Don’t waste a failure

Everybody knows the Smithsonian, the Louvre and the Guggenheim. But have you ever heard of the Dog Collar Museum, Lunchbox Museum or the Bunny System? Well, next time you head over to Europe you might want to explore the Museum of Failure. This unique exhibition is a collection of failed products and services. The museum showcases failures to provide visitors a learning experience about the important role of failure for innovation and to encourage organizations to become better at learning from failure. The permanent exhibition opened in June 2017 and is located in Helsingborg, Sweden. The growing collection consists of over seventy failed products and services from around the world. And, we’re sure you know many of them:
  • N-Gage: Nokia released the device as a challenger to the Nintendo Game Boy but users hated the design and button layout.
  • Twitter Peek: A $200 device that only accessed Twitter. Consumers didn’t like having a device for every social channel they wanted to visit.
  • You know New Coke and Coke II but have you heard of Coke BlaK? The coffee-flavored soda was released in 2006 and discontinued shortly after complaints about the poor taste combination and excessive caffeine.
  • Apple Newton: It was a nice device but it contained extremely poor handwriting software and users felt it completely useless.
  • Colgate produced a line of frozen dinners in the 1980s. Encouraging people to eat a branded dinner before brushing their teeth with Colgate toothpaste – what could go wrong? Turns out everything.
  • Oh, and the Harley-Davidson perfume and cologne line, titled “Hot Road.” Apparently, grease and cologne don’t mix.
There are many reasons why products and services fail: companies see an opportunity based on their needs, not on the needs of their customers, the execution is sub-par, the product is too limited in its dissemination across all markets (Betamax), companies hold on too long to a service that made them famous and rich (Blockbuster). What can we learn from these failures?
  • Never forget the user. The museum is filled with examples where the project leaders apparently never asked: Why would people buy this? What is the value exchange? Does this align with known consumer behavior or do we ask them to make drastic changes?
  • Failure is essential to innovation. While the Apple Newton was a terrible failure, it laid the groundwork for the iPad – one of the biggest successes of the 21st century, changing forever how we communicate.
  • Don’t waste a failure. No one starts off on an endeavor perfectly. Every company stumbles on their pass to success, but it’s a select few who keep on pushing, learn from mistakes and ultimately succeed.
The slogan of the museum? “All successful innovations are alike; all filed innovations fail in their own interesting and spectacular way.” The interesting fact about success is that we often don’t know why it happened. However, failure are pretty definite indications of what not to do, or what can go wrong. They have a definite lesson. Don’t ever waste a failure.