By Simon Webster ‑ July 26, 2017
I was listening to the radio while driving to work and my attention was caught by a light-hearted piece on how a guy in Sweden had created a museum dedicated to innovation failures. The Museum of Failure catalogues examples of products that, as you would expect, have failed. More than seventy products and services from around the world have been curated including those from well-known brands such as a Harley-Davidson perfume, Bic for Her, the Apple Newton, Google Glass, and Kodak Digital Cameras.
The point behind the museum is that we are all conditioned to laud success, to glorify success, to reward success. But it is, in fact, failure that teaches us far more. We learn all our basic skills – walking, talking, eating, riding a bike – from failing until we succeed. In fact, we never stop failing – and every time we do it breeds a better chance of success next time.
Many of the museum’s featured products represent brand over-extensions. Harley Davidson flopped with its “Hot Road” perfume – perhaps the “masculine fragrance with woody notes” was just a bit too leathery? And the “Bic for Her” range of pink pens provoked widespread online ridicule.
The Apple Newton may have been a product before its time, but the principles of an always on, always connected personal assistant to keep track of business and leisure is core in every one of the 78 million iPhones sold in Q1 2017. Google Glass was canned in 2015 but the augmented reality and virtual reality markets are still considered some of the hottest spaces in the current technology scene. Kodak ultimately failed in the digital photography market – but not before pioneering digital photography and creating the first million-pixel camera.
The point is that, while individual products might fail, the markets identified by these companies – mobile computing, digital photography, AR/VR - did not. True innovation requires learning from each failure—a skill that museum director Samuel West says, most companies fail to hone.
Brands will not always succeed, and products will fail. What is important is to encourage organisational cultures that respect both success and failure. At CPA Global one of our guiding principles is “we innovate”:
By encouraging innovation through collaboration (another of our guiding principles), we try to create an environment that will not only survive failure, but also learn how to turn failure into success.
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