Inventing & FIRST

Questions for Inventing & FIRST

Mr. Dean Kamen contributed the following questions and thoughts in an interview with QuestionsForLiving® on January 12, 2009.

Kamen -Defining quality questions:
The quality of the question is determined by how well it is defined. The greater the clarity and precision of the questions the more obvious the answer becomes. By asking questions in different ways, we have generated new solutions to existing problems.

QFL Interview Question: What were your primary questions that led to the creation of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

Kamen: It is commonly understood that education in United States needs help. However, most people see that this is due to a lack of resources. Typically, people ask Supply related questions such as: What can we do to solve the education crisis? What do we need to supply to the schools and students to fix this problem?

When founding FIRST, I focused on Demand related questions. These questions include:

- What can we do to solve this cultural crisis? 

- How can FIRST help increase the student's desire to learn math and science?

- How can FIRST help students see the process of learning as attractive so their demand for knowledge and education will increase?

- How can we create enough demand within the students so that they will have the desire and discipline required to master skills in math and science?

Note: There are several core paradigms behind the questions including: 1) If students desire to learn, and demand to learn, they will seek out the necessary knowledge and education. 2) It is important to fuel the student's desire to learn rather than solely providing the tools. 3) The cause of the educational crisis stems from a cultural crisis in which our culture celebrates / values sports more than than math and science. 

QFL: What are the primary, or universal, questions that you ask yourself when inventing any new creation whether it is the Luke Arm, Segway, or IBOT ?

Kamen: Life is short. I do not want to waste time on products that do not matter. Most people work hard without asking whether there are unintended consequences of their work.

We ask the following questions:

- If we work on this problem, and we solve it, will our effort and our success create something very valuable, or will it merely be another distraction?

- Is this a problem that is important enough to be worth solving?

On this topic, Mr. Kamen quoted Henry David Thoreau. In his book Walden, in the chapter on Economy, Thoreau cautions: "Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already by too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York." Mr. Kamen, and his team, stay focused on solving problems where the solutions truly matter.

QFL: What are the primary questions that you asked yourself that ultimately led to the design and creation of the Segway?

Kamen: The SEGWAY is built and designed off the concept of the IBOT. The primary question for the IBOT was:

Is there enough existing technology that we can now truly design a wheelchair that will simulate the human's ability to stand up, move and walk about? Once we determined that there was enough technology we decided to implement it.

After creating the IBOT, our question for Segway was:

How can we simplify the design and functionality of the IBOT to meet the needs of a larger consumer base?


More information regarding Dean Kamen & his projects can be located at:


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