Museum of Failure Showcases the Best of the Worst
What do coffee-flavored Coca-Cola, a Donald Trump board game and a 1940s lobotomy tool have in common?
They are all considered innovation flops — and they will all go on display at Sweden’s new Museum of Failure.
Innovation researcher — and failure obsessive — Samuel West is the brains behind the project, which opens in June.
“I’ve noticed how success is always put up on a pedestal,” he told CNN, “but the failures are always swept under the carpet and you don’t talk about them.”
He’s unhappy with this state of affairs. “I know, and everybody knows, that up to 90% of innovation fails.”
West set himself the task of finding these failed products and “[turning] them into a learning situation.” And so the Museum of Failure was born.
He has collected 51 items to go on display, with more on the way. “I get stuff all the time,” he said. “I love it! It’s like Christmas every day when I go to check the mail.”
“On the ridiculous end of the spectrum I have the Bic pen for women, that’s just stupid,” he said.
“And then I have a facial mask — it looks like a Hannibal Lecter torture device — that gives your face small shocks and you turn beautiful! You have to use it every day for three months before it shows any effect, apparently.”
Other items include Coca-Cola BlaK, a coffee-flavored version of the drink launched in 2006, a Donald Trump board game from 1989 and a Harley Davidson perfume.
There are plenty of technological items too, from the Apple Newton and the Twitter Peek — an electronic device for writing tweets — to the Nokia N-Gage, a hybrid mobile phone game system.
‘Failures are funny’
There are many varieties of failure, West explains: “Some products fail from the beginning — they should never exist — and some fail in the design process.”
Others, like Kodak’s first digital camera, also on display, were huge successes but marked the start of a company’s decline.
That camera was “a wild success,” said West. “The failure lies in the fact that Kodak didn’t innovate, didn’t change their business model. They were hellbent on keeping the profit coming in from printing photos on paper, their paper.”
As a result, Kodak failed to keep up with the digital revolution and went bankrupt in the same year that Instagram was sold for a billion dollars, West explained.
There are some gruesome products too, such as a medical instrument for performing lobotomies. West believes it was used in the 1930s or 1940s. “These tools were developed to perform a speedy lobotomy,” he said. “You could do a lobotomy in just a few minutes, so you could mass lobotomize entire populations of psychiatric patients.
“The instruments are not a failure — they were a huge success,” explained West. But as everybody now knows, “the procedure itself was a huge catastrophic failure.”
He wants visitors to laugh at the exhibition. “Failures are funny,” he insists. “Some of the things I have are outright ridiculous.”
But there’s an important message too. “Failure is necessary for innovation,” West explained. “Let’s accept failure as an important part of developing something new or innovative.”
“It’s OK to fail small scale, when nobody dies and it doesn’t cost a billion dollars,” West said. “If you can accept those small failures, then you can hopefully avoid the huge catastrophic ones.”