As It Happens

The Museum of Failure showcases — and celebrates — really terrible ideas

A new museum opening in Sweden collects terrible ideas and commercial flops throughout history.
Samuel West holds up the Nokia N-Gage, a hybrid phone and gaming system from 2003 that is now part of the Museum of Failure's collection. (Samuel Wes)

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Do you want to own a mobile device that's just for tweeting? Or a portable mask that zaps your face with electrical charges?

Yeah, turns out nobody else does either. But you can learn all about those and other failed products at Sweden's new Museum of Failure.

"I'm an innovation researcher, and the past six years of consuming all the literature, going to conferences, I got kind of fed up with everybody's worshipping of success all the time," Samuel West, the museum's founder, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"I know, and everybody in the business knows, that 80 to 90 per cent of all innovation products fail, but we never hear anything about them."

There's a saying that it's wise to learn from your own mistakes but it's even wiser to learn from the mistakes of others.- Samuel West

That's a shame, he said. West believes we can learn a lot by studying our failures. 

"So I started collecting a few," he said. "And then it turned into an obsession."

Eventually, he amassed so many flops, he decided to open a museum, inspired largely by Croatia's Museum of Broken Relationships, which "explores broken love and other human relationships — what they mean to us, what they tell us about what we share and how we can learn and grow from them."

"I just thought this museum is awesome, and after that I had to start the Museum of Failure."

A machine just for tweeting 

So what's on display?

There's the Twitter Peek, a 2009 pocket-sized device just for tweeting. 

A 2009 review of TweetPeek from TechCrunch notes: 'While I’m sure this will be relegated to the dustbin of history, we can say we were alive at a moment when a service gained so much traction that it was made flesh.' (Amazon )

"Oh, I love that one. It's beautiful!" West said with a sigh. "It only tweets. It has no other function, right? The only problem was it doesn't even tweet very well."

Tweets can have 140 characters, but you can only see about 25 at a time on the Twitter Peek's tiny screen.

"So partial tweet on a tweet-tweeting device," West said. 

A pen just for ladies 

Bic For Her pens are also on display. The supposedly female-friendly pink and purple pens launched to widespread derision and mockery in 2012.

One Amazon reviewer writes of these: 'These pens make me feel so feminine and desirable. I can barely keep the men away when I'm holding one of these in my dainty hand.' (Amazon)

"I mean, you know that women can't use regular pens. You need special pens for their delicate hands," West said. "And they're double the price of regular pens because they're specially for women." 

An outlaw cologne that smells like pee

There's an old bottle of Harley-Davidson cologne from the motorcycle company's short-lived '90s line of beauty products dubbed "Hot Rods."

"That's a great one!" said West. 

Motorcycle lovers did not much care for Harley-Davidson cologne. (Samuel West )

"Harley-Davidson thought that they would get some more money out of their brand — their macho, free-rider, super macho man brand image," he said. "And it didn't resonate with the Harley-Davidson macho guys. They were like, 'What? We don't want any perfume!'"

Asked if it smells like oil and exhaust fumes, West said it's much worse.

"My colleagues at the office say — I put it on when I finally got a hold of it — and then they said, 'Somebody smells like urine!'" he said. "I think that's unfair. I mean, it's been in the bottle for a long time. But it's not the best cologne."

And much, much more

There's the Rejuvenique, a mask that literally shocks the wearer — all in the name of beauty, of course. 

Coca-Cola Blak is a coffee-infused version of the soda that existed between 2006 and 2008.

This coffee-flavoured cola lasted from 2006 to 2008. But someone must have liked it, because the internet is full of recipes for a homemade version. (Samuel West)

Donald Trump has had success with real-estate, reality TV, and most recently, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but his board game failed twice — after its original launch in 1989, and again after its 2015 relaunch tied to The Apprentice, according to Time.

A man holds up a copy of the Donald Trump board game at a 2015 campaign rally. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Still, it's not all fun and games at the Museum of Failure, West said. 

'Some tragic things as well'

"It's easy to laugh at it at first, like, Oh that's a strange idea,' but then there's something deeply human about it, as well," he said. 

For example, he has Kodak's first digital camera on display. The product itself was not a flop, West said, but it is representative of how Kodak failed to adapt its business model to change with the times and went bankrupt in 2012

"The fact that 160,000 people lost their jobs and Kodak went bankrupt, that's sad in many ways," West said. "Some of the medical innovations that I have, patients died. So it's not only fun and ridiculous products, there's some tragic things as well."

Kodak's first digital camera was technically a success, but that didn't stop the company from going bankrupt in the digital era. (Samuel West )

West hopes that people will actually learn something from the exhibition, which will open in Helsingborg on June 7.

"There's a saying that it's wise to learn from your own mistakes, but it's even wiser to learn from the mistakes of others," he said. "I think failure gets way too little attention."


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