Dean Kamen – Don't Tell Me It's Impossible

Roger Bannister broke the mythical 4-minute mile barrier in 1954. (Source: Guardian UK)

Dean Kamen is no stranger to innovation.

He’s also no stranger to doubters and skeptics. People said the Segway was impossible, but Kamen disagreed, and he was right.

“Don’t tell me it’s impossible,” he says, “tell me you can’t do it.” “Tell me it’s never been done. Because the only real laws in this world–the only things we really know–are the two postulates of relativity, the three laws of Newton, the four laws of thermodynamics, and Maxwell’s equation–no, scratch that, the only things we really know are Maxwell’s equations, the three laws of Newton, the two postulates of relativity, and the periodic table. That’s all we know that’s true. All the rest are man’s laws…”

-From Esquire profile titled “How Dean Kamen’s Magical Water Machine Could Save the World“, December 2008.

Dean was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1997 for his biomedical devices and for making engineering more popular among high school students. He was later awarded the National Medal of Technology in 2000 by then President Clinton for inventions that have advanced medical care worldwide. In April 2002, Kamen was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize for inventors, for his invention of the Segway and of an infusion pump for diabetics. In 2003 his “Project Slingshot,” a cheap portable water purification system, was named a runner-up for “coolest invention of 2003” by Time magazine. In 2005, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his invention of the AutoSyringe. (source: Wikipedia)

Be careful about trusting intuition, but be more careful not to bend to the majority for whom “impossible” is a comforting excuse for inaction.

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131 Replies to “Dean Kamen – Don't Tell Me It's Impossible”

  1. Hi Tim,

    Love your blog and insights. Your advice on reinventing how you look at life and what it costs, what you do with it, and what are truly important are extremely helpful to me right now! I recently decided to head of to do graduate school in Egypt for Human Rights Law. It’s a massive change in my life but i’m looking forward to the adventure! Thanks for the great advice and i’ll keep checking back 🙂


  2. Hi Tim,

    Dean’s philosophy reminds me of a quote I read recently from a book, Joe Maddy of Interlochen. He used to say “The difficult is easy. The impossible takes a little longer, a little more work”

    What a great attitude.

    btw, I had a pint at Triumph Brewing Co. while checking out your alma mater for my daughter.


  3. Yo Tim!

    Just submitted my design for the cover contest!

    All I have to say is that Yerba Mate and some gangsta rap really does the trick…….kidding about the gangsta rap

    Don’t forget to pick mine! Its the red cover with the hand breaking the 7 ice blocks


    Jeff Herdemian

  4. Tim,

    “Be careful about trusting intuition, but be more careful not to bend to the majority for whom “impossible” is a comforting excuse for inaction”

    Is this your quote or Dean’s?? Either way, such a great thought!

    Don’t listen to people who say you’re regurgitating wikipedia posts…These quick hit posts are a great way to get ideas out that people might not normally have come across.

    Keep them coming!



  5. Tim

    short yet sweet and powerful bruddah, I don’t care this from wiki or not.

    I just left my job, which had a salary of 93 grand + beenfits

    It was MUCH harder while working there, and so many told me NOT to leave as I support my entire family, but, now that I left, I swear to you bruddah it ALL seems easier.

    I just had to take the jump and now it all flows.

    It is NOT impossible, yet 99.99999% of people tell you so, unfortunately.

    peace bruddah,


    ps: when does ur new book come out? psyched 4 that!

  6. Hi Tim,

    I loved this post so much that I copied and pasted it into my facebook notes (I put Courtesy of The Blog of Tim Ferriss at the top).

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Thanks for this Tim. I don’t think we can get enough anecdotes of human potential. Doubters, naysayers, and negativity easily find you if you let them. Getting associated with new stories about breaking barriers and testing assumptions is something I don’t think I’ll ever abandon. They never get old because each day presents a new set of choices, a chance to be mediocre or great.

  8. I have great respect for people who have the strength to dream big. But I’m all too familiar with the “it’s impossible” attitude, whenever I talk to people about the possibility of living forever through breakthroughs in medicine and technology. I’m sure Dean Kamen wouldn’t consider it impossible, seeing as not dying does not break any of the laws he mentions.

  9. Hello,

    I have recently read “the 4 hr work week” with Great fervour.

    I live in the South Island of New Zealand in a place called Wanaka, 1hr from Queenstown. Personally it is nothing short of Fantastic living here.

    Any way my big, big question is: I reside in New Zeeland, nearly all, if not all the sites and info in the book (4hr-work-week) refer to using US specific companies for all the aspect of building a scalable “MUSE”

    Note the book also warns strictly about only operating in one country, selling product to a target mkt for specific magazine subscribers with a circulation base of 15,000 minimum.

    My life is in Wanaka, I love it here in almost every regard, and I’m staying for the foreseeable future.

    With this in mind how should I go about utilising what I’ve learnt in the book when none of it is NZ directed and the time zones make it very onerous to set up and get rolling a US dot com…………..I’m sure other people have posed this question and faced this apparent hurdle from NZ or any other country outside the US……How do you get over or around the above FACTS when wanting to create your, successful, scalable “MUSE”?

    I’d be immensely grateful to anyone who’d spend time typing out a well thought out answer to the above, address all the points and coming from a genuine place of having concurred the issues

    With Gratitude Matthew

  10. Great post Tim!

    I was looking for something like that when I was moving from Milan to Tokyo with my family 2 months ago. Japan it’s “impossible” if you don’t speak japanese. Exactely what they told me 🙂

  11. Perfectly true and most of us know it. But we forget it many times.

    Reminded me immediately of Washington Roebling, one of the engineers of the Brooklyn Bridge ( who did not give up on building the bridge despite being paralysed completely – except for one finger which he moved to relay instructions to his wife.

    Of course thank you for sharing. 🙂

  12. I really love this Tim. I’m a big fan, would you mind shooting me an email to start a bit of a conversation?

    I’m a young entrepreneur in Florida.

    Thanks for the beautiful post.

  13. “The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.” -Chinese proverb

    Hey Tim,

    If you can visualize it, you can make it happen.

    You can’t make fantasies come true. But if you can have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish, with some evident actionable steps, then you can make it happen. Your goal isn’t some abstract dream but a clear potential reality – now you just have to take those steps to realize it.

    Thanks for reminding us to follow our belief to greatness,


  14. Tim,

    Hi from Western Australia

    My status:

    Attempting to change my definition impossible.

    Have recently sustained a pretty serious knee injury. ACL, PCL and LCL and common peroneal nerve tear in a crunching tackle (knee dislocation and I cant move my foot). I want to walk again!

    In my rehab and am writing my first book “Harden Up”. Can I ask you for one distinction on overcoming adversity?


  15. ‘Others saw the impossible – I saw the finish line’ – this was the quote from my husband’s marathon run shirt. It inspired him when he read it, and he’s since run 5 marathons, imporving his time and the amount that he’s raised for charity each time.

  16. Greetings from Dublin!

    Started the slow-carb diet on Monday, and have a huge, wonderful chocolate fudge cake waiting for me tomorrow morning (cheat day FTW). Man, you are my fucking hero. Gonna focus on setting up a muse now, start living the dream! YES!!

    Some day Tim, I’ll buy you something wonderful. Dunno what it is yet, but it’ll surely be epic.

    Wishing you the absolute fucking best in everything ALWAYS,


  17. Something that amazes me about the online world: If you can think of the idea, there’s always someone out there with the skills to pull it off. So think big, come up with big ideas and get the right people on board to execute them. I think it’s really exciting to imagine what the future holds online. And the same is probably true in the ‘real world’.