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.
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.