‘How a visit to a museum made us reflect on what it means to fail’

‘How a visit to a museum made us reflect on what it means to fail’
Photo: NFGL members stand at the entrance of the MOX exhibition
SI Scholar Amarildo Come shares what Jönköping University's NFGL Network learnt while visiting the Museum of Failure in Helsingborg.

The Museum of Failure is a concept museum showcasing a collection of products and services from around the world which for one reason or another, failed. All items in the museum show the perilous business of innovation, and what we can learn from these unsuccessful attempts. 

The museum was curated by Dr Samuel West, a psychologist and innovation researcher. While it displayed products considered as failures, a gentle reminder on the brochure emphasises the value of unsuccessful efforts: ‘…we should see them as proof of our unquenchable human curiosity and inventiveness – as important steps in our development.’

Photo: Entrance of the exhibition 

The museum serves as a great example of how curiosity can often give us a push forward, merely to see what happens; and how the desire to simplify our everyday life or to become rich and successful can be a driving force for human creations. But, things don’t always go as we expect them to. This is how we, humans, make mistakes and create useless, odd or even dangerous innovations — things that fail to serve their purpose.

During the visit, we learnt how failure or a mistake could sometimes become a genuine success or provide a unique opportunity to learn. The exhibited products from different companies such as Coca-Cola, Sony, Amazon, Ford, and many others, reminded us of the powerful business mantra: ‘the customer is king’. Too expensive, unhappy, uncomfortable – those are expressions that companies do anything to avoid when their new products enter the market. The fact that markets are simply unprepared for futuristic technology, for instance, could be the reason for unsuccessful products such as Google Glasses created to record video and taking pictures with the glasses, or Amazon Fire Phone, a phone with a button leading directly to Amazon’s website.

What we realised when staring at these products which didn’t make the cut is that success is about the journey and lessons learnt. You have to understand why your product was unsuccessful and revert the situation.

Photo: The first set of the more than 80 failures in the exhibition

Finally, reflecting on the importance of innovation and responsible consumption, that represent the core concepts of the museum, remains the most crucial learning after this museum visit. We learned that innovation requires out-of-the-box thinking and that perhaps success comes from failing again and again.  

It is a failure that uncovers the traps and pitfalls to make way for success?

One member admitted that they’re still afraid to fail, failure has never been anything anybody congratulates you about. But that shouldn’t hinder anyone from being innovative. ‘Fail fast’ is the key for better innovation. In the end, failures are a fascinating learning experience.