lung cancer. Sir James has previously reflected that:

"My brother was 11, I was nine and we had just started at Gresham’s. In those days there was no life insurance so the Headmaster, Logie Bruce Lockhart, said that me and my brother could board here essentially free of charge. Without that my education here would not have been possible and the school brought me up. It is great to now be able to give something back to the school."

The building is dedicated to James’s father, Alec Dyson, who was a Classics Master at the School, and Sir James unveiled a plaque which reads: To my Father – wartime soldier and Gresham’s Teacher.

About the Dyson Building

Generally, the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) is separated in school. However, the Dyson Building was conceived to weave the threads of invention, innovation, design, engineering and technology together in one space: physically in the building and also in the minds of Gresham’s pupils. The building encourages art and science to be taught side-by-side so pupils can see how the knowledge gained from one discipline can be used in a creative way in another. The classrooms, laboratories, workshops, and auditorium are equipped with the latest technology to support teaching of topics from robotics and Artificial Intelligence, to programming and machine learning.

The two-storey exposed steel frame is infilled with a mixture of large glass and oxidised copper panels. Some of these are set back to accommodate landscaped open areas used for outdoor teaching, while integrated planting blurs the boundaries between the inside and outside. The scale of the building complements that of the school chapel, built in 1916 and situated on the opposite side of the lawn, and forms a composition with the adjacent drama building. The patterns in the oxidised copper panels mirror the decorative flint details on the chapel elevation. Natural ventilation throughout the building, and the installation of photovoltaic panels and ground source heating pumps, ensure good energy performance. 

Highlights of the Speech

After Sir James Dyson officially opened the new Dyson STEAM Building, he addressed Gresham’s pupils, school leavers, and parents. Some highlights include:

To those of you moving on to the next chapter – I urge you to throw yourself into everything. Be a ‘doer’, rather than one of those ‘far too many’, attention seeking ‘grandstanders’. Who solve nothing.

When I sat where you are, I thought experience was important, a necessity in fact, I now know the opposite to be true. Surprisingly naivety is an advantage. Experience can be cage, inhibiting, and hard to escape from. Today the world changes so quickly that freedom from experience can be an asset!

I am a Maker. I have always wanted to engineer and create things. But I fear that making things might look complex from the outside, and put people off. I want to challenge that. When you open one of our robots – for example – they do look impossibly complex.But most complex things can be broken down into a series of problems to be solved. By breaking down complex assemblies, into a number of separate tasks, the complexity becomes manageable. The same is true of your journey through life.  Don’t let anyone tell you that something is impossible. Break down the challenge into simple objectives.

Logie – my late, great headmaster - was a fan of the individual. He believed that exam results were important, but so were other skills. He saw potential in unusual places.

Speaking to 2022's school leavers, he offered five pieces of “encouragement”:

Be curious! throw yourself… into everything… Try out everything, seize opportunities. Discover what it is you love.

Be countercultural. Look at things from different angles. Maybe by starting the ‘wrong way’? Your view is as good as anybody else’s and if it’s different, it’s almost certainly more interesting.

Look out for guardian angels. Spend time with the people who encourage you. Be inquisitive and always wanting to learn. Inspiration will follow. Watch out for the experts, the boring know-it-all’s’ and ignore the naysayers and the doubting Thomases (All of whom say it can’t be done).

Embrace failure. People like to portray brilliance as effortless. But that is seldom the reality. Success demands determination to overcome problems, concentration and stamina. My life has been one littered with failures. Of course, you can learn many things from a textbook or through others, however, you learn more - and viscerally - from constantly experimenting and failing. Failure, causes you to examine and overcome the problem.

Do something you love. I’ve always pursued things that interest me and which I enjoy, everything else follows.