Hari Srinivasan: Before the greatest inventions and breakthroughs occur, there are countless failed ideas. Thomas Edison made thousands of attempts before he invented the light bulb. But what if those early failures stopped him?
The exhibition, which is now touring the country, confirms this old adage: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. NewsHour Weekend special correspondent Megan Thompson visited the First Stop Museum in Minneapolis.
Samuel West: So probably the most recognizable part here …
Megan Thompson: Psychologist Samuel West recently showcased this exhibit, which he has curated for years.
Samuel West: A new line of vehicles with many innovative features.
Megan Thompson: A vibrant collection featuring all kinds of commercial products from well-known companies. At first glance, this might seem like a celebration of corporate success. Not really.
Samuel West: This was Ford’s biggest failure.
Speaker: Edsel. Built for elegance.
Samuel West: It was available in many different price ranges that people did not understand. Is it a luxury car or, you know, an affordable car? What is it? This is a major failure for Ford. In today’s terms, it is in the billions.
Megan Thompson: This is a museum of failures. A collection of over 150 bombed products. But it’s not about laughing at corporate failures.
Samuel West: I want people to realize and understand, really understand that if they do not take serious risks, there will be no progress.
Megan Thompson: It started when West was getting his doctorate. in psychology, studying corporate behavior. He began to notice the reluctance of companies to invest in experimentation leading to innovation.
Samuel West: You explore new methods, new products, technologies, and so on. You have a better chance than not. In fact, 90 percent of these projects fail. And it has become increasingly clear that the real obstacle to innovation is that people are afraid of failure. I thought, what can I do to communicate that we need to start accepting failure and not stigmatizing failure?
Megan Thompson: West began collecting samples of failed products and opened a museum in Sweden in 2017. The Museum of Failure is now on a tour of the United States, starting near Minneapolis. The exhibition starts with transportation disruptions.
Samuel West: We call this a traffic failure.
Megan Thompson: Besides the Edsel, there is a Swedish warship from 1628 that was so unstable that it sank just minutes after first sailing … and a plastic bike designed by Volvo engineers that swayed and even cracked when people rode it.
Samuel West: You are in a digital disaster zone.
Megan Thompson: Digital disasters include Apple’s hockey puck mouse, which was difficult to use, and a video chat device built by Facebook.… It was not a hit.
Samuel West: We have Google Glass from 2013. Put it on. Look good.
Megan Thompson: OK. This is a little embarrassing, I’m not going to lie.
It seemed revolutionary – a wearable computer that projects an image, takes photos and videos.
Samuel West: The main reason for the failure was privacy concerns.
Megan Thompson: Glass users could record others without their knowledge.
Samuel West: Today we are still dealing with privacy issues. But then I mean, it was like a shock. Google is great at testing new things and they are not afraid of failure. It’s pretty cool.
Megan Thompson: And we see how successful they are.
Samuel West: Absolutely.
Megan Thompson: Speaking as a psychologist, where did we get this fear of failure?
Samuel West: This is largely due to our early experiences of failure. I mean, you spilled your glass of juice on the breakfast table. You are not praised for this. There is also a fundamental part of failure — social shame. There is some functionality in this – we do not want a society in which everyone is constantly defeated. The problem is that when it comes to progress, when it comes to learning, innovation, these rules don’t really apply.
Megan Thompson: How can people learn to be less afraid of failure?
Samuel WestA: The best way to overcome this is to get used to it.
Megan Thompson: For West, the collection is a serious message. But he admits some of this is an pretty funny how some of the grocery slaps are. Bottled water for pets… a curious lunch of Colgate brand frozen beef lasagne… adult food from baby food maker Gerber for canned meals… and the famous zero-calorie fat substitute Olestra.
Samuel West: You can eat as much junk food as you like without getting fat, right? The problem was that it caused the diarrhea.
Megan Thompson: And then in the category “What were they thinking about?”
Samuel West: This is the UroClub.
Megan Thompson: There is also a golf club that can be doubled – well, just watch the ad.
Speaker: Looks like a regular golf club, but there is a reservoir in the handle to make you feel better. UroClub comes with a towel and it looks like you are just checking your club.
Samuel West: Doesn’t draw attention to you at all. Not inconvenient at all.
Megan Thompson: No. And you carry it with you for the rest of the game.
Samuel West: Yes. Advertisements – They don’t really indicate what you will do with it later. So this was a serious product developed by a golf urologist. And then it became, sold as a joke as a gift.
Megan Thompson: The exhibition ends with a wall on which people can confess their own failures. 11-year-old Zachary Tao wrote “my grades” because he just got an A in his art class.
Zachary Tao: I got the lowest grade for anything I ever had.
Megan Thompson: Have you learned from this?
Zachary Tao: Yeah, just to turn in assignments faster and faster.
Zachary Tao: His twin brother Logan couldn’t think of anything, but nevertheless says he values failure.
Logan Tao: I think failure is a good thing because you can always work on it and improve it.
Zachary Tao: And this, according to the creator Samuel West, is the whole point.
Samuel West: When people come here and see these brands fail, they feel liberated. For example, if the big boys can lose, so can I. And I love it.