Six hours south of Stockholm, Sweden, lies the town of Helsingborg, and within Helsingborg there is a museum successfully calling attention to the importance of failure. Instead of exhibiting extravagant works of art, the museum proudly displays disasters that are so bad they’re good. Dubbed the Museum of Failure, it is a monument to innovation and all of the mistakes that inevitably come with it.
The 70+ failures featured should feel honored because not everything qualifies as a failure in the eyes of the museum’s director, Dr. Samuel West, a former clinical psychologist who also has a PhD in innovation. The failures he selected to showcase bear the marks of true innovation. From the Bic Pen for her, to Google Glass, and even a Blockbuster rental DVD case, West believes the shortcomings of these products and services are central components to generating new technology. As a society we possess a strong anti-failure bias, and every day companies deny the inherent tie between great success and great failure.
West’s Museum of Failure has set out to change this mindset.
Sick and tired of the lack of conversation about failure’s central role in innovation, West told Co-Design that “We glorify success so much, but at the expense of demonizing failure. And it’s from failure that we learn.” West reports that there are two elements of organizational psychology at play that make failure essential to innovation. The first is psychological safety—the concept of feeling comfortable enough to make a mistake within a group setting, such as asking a foolish question or voicing a criticism when everyone else is on board. Psychological safety is a vital part of creativity, collaboration, and innovation. The second important element is “… enabling playfulness in work, which fuels organizational creativity… In play we’re temporarily protected from real-life consequences,” West says. Innovation requires experimentation and exploration, and these activities “don’t give predictably positive results.”
The museum is an important reminder to everyone that failure is actually success if we choose to learn from it.
Read more about the Museum of Failure at Co-Design.