One of the easiest ways to gauge the culture of innovative in an organization is to see how that organization deals with failure. If unchecked, failure carries a stigma that can paralyze companies from trying new things.
This summer, a Swedish clinical psychologist named Samuel West opened up a pop-up “Museum of Failure” in the town of Helsingborg. The museum is dedicated to innovation misfires. On display are flame-outs like Heinz “Green Sauce” Ketchup, Colgate frozen lasagne, Harley-Davidson cologne, the Apple Newton, and Google Glass. Some of these are cringe-worthy and others were just ahead of their time.
As Samuel put the goal of the museum in an NYT article:
“All the literature is obsessively focused on success, but 80 to 90 percent of innovations actually fail. Why don’t these failures get the attention they actually deserve?
“The purpose of the museum is to show that innovation requires failure. If you are afraid of failure, then we can’t innovate. I want to encourage organizations to be better at learning from failures — not just ignoring them and pretending they never happened.”
Many of the visitors to the Museum of Failure have been group tours from companies. I think it would be healthy for organizations to create their own internal museums of failure, to showcase what didn’t work in an effort to pave the way to what does.
As Samuel said:
“I really hope that you see that these mega-brands that everybody respects, they screw up. I hope that makes you feel less apprehensive about learning something new. If you’re developing a new skill, trying to learn a new language or create something new, you’re going to fail. Don’t be ashamed of it. Let’s learn from these failures, instead of ignoring them.”
Following are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years:
“Failed Innovation“ November 2010
“Innovation Funnel“ March 2011
“8 Types of Innovation“ May 2016