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The Museum of Failure

Now on view in New York City, the traveling exhibition presents failure as a critical learning opportunity.


Crystal Pepsi bottle next to a can of New Coke
Credit: Adam Bettcher | Museum of Failure

When a new product totally flops, companies typically try to move on as quickly as possible and put all of their energy into developing fresh ideas that they hope will catch on. But the Museum of Failure never forgets. This traveling exhibition, which first launched in Sweden in 2017, has now arrived in New York City, where it will be on display through at least mid-May at Industry City in Brooklyn.


By spotlighting more than 150 commercial ideas that didn’t pan out for various reasons, the exhibition “aims to stimulate discussion about accepting and learning from failure,” says the show's Instagram page.


A few notable examples, include the ill-fated New Coke (which was due to replace Coca-Cola but caused such uproar that it was pulled), Bic for Her pens (developed and marketed to women - the only difference was the glitter and the higher price tag), Limeade-flavored Oreo cookies, Colgate lasagna (which, yes, tasted minty), Crystal Pepsi (which tasted similar to the original Pepsi, but was colorless) and a gyrating “hula chair” - a machine which promised to give its users abs while they watch a movie or do some work. However, when one sits down, the silly rocking and spinning motions make one unable to focus on anything else.


The exhibition is curated by Samuel West, a clinical psychologist who specializes in organizational science. He hopes it will help normalize and demystify the concept of failure, which he sees as a critical learning opportunity.


Indeed, many of the brands featured in the Museum of Failure haven’t let one or two thwarted efforts stand in their way. For example, Oreo has made plenty of delicious new flavors, and both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are still thriving.


“You fail but you gain insight, build on it, try a different version, tinker and come back again with something better,” says West.

 

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