Why isn’t Dean Kamen on a Wheaties box?

Why do we pay so much attention to sports heroes and celebrities, when the people doing the work to advance humankind are virtually invisible?

Over four years ago I wrote a similar post to this one about scientist and inventor Ray Kurzweil. My son was 10 years old and had to choose a “hero” and write about what made them one. When I saw the list I was appalled and emailed his teacher to ask why current and contemporary inventors, scientists and visionaries were excluded?

60 Minutes had a piece last night about the US military working on something akin to a “Manhattan Project” for prosthetics. This is certainly a response to the huge numbers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan maimed from war in unprecedented numbers.

The firm they worked with was none other than Segway inventor, Dean Kamen and his DEKA group. Many of us have already seen the video about the prosthetic arm developed under a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Amazing doesn’t do it justice.

From a wheelchair that can climb stairs and allow the user to ‘stand up’ to talk at eye level with others to the Segway and a Stirling engine water purification system for small villages, Kamen and crew are taking big ideas and manifesting them in to a reality that is changing the world. 

Yes, I realize that not every kid can be an Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison or Ada Lovelace, but reaching for a dream allows a kid to accomplish much more than if they don’t, and though sports achievement can impact many other areas of someone’s life, an inventor mindset means that a kid learns to look at every process, method, possibility or vision they have, and to figure out how to make it more efficient or to leap forward in a revolutionary way.

Compare that to the ability to slam dunk a basketball and answer this question, “Do you want your child to aspire and emulate some NBA star, or instead become an inventor like Kamen and make a difference in the world?


  1. nwyliejones on April 13, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I have sent Chris Anderson, at TED.com, my ideas about how to honor Dean Kamen, Jeff Bezos, Ray Kurzweil, Ray Bradbury, and others. I was a teacher for 29 years.
    I just wrote a book entitled, The World’s Most Creative (And Dangerous) Quote Book.(www.knowords.com) I worked on it for the 29 years I was teaching. I love the idea of Dean on the cereal box. Most Americans can list movie stars and singers and sports figures by the hundreds; ask them for their favorite modern inventors, scientists, designers, and just for fun, mathematicians. Most of the people I know in Richmond, Virginia don’t know what a Kindle II is, what is TED? Twitter or Tweet? but they can tell you where each soldier fell during the UNcilil War. Growing up in Richmond means you become creative and read a lot or join in living in the past. Teaching in Scotland for a year and visiting lots of other countries helped.

    I discovered your site because I have Dean Kamen on a Google Alert. I want a blurb for my book from Dean Kamen; I can dream. (I’m working on it.) The first copy of my book I sent to my hero, Ray Bradbury. I’ll never forget the day he came to Richmond, and I got to walk through the Poe Museum with him. (Poe is his hero.)

    Did you send the picture and the idea to the Wheaties’ people? If they don’t want to, try another company.
    I’m writing articles and creating other ways to call attention to these inspiring creators.

    I enjoyed the article.

    N. Wylie Jones (nwyliejones@hotmail.com)

  2. Steve Borsch on April 13, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    What a great comment…thank you!

    I’ll send you a quick email…and I do know a guy at General Mills whom I’ll ping and suggest Dean for a Wheaties cover!

  3. Ann Treacy on August 23, 2009 at 8:14 am

    Some of us were/are more likely to be Albert Einstein than Michael Jordon! And being a pretty good scientist will get you a better job than being a pretty good basketball player.

    You should start a petition. I’d sign it and pass it on.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.