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The Lessons Of Commercial Flops On Display In Sweden's 'Museum Of Failure'


The road to a successful product innovation is lined sometimes with memorable failures, like when Harley Davidson decided to launch a perfume line called Hot Road. Or you may recall Crystal Pepsi. There's McDonald's Arch Deluxe, the Apple Newton, more recently, Google Glass. This is the kind of stuff you might find in Sweden's Museum of Failure. That's right - Museum of Failure. It's set to open this summer, and it is the brainchild of Samuel West. He's a researcher and a connoisseur of unsuccessful products or flops, as we might call them. He joins us now from Sweden via Skype. Hey, there.

SAMUEL WEST: Hello, hello.

KELLY: Hello, hello. Why does the world need a Museum of Failures?

WEST: Because we - a lot of times, I think we're afraid of failures. And I think Museum of Failures sort of shows that failures need to be accepted if we want to develop, if we want to innovate.

KELLY: Is there an item that caught your eye because it illustrates this philosophy of yours that we can learn a lot more from failure than from success?

WEST: Well, for example, around the year 2000 or so, a lot of people had cell phones and mobile gaming devices. And 2003 - Nokia combined these two devices into one device called the N-Gage, and there was a huge demand from consumers. It was great technology. Nokia was at the top of the game then.

KELLY: Yeah. So what's wrong with the N-Gage?

WEST: Yeah. So where did it fail? Well, it failed because several ways. One is that you had to disassemble the entire phone to change games.

KELLY: You had to actually take the thing apart to change games.

WEST: Take out the battery and everything to change games.

KELLY: That would be a drawback.

WEST: That's a drawback. And number two - they didn't have any games. There was, like, two games that were worth playing.


WEST: It's a gaming phone, and there's, like - most of the games suck. So that's a good example of how, like, it's a respectable, successful company. It's - technologically, it's a great device. There's a need, but then the implementation failed.

KELLY: Wow. And Nokia's still around, and I guess that proves your theory. They learned from a mistake.

WEST: Let's hope so.

KELLY: I have to give credit where credit is due. We heard about this project from The Washington Post. And The Post's story contained this fabulous detail - that the idea for creating this museum came to you while you were visiting another museum in Croatia. Is that right?

WEST: Yeah, the Museum of Broken Relationships.


WEST: I'm not - it's a real museum.

KELLY: A real place - the Museum of Broken Relationships.

WEST: Yeah. There was a little text that said, oh, this - I remember my relationship. And we had a great summer, and we were planning to have kids together. Whatever. And then in the display case, there's a cell phone with a charger. And then it says, and then at the end of the summer, he gave me his phone along with the charger and said, this is so that you can never call me again.

KELLY: Ouch.

WEST: It's just brilliant - like, a physical item representing the whole cause of the broken relationships. Anyway, when I saw that museum, I rushed out, and I had this sort of eureka moment that I'm going to start the Museum of Failures. Like, there's no going back.

KELLY: Samuel West - he is curator of the Museum of Failure, which, if it doesn't fail, will open June 7 in Helsingborg, Sweden. Samuel West, thank you.

WEST: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.