Over the holidays I watched a few movies with the family, most of which were the customary Christmas classics but I was able to get some documentaries into the lineup as well. One that I really enjoyed, and that surprised my wife, was a documentary on the inventor Dean Kamen. “SlingShot” shares the story of the life and creations of the prolific inventor and focuses specifically on his SlingShot water distillation device.
Kamen, a brilliant and eccentric visionary who wears a daily uniform of jeans, denim shirt and work boots, has led the development of numerous devices that are synonymous with modern innovation: the Segway personal transporter and the Coca-Cola Freestyle soda fountain. In total, Kamen holds more than 440 international patents.
After developing the first drug infusion pump as a side-project to help out his oder brother in medical school, Kamen dropped out of college to start DEKA Research and Development where he continued developing medical innovations to address lifestyle problems. Home dialysis machines, the iBOT power wheelchair, and “Luke”, a brain-controlled prosthetic limb are but a few of DEKA’s many innovations.
In addition to lifestyle products Kamen has a passion for tackling complex cultural problems as well. After observing that kids could list an abundance of athletic and Hollywood “role models” but few could identify an engineer, scientist or designer that they looked up to, Kamen created FIRST, a science and technology competition for youth from 5-18 years old. This school year over 400,000 students across the United States will participate in the FIRST program, learning technology, science and life skills.
With his SlingShot project, Kamen has taken on his most ambitious task to date by attempting to solve the world’s water crisis. I’ll let you watch the movie to learn more about this complex project.
While I won’t share any more specifics about Kamen or the movie, I did capture a few quotes from the movie that resonated with me:
(Paraphrased statements indicated by a lack of quotation marks)
Barton Kamen (Dean’s brother):You can’t wake up saying that you are going to invent something. To invent something that matters you have to be solving problems.
Dean Kamen: "Throughout my life I only start a project typically if enough credible people tell me ‘You’re nuts.’ Because then you know this must be a big problem."
Linear thinking will not help you solve the problem, you need to take big leaps to arrive at innovative solutions.
“You start putting all the pieces together and the chain will finally go from ‘it’s a crazy idea’ to ‘of course, it’s obvious."
General George MacArthur: “Failure can be summed up in two words: Too late.” (One of Kamen’s favorite quotes.)
Dean Kamen: The SlingShot water distiller is made up of expensium, unobtanium, unreliabilium, and icantmaketwoathem.
Dean Kamen: “I think somebody that’s a really big person is somebody that doesn’t mind helping everybody else around them. A really big person helps everybody else be big, and doesn’t use their bigness to keep everybody else small.”