The Museum of Failure: A Living Shrine to New Coke, the Ford Edsel, Google Glass & Other Epic Corporate Fails

All successful products are alike; every unsuccessful product is unsuccessful in its own way. Or so a modern-day Tolstoy might find himself inspired to write after a visit to the Museum of Failure, a movable feast of flops which began last year in Helsingborg, Sweden and has now opened its doors on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Donald Trump board game, Apple's Newton, Nokia's N-Gage, Ford's Edsel, Colgate Beef Lasagne, Harley-Davidson Cologne, New Coke, Google Glass: these and other shining examples of failure appear in the videos about the museum at the top of the post and just below.

Considered today, many of these products, whether well-known or thoroughly obscure, look hilariously ill-conceived. But the Museum of Failure's founder, a psychologist named Samuel West, does have high praise for some of the products he's collected in his institution.

As you'll find out on a visit there, though, they've all got at least one fatal flaw — a design problem, bad timing, misjudgment of the market, falling into the cracks of existing offerings — that drove consumers away. You can't say that any of them didn't take a risk, but risks, by their very nature, burn out more often than they pay off.

"Why do I have all these failures?" asks West in his TED Talk just above. "The point of having the museum is that we can learn from these failures. I want us to start to admit our failures as companies, as individuals, so we can learn from it." America's relative lack of cultural stigmatization of failure often gets cited among the reasons for the country's reputation for innovation and economic dynamism, but there, as anywhere else, an increased willingness not just to fail but to better understand the nature of individual failures wouldn't go amiss. Nothing succeeds like success, so the saying goes, but the fascination that has built around the Museum of Failure so far suggests that we have much to gain from its opposite as well.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing: An Animated Lesson from David Dunning (of the Famous “Dunning-Kruger Effect”)

The business world has long had special jargon for the Kafkaesque incompetence bedeviling the ranks of upper management. There is “the Peter principle,” first described in a satirical book of the same name in 1968. More recently, we have the positive notion of “failing upward.” The concept has inspired a mantra, “fail harder, fail faster,” as well as popular books like The Gift of Failure. Famed research professor, author, and TED talker Brené Brown has called TED “the failure conference," and indeed, a “FailCon” does exist, “in over a dozen cities on 6 continents around the globe.”

The candor about this most unavoidable of human phenomena may prove a boon to public health, lowering levels of hypertension by a significant margin. But is there a danger in praising failure too fervently? (Samuel Beckett’s quote on the matter, beloved by many a 21st century thought leader, proves decidedly more ambiguous in context.) Might it present an even greater opportunity for people to “rise to their level of incompetence”? Given the prevalence of the “Dunning-Kruger Effect,” a cognitive bias explained by John Cleese in a previous post, we may not be well-placed to know whether our efforts constitute success or failure, or whether we actually have the skills we think we do.

First described by social psychologists David Dunning (University of Michigan) and Justin Kruger (N.Y.U.) in 1999, the effect “suggests that we’re not very good at evaluating ourselves accurately.” So says the narrator of the TED-Ed lesson above, scripted by Dunning and offering a sober reminder of the human propensity for self-delusion. “We frequently overestimate our own abilities,” resulting in widespread “illusory superiority” that makes “incompetent people think they’re amazing.” The effect greatly intensifies at the lower end of the scale; it is often “those with the least ability who are most likely to overrate their skills to the greatest extent.” Or as Cleese plainly puts it, some people “are so stupid, they have no idea how stupid they are.”

Combine this with the converse effect—the tendency of skilled individuals to underrate themselves—and we have the preconditions for an epidemic of mismatched skill sets and positions. But while imposter syndrome can produce tragic personal results and deprive the world of talent, the Dunning-Kruger effect’s worst casualties affect us all adversely. People “measurably poor at logical reasoning, grammar, financial knowledge, math, emotional intelligence, running medical lab tests, and chess all tend to rate their expertise almost as favorably as actual experts do.” When such people get promoted up the chain, they can unwittingly do a great deal of harm.

While arrogant self-importance plays its role in fostering delusions of expertise, Dunning and Kruger found that most of us are subject to the effect in some area of our lives simply because we lack the skills to understand how bad we are at certain things. We don't know the rules well enough to successfully, creatively break them. Until we have some basic understanding of what constitutes competence in a particular endeavor, we cannot even understand that we’ve failed.

Real experts, on the other hand, tend to assume their skills are ordinary and unremarkable. “The result is that people, whether they’re inept or highly skilled, are often caught in a bubble of inaccurate self-perception." How can we get out? The answers won’t surprise you. Listen to constructive feedback and never stop learning, behavior that can require a good deal of vulnerability and humility.

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Free Online Psychology & Neuroscience Courses

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Edvard Munch Scream Action Figure

"I was out walking with two friends – the sun began to set – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an endless scream passing through nature."― Edvard Munch

That's how painter Edvard Munch described the dread-filled scene that led him to paint "The Scream" in 1910. As Dr. Noelle Paulson notes over at Smarthistory, except for da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Munch’s painting "may be the most iconic human figure in the history of Western art. Its androgynous, skull-shaped head, elongated hands, wide eyes, flaring nostrils and ovoid mouth have been engrained in our collective cultural consciousness."

"The Scream" might also be one of the more fetishized and commodified paintings we've seen to date. These days, you'll find "The Scream" on t-shirts, jigsaw puzzles, and non-slip jar grippers. And, thanks to a Japanese company called Good Smile, you can now buy The Scream Action figure. It has posable joints, allowing you to put the figure into different poses (witness above). Or you can stand it alongside the other art history figures in Good Smile's collection--da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, Rodin's The Thinker, and The Venus de Milo. Oh, the fun you could have this weekend.

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via io9

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Coursera Partners with Leading Universities to Offer Master’s Degrees at a More Affordable Price

If you're a regular Open Culture reader, you're already familiar with Coursera, the ed tech company, which, since its founding in 2012, has given the world access to online courses from top universities--e.g. courses on Roman Architecture (Yale), Modern and Postmodern Philosophy (Wesleyan), and Buddhism and Neuroscience (Princeton). And you've perhaps noticed, too, that Coursera has recently bundled certain courses into "Specializations"--essentially areas of concentration--that let students specialize in fields like Deep Learning and Data Science.

But what if students want to deepen their knowledge further and get a traditional degree? In what perhaps marks the beginning of a significant new trend, Coursera has partnered with leading universities to offer full-fledged graduate degrees in a more affordable online format. As described in the video above, HEC Paris (the #2 business school in Europe) now offers through Coursera's platform a Master's in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Designed for aspiring entrepreneurs, the program consists of 20 courses (all online) and takes an estimated 10-16 months to complete. The total tuition amounts to 20,000 Euros (roughly 23,500 U.S. dollars), a sum that's considerably less than what executive education programs usually cost.

For students looking for a broader education in business, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has launched an entire MBA program through Coursera. Consisting of 18 online courses and three capstone projects, the iMBA program covers the subjects usually found in b-school programs--leadership, strategy, economics, accounting, finance, etc. The complete curriculum should take roughly 24 to 36 months to complete, and costs less than $22,000--about 25%-33% of what an on-campus MBA program typically runs.

(The iMBA is actually one of three degree programs the University of Illinois has launched on Coursera. The other two include a Masters in Accounting (iMSA) and a Master of Computer Science in Data Science (MCS-DS).)

Now, in case you're wondering, the diplomas and transcripts for these programs are granted directly by the universities themselves (e.g., the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and HEC Paris). The paperwork doesn't carry Coursera's name. Nor does it indicate that the student completed an "online program." In short, online students get the same transcript as bricks and mortar students.

Finally, all of the degree programs mentioned above are "stackable"--meaning students can (at no cost) take an individual course offered by any of these programs. And then they can decide later whether they want to apply to the degree program, and, if so, retroactively apply that course towards the actual degree. Essentially, you can try things out before making a larger commitment.

If you want to learn more about these programs, or submit an application, check out the following links. We've included the deadlines for submitting applications.

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If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses, it helps support Open Culture.

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Ingmar Bergman’s 1950s Soap Commercials Wash Away the Existential Despair

Ingmar Bergman is usually remembered for the intensely serious nature of his films. Death, anguish, the absence of God--his themes can be pretty gloomy. So it might come as a surprise to learn that Bergman once directed a series of rather silly soap commercials.

The year was 1951. Bergman was 33 years old. The Swedish film industry, his main source of income, had just gone on strike to protest high government taxes on entertainment. With two ex-wives, five children, a new wife and a sixth child on the way, Bergman needed to find another way to make money.

A solution presented itself when he was asked to create a series of commercials for a new anti-bacterial soap called Bris ("Breeze," in English). Bergman threw himself into the project. He later recalled:

Originally, I accepted the Bris commercials in order to save the lives of my self and my families. But that was really secondary. The primary reason I wanted to make the commercials was that I was given free rein with money and I could do exactly what I wanted with the product's message. Anyhow, I have always found it difficult to feel resentment when industry comes rushing toward culture, check in hand.

Bergman enlisted his favorite cinematographer at that time, Gunnar Fischer, and together they made nine miniature films, each a little more than one minute long, to be screened in movie theaters over the next three years. Bergman used the opportunity to experiment with visual and narrative form.

Many of the stylistic devices and motifs that would eventually figure into his masterpieces can be spotted in the commercials: mirrors, doubles, the telescoping in or out of a story-within-a-story. You don't need to understand Swedish to recognize the mark of the master.

In the window above we feature Episode 1, "Bris Soap," which is perhaps the most basic of the commercials. They become progressively more imaginative as the series moves along:

  • Episode 2, Tennis Girl: An innocent game of tennis sets the stage for an epic battle between good (Bris soap) and evil (bacteria). Can you guess which side wins?
  • Episode 3, Gustavian: Bad hygiene in the 17th century court of King Gustav III. Plenty of foppishness, but no Bris.
  • Episode 4, Operation: "Perhaps the most intriguing of the commercials," writes Swedish film scholar Fredrik Gustafsson. "In this one Bergman is deconstructing the whole business of filmmaking, using all the tricks of his disposal to trick and treat us."
  • Episode 5, The Magic Show: Another battle between good and evil, this time in miniature.
  • Episode 6, The Inventor: A man heroically invents anti-bacterial soap, only to awaken and realize it was all a dream. (And anyway, the makers of Bris had already done it.)
  • Episode 7, The Rebus: Bergman uses montage to create a game of "rebus," a heraldic riddle (non verbis, sed rebus: "not by words but by things"), to piece together the slogan, "Bris kills the bacteria--no bacteria, no smell."
  • Episode 8, Three-Dimensional: Bergman thought 3-D films were "ridiculously stupid," and in this episode he takes a few playful jabs.
  • Episode 9, The Princess and the Swineherd: In this reinvention of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Swineherd," a 15-year-old Bibi Andersson, who went on to star in many of Bergman's greatest films, makes her screen debut as a beautiful princess who promises a swineherd 100 kisses in exchange for a bar of soap. Not a bad deal for the swineherd.

To learn more about Bergman's soap commercials you can watch a 2009 report by Slate film critic Dana Stevens here. (Note the video requires a flash player.)

Note: This post first appeared on our site in 2011. It's one of our favorites. So we're bringing it back.

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20 Free Business MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) That Will Advance Your Career

Art, philosophy, literature and history--that's mainly what we discuss around here. We're about enriching the mind. But we're not opposed to helping you enrich yourself in a more literal way too.

Recently, Business Insider Italy asked us to review our longer list of 1600 MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and create a short list of 20 courses that can help you advance your career. And, with the help of Coursera and edX, the two top MOOC providers, we whittled things down to the following list.

Above, you'll find the introductory video for Design Thinking for Innovation, a course from the University of Virginia. Other courses come from such top institutions as Yale, MIT, the University of Michigan and Columbia University. Topics include everything from business fundamentals, to negotiation and decision making, to corporate finance, strategy, marketing and accounting.

One tip to keep in mind. If you want to take a course for free, select the "Full Course, No Certificate" or "Audit" option when you enroll. If you would like an official certificate documenting that you have successfully completed the course, you will need to pay a fee. Here's the list:

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Discover Dr. Seuss’s Audacious Advertisements from the 1930s & 40s: All on Display in a Digital Archive

I well remember learning that Dr. Seuss’s real name was Theodor Geisel, mostly because I found Theodor Geisel was just as much fun to say as “Dr. Seuss.” Both names rolled around in the mouth, did somersaults and backflips off the tongue like the author’s multitude of strangely rubbery characters. With his Rube Goldberg machines, miniscule Whos, enormous Hortons, and mountains of comic absurdity, Seuss is like Swift for kids, his stories full of fantastic satire alongside much good clean common sense. Books like Horton Hears a Who and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas are chock full of “positive messages,” writes Amy Chyao at the Harvard Political Review, as well as trenchant social critique for five-year-olds.

Among the many lessons, “embracing diversity is perhaps the single most salient one embedded in many of Dr. Seuss’s books.” Geisel did not always espouse this value. There are those who read Horton’s refrain, “a person’s a person no matter how small,” as penance for work he did as a political cartoonist during World War II, when he drew what Jonathan Crow described in a previous post as “breathtakingly racist” depictions of the Japanese, promoting the bigotry that led to violence and the internment of Japanese Americans, an action he vigorously supported.

You can see many of his political cartoons at UC San Diego’s digital library, “Dr. Seuss Went to War.” UCSD also hosts an online archive of Geisel’s advertising work, which sustained him throughout much of the 30s and 40s, and not all of which has aged well either.

Geisel later expressed regret for his blanket anti-Japanese attitudes after a trip to Japan in 1953. And he later made several anti-racist cartoons against Jim Crow laws and anti-Semitism. These might have been meant to atone for more of his less well-known work, advertisements featuring crude, ugly stereotypes of Africans and Arabs.

You will find some of these ads in the USCD archive; Geisel did truck in some blatantly inflammatory images. But he mostly drew innocuous, yet visually exciting, cartoons like the one at the top, one of the dozens of ads he drew during a 17-year campaign for Flit, an insect repellant made by Standard Oil.

Geisel did ads for Standard Oil’s main product, promoting Essolube motor oil, further up, with the kind of creature that would later inhabit his children’s books. He got irreverently high concept with a GE ad set in hell, published explicitly under the pen name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. And just above, in a brochure for the National Broadcasting Company, he introduces the visual aesthetic of Horton’s jungle, with a troupe of stereotypical grass-skirted Africans that might have come from one of Hergé’s offensive colonialist Tintin comics. (Both Seuss’s and Hergé’s early work are testaments to the common co-existence of progressive politics with often contemptuous or condescending treatment of nonwhite people in the early twentieth century.)

The Seuss advertisements archive shows us the artist’s development from visual puns and quirks to the fully-fledged mechanical surrealism of his mature style, as in the National Broadcasting Company brochure above, with its musical contraption the “Zimbaphone,” a precursor to the many cacophonous, overcomplicated instruments to come. It is when he is at his most inventive that Geisel is at his best. When he abandoned lazy, mean-spirited stereotypes, his work embraced a world of joyous possibility and weirdness.

Related Content:

Dr. Seuss Draws Anti-Japanese Cartoons During WWII, Then Atones with Horton Hears a Who!

Dr. Seuss’ World War II Propaganda Films: Your Job in Germany (1945) and Our Job in Japan (1946)

Neil Gaiman Reads Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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