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The Museum embracing Failures

What is the image that comes to your mind when you hear about Harley Davidson? I suppose it is of the mighty motorbikes, freedom experienced on the open roads, fearlessness and power. But would you believe it if I told you that they had also experimented with a different line of products - colognes! In 1996 they had launched a line of colognes to further extend their macho image. Sadly this experimentation was not taken well by its loyal cult of customers and hence it was discontinued.

But that is not the end of the story. This ‘marvellous’ failure has finally found its place - as a part of the display at the Museum of Failures. Yes, you read it right! And not only this. This museum is home to at least 100 more such ‘attempts to innovation’ products that somehow just blew off. Founded by organizational psychologist Dr Samuel West in 2017, it is based upon the concept of not only glorifying success stories but also realizing the importance of failures. Originally established in Sweden, it has been organizing several pop-up exhibits all around the world and also has a permanent museum in Hollywood.


Colgate, a brand associated primarily with oral hygiene, in the 1980s had attempted to diversify in the frozen food sector. It was definitely bound to roll eyeballs and hence this wonderful misfit of theirs is one of the most talked-about displays at this museum. Also the legendary ketchup manufacturer Heinz had come up with these crazily coloured ketchup (purple, green, orange, blue) which required loads of food colouring, to interest customers. But I guess that the vibrant colours were not sufficient to entice them.

In the German language, there exists a term called schadenfreude - coined out of Schaden(misfortunes) and Freude(joy). It means to experience pleasure in other people’s sorrows - an innate characteristic of human nature. The museum taps into this particular feeling, where people can have a glimpse of the disasters produced by their most trusted brands. Visitors are also given a chance to experience catharsis by writing down about their own failures and leaving the notes stuck on the walls or can also talk about their mistakes in a confession booth.


The French company Bic, known for their ballpoint pens had come up with a product called ‘Bic for Her’ - pens suited to fit ‘comfortably’ in a woman’s hand. I guess the rest need not be mentioned as to what happened after that. There also existed a diet suppressant candy called AYDS(pronounced as ‘Aids’). In spite of being initially popular, the product got doomed when the Aids epidemic emerged in the 1980s.


The healthcare sector also has an array of such mis-inventions. Bofors, the Swedish weapons manufacturer had come up with toothpaste, in an attempt to branch out and make “peace products”. Rumours began to spread that the paste consisted of microplastic beads as an abrasive which would remain in the body long after and cause harmful consequences. Hence it marked the end of their ‘peaceful’ endeavours.


Another interesting story is that of Blockbuster, a chain of movies and video games rental shops. A significant part of Blockbuster's revenue consisted of the fines paid by the customers for late returns. Their model of business got disrupted when a small competitor started a DVD by mail service and did away with the concept of having to pay fines and introduced a subscription-based model instead. Can you guess who this competitor was? It was none other than our very own Netflix! And hence Blockbuster became history……


Leaving all this aside, the museum’s founder, Dr West had also decided to add one of his own failures as a part of the exhibit, his personal bankruptcy. His failure would impart knowledge to others on how to choose their business partners wisely and would also make quite an interesting exhibit.


Having said all that this museum houses many more such failures of innovation. Seeing big brands fail is somewhat liberating for common people. It gives us the courage to embrace failure and push ourselves out of our comfort zones. And who knows, there might be a chance that our failures can also become a part of this place and be a source of entertainment, knowledge and encouragement for people.


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