Published on 09 Jan 2022

What a hot pink hairdryer can teach us about reinventing our lives

Adj Assoc Prof and NBS Advisory Board member Abel Ang muses about on the lessons a reinvented hairdryer can teach us when rethinking our life and work priorities

My gym changed its hairdryers. Boring all-black ones have been replaced by sleek Dyson Supersonic models with hot pink blowing heads.

The new hairdryer is a sight to behold. Perched on its modern art-inspired cradle, it elevates the bathroom countertop to that of a designer product showroom. It is a huge step up from the conventional hairdryers that used to lie in a basket of tangled wires and stray hairs.

When was the last time you blew your hair dry?

The loud 75-decibel noise right next to your ears, the overly hot air flowing out, resulting in scorched hair follicles, and the top-heavy weight distribution of the device causing it to topple off the table when you lay it down? Isn't there just so much to love about conventional hairdryers?

A hairdryer is a simple device. A motor drives an electric fan which blows air over a heating element to create a stream of hot air, which in turn dries the hair it is blown on.

The amount of air coming out is regulated by how much current is going to the motor, which determines the speed that the fan is spinning at. The motor turning the fan blades accounts for most of the noise generated by the hairdryer. The higher the fan setting, the louder the noise.

Popular Mechanics magazine describes Dyson's secret sauce as finding an outdated device that no one likes using, "build a new motor, use a few parts originally designed for aircraft, pack it all into some alluring plastic, and sell the end result for hundreds of dollars more than others like it".

Instead of placing the motor in the "laser gun cone of hair follicle death" as typically done in conventional dryers, Dyson has deftly encapsulated the motor and blades into the handle of the Supersonic. To achieve this, a new motor was designed and developed.


With the user gripping the motor during hair drying, vibrations are reduced. This results in a hairdryer that is far more compact and substantially less noisy.

How does Dyson get away with selling a product at astronomical prices?

Reinvention. It has basically reinvented the hairdryer.

The air blown out from the Supersonic is electronically monitored 40 times a second, allowing for micro adjustments to heat, long before the warmed air can get to a temperature where it damages hair.

The redesigned motor has two extra fan blades and spins at 110,000 revolutions a minute, delivering much more airflow at a sound range outside of the audible range for humans, resulting in a quieter experience.

The innovative blowing head of the hairdryer, where the large and conspicuous hole is, pulls air from three air sources in the appliance instead of just the usual source at the back of the hairdryer. This significantly increases the airflow coming out of the dryer and delivers more effective hair drying.

As we start the new year, can Dyson's reinvented hairdryer be a source of inspiration for how families reinvent themselves?

Has the family fallen into the rut that makers of conventional hairdryers have followed? Just doing more of the same, in a routine and uninspired fashion?

Have conversations ceased during family mealtimes in favour of devices, Netflix or other anti-social distractions? Has your relationship with your partner become stale, with each person increasingly taking the other for granted?

With the pandemic killing off many overseas holiday plans, have we been able to make time much for local bonding activities to rekindle family relationships and keep love alive?

Just as how the Supersonic monitors the heat of air 40 times a second, is it opportune to review one's time and financial and family commitments to check if all is well?

By moving the motor from the head of the device to the handle, Dyson was able to reduce the overall vibration and sound produced. If jobs are the financial motor of the family, would it be possible to do the same job in a different way?

The pandemic has caused people to rethink their life and work priorities, leading many to consider leaving their jobs in what has been dubbed The Great Resignation.

Is it possible to switch to an employer that allows more flexibility in work arrangements that go beyond the work-from-home option that the pandemic has forced on many companies? Is it time to find a workplace that allows you full flexibility to attend to the kids or elderly parents when you need to?

If a greater intervention is necessary, is it time to consider working part-time or taking a sabbatical to allow more time for leisure, hobbies and family - if one's finances allow for it?

Is 2022 the year that you monetise your hobby and develop it into an additional source of income, beyond just relying on your job, in the same way that Dyson's innovative blowing head draws its air from three sources instead of just one?

The main purpose of reinvention would be to achieve lower noise in one's life and family, with greater peace and alignment with community and purpose in the new year.

It is encouraging that the heart of the reinvented Supersonic hairdryer is made in Singapore. Dyson has a 130,000 sq ft facility with 800 employees and 300 robots making the digital motors. It celebrated the milestone of having made 40 million of the intelligent motors several years ago, which is an indication of the success the company has had in persisting through the difficulties of reinvention.

Since the gym installed the new hairdryers, the number of people queuing to dry their hair has gone up.

I now have more time to reflect on the lessons of reinvention that a humble hairdryer can teach, while I wait in line to dry my thinning hair.

The writer is chief executive of a medical technology company and an adjunct associate professor at Nanyang Business School.

Source: The Straits Times