Celebrating Failure

In the long human history of great successes, inventions and innovations, lies an even longer trail of dismal flops, mistakes and failures.

In short: For every perfectly-operating tunnel-digging machine—there are also untold numbers of “Big Berthas.”

Many of my favorite quotes are about success and failure:
“If you set your goals high and they are a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”
“Failure is disguised success.”
“The best lessons learned are from other people’s mistakes.”
Here’s another favorite: “Whenever you publish quotes from other people, don’t bother giving them attribution.” OK.
From the start, the human experience has been a series of trials and errors. Think of how many dirt clods and chunks of wood cavemen must have eaten before they figured out better cuisine.

“Hey, Oop! Come here! See if you don’t agree that this squirrel tastes better than boulders.”

Some poor ideas are immediately obvious. Gargling with hot sauce, skateboarding off the Space Needle, surfing behind a speeding car, or holding an open flame to a certain area of the body—are arguably poor concepts. No one knows exactly where such notions come from (except for the one with the open flame which was invented at a college frat beer party by a guy named Stanley—whose name has been changed from Pat to protect his identity.)

But it’s when bad ideas wind up losing a lot of money that they become noteworthy. New Coke, the Betamax, Ben Gay brand aspirin, yogurt shampoo and the Edsel should all be in a museum of failure—if only there was one. Wait! There is one! Or soon will be.

The Museum of Failure is opening next month in Helsingborg, Sweden. Suitably, Helsingborg is the fourth largest city in Sweden, failing to crack the top three.

The Museum will house a curated collection of more than 60 products—products that the Museum website says, “provide insight into the risky business of innovation.” A guy named Dr. Samuel West—who is something called an ‘organizational psychologist’—is the person in charge. He says, “The purpose of the museum is to show that innovation requires failure.” With that kind of mission, if the museum turns out to be a flop—it will simultaneously be a success.

Among the goofed-up innovations the museum will house:
• Bic pens specifically designed for women—presumably sleeker, prettier and less grubby than regular pens.
• Coca Cola Blak—a coffee-infused version of the soft drink. “Drink three and stay awake for a month.”
• A Harley-Davidson fragrance. No further details available, but it failed—probably because motorcycle riders don’t want anything masking the scents of sweat, fumes and bug juice.
• A battery-operated health and beauty mask. It looks like it was designed by the maniac from those Halloween movies. The mask stimulated facial beauty using small electrodes—in effect, shocking your face into looking more attractive. The claim was that—if properly used—you’d wind up looking like the actress Linda Evans. If improperly used—you’d wind up looking like the maniac from those Halloween movies.
The coming museum will also include some better-known near misses like the Segway. This sort-of scooter was introduced in the early 2000’s with more promise than a Trump-Comey wrestling match:
“The Segway will be as big a deal as the personal computer!”
“It will be more important than the internet!”
“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive.”

In fact, the Segway fell pretty well short of expectations—and that’s why it’s featured in the soon-to-open museum. (Even though they are used occasionally by police to catch crooks—provided those crooks don’t exceed a speed of 12 miles an hour—and that they don’t try to escape via bike paths and sidewalks in Seattle where Segways are, of course, not permitted.)

Even relatively new products like the Google Glass will be featured in the new museum. If you remember, the Glass was designed to look like a pair of spectacles—that ideally nobody would notice were actually recording video. It turned out that silly things like privacy laws screwed up an otherwise fine idea—in much the way a virgin margarita screws up tequila.

In fact, some say, 80 to 90 percent of new products fail. That’s good news for the Museum of Failures. It should eventually be much larger than any other museum in the world. Unless there’s a Museum of Reality TV Shows.
Recently seen in a magazine cartoon: Two older men sitting in an office—as one of them remarks, “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. And those that DO study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”