Mon, May 01, 2017 - Page 8 News List

At this museum, failures are welcome

A fragrance by Harley-Davidson and Bic pens made only for women are among the more than 60 products that offer insight into the risky business of innovation

By Christine Hauser and Christina Anderson  /  NY Times News Service

Just add Coca-Cola.

Photo: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

A museum can be a showcase for just about anything, it seems. The Museum of Ice Cream will take you through a fantasy world of sprinkles and gooey chocolate topping. Visitors to the Museum of Sex in New York City meander through the artifacts of erotic life and history.

Do you want to unburden yourself of the pain of a broken heart? You can, the Museum of Broken Relationships suggests, by visiting its curated collections in Los Angeles or Zagreb, Croatia, of mementos donated anonymously by people who share similar feelings of love gone bad.

Now, for people interested in why some gadgets have ended up on the garbage heap of product history, Samuel West, an organizational psychologist, has created the Museum of Failure.

The museum will open in Helsingborg, Sweden, on June 7 with a curated collection of more than 60 products that, the museum Web site says, can provide insight into the “risky business of innovation.” Nine objects from the museum are on tour, stopping in Miami, Berlin and Amsterdam.

Its curators will guide visitors through displays “related to failure” at no cost. “How about a failed gourmet tasting menu at a fancy restaurant? Or a tasting of failed brews from regional microbreweries?” the Web site says. “We welcome any further suggestions. The crazier the better.”

Some of the products that West, its chief curator, calls studies in failure include Harley-Davidson fragrance; Bic pens made especially for women (“Yes, that’s right: lady-pens,” said a Forbes review); and Coca-Cola Blak, a coffee-inspired drink.

“The purpose of the museum is to show that innovation requires failure,” West said as he introduced some of the exhibits in a video posted this month on the YouTube channel of Fredrik Skavlan, a Scandinavian talk show host. “If you are afraid of failure, then we can’t innovate.” He said he started the museum “to encourage organizations to be better at learning from failures — not just ignoring them and pretending they never happened.”


West held up a Bic for Her pen, still in its package. “Of course women can’t use pens for men; big failure,” he said sarcastically.

Harley-Davidson perfume? “Total flop,” he said, showing the box.

Google Glass? The product collided with privacy issues, he contended. “The cafes in the San Francisco area said they didn’t want people walking in and filming their customers,” he said in an interview Friday.

West characterized the Segway as a “catastrophic” failure that fell short of expectations to revolutionize transportation. “Now it’s a silly device for kids or for company team-building activities,” he said.

West said the idea for the museum dawned on him when he visited the Museum of Broken Relationships. “I couldn’t believe they had a Museum of Broken Relationships,” he said. “Then I decided I had to get busy with my Museum of Failure.”

Vinnova, a Swedish innovation agency, provided funds to start the project, West said. In addition to starting the museum, West, 43, is an innovation researcher at Lund University. He has a doctorate in organizational psychology and advises companies on how to become more innovative and successful by embracing failure.

“All the literature is obsessively focused on success, but 80 to 90 percent of innovations actually fail,” he said. “Why don’t these failures get the attention they actually deserve?”

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