Museum of Failure: a Must-See for Every Small Business Owner

Museum of Failure: a Must-See for Every Small Business Owner

Feeling weighed down by the relentless grind, uncertainty, and occasional letdowns of running a small business? Don’t wallow—celebrate! Take a misery-loves-company tour of the Museum of Failure, an epic pop-up showcase rolling through Washington, DC through October 29.

The glorious world of flubs, flops and failures is anything but a downer. In fact, it’s a moral-boosting must-see for any small business owner. Why? Because this isn’t just a tribute to the world’s most epic fails; it’s a masterclass in the art of resilience.

So, let’s drop the shame game and get real: failure isn’t your enemy—it’s your secret mentor. Ready to join the Failure Hall of Fame and bounce back stronger? Let’s dive in!

Failure isn’t an “f” word

Ready for a walk down Failure Lane? The Museum of Failure isn’t just a collection of business blunders and product face-plants. It’s an international touring pop-up founded by Dr. Samuel West, an organizational psychologist who advises companies from Johnson & Johnson to Hermes on the interplay of failure and innovation in progress. A globe-hopping gadfly and collector of oddities, West has made it his personal mission to destigmatize and explore the complexities of failure.

The museum, which has visited everywhere from Los Angeles to Stockholm since 2017, showcases over 100 failed products and services from around the world, from New Coke to Google Glass. Part museum, part Andy Warhol-like “happening,” the exhibit deploys product displays, tongue-in-cheek captions and pop art graphic design to create a fun, theme park experience for visitors that challenges our fear of failure by turning it into an exuberant celebration.

Bruce Lee Quote | Museum of Failure | A Small Business Owner's Perspective

Bruce Lee Quote | Museum of Failure | A Small Business Owner's Perspective

The many faces of failure

The Museum of Failure explores WHY products and business fail, and challenges the assumption that failure is monolithic.

Sure, sometimes business failure unfolds like a passion play of the Seven Deadly Sins, with a mustache-twirling villain at its center. Think Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos or We Work’s Adam Neumann.

And the epic fails of the greedy and the incompetent make the museum effervescent, gossipy fun. But for small business owners (and anyone with a conscience), they’re not where the real lessons lie.


Reasons why innovative ideas and products fail | Museum of Failure | A Small Business Owner's Perspective

Failure isn’t always dramatic

The most thought-provoking exhibits explore the everyday failures of the well-intentioned and hard working: the near misses and also rans, the bizarre and unlucky.

Absent the headline-grabbing anti-hero, sometimes failure is just a question of head-scratching bad taste. Colgate lasagna? NOT minty fresh.

Colgate Beef Lasagne | Museum of Failure | A Small Business Owner's Perspective

Then there are the near misses, one step from greatness but for a single flaw. The Sound Burger promised music lovers in the 80s an on-the-go record-playing experience. Alas, skip-prone records aren’t such a mobile technology. But the Sound Burger has found a niche afterlife among vinyl enthusiasts, who extol its unmatched sound quality.

Sound Burger Record Player | Museum of Failure | A Small Business Owner's Perspective

And let’s not forget about the power of dumb bad luck. AYDS was a popular drug store appetite suppressant for four decades, shaped like a fudge candy and touted by its longtime spokesmodel, the scientist-actress Heddy Lamarr. But its name proved unfortunate in the 1980s, and a misbegotten rebrand to Diet AYDS did nothing to dissociate it from a tragic national crisis.

AYDS Medicine | Museum of Failure | A Small Business Owner's Perspective

Failure is a matter of perspective

Museum of Failures Image | Museum of Failure | A Small Business Owner's Perspective

The Museum of Failure asks us to unpack its eponymous “f word,” and look at failure as an ever-shifting body. Failure isn’t static, it’s subjective, and it’s a moment rather than a character flaw.

Consider the Segway. Success or failure? Creator Dean Kamen believed his invention would transform city transportation, unlock commuter gridlock and transform pedestrians into helmet-clad bipeds zipping along designated Segway lanes at 15 miles per hour. That didn’t happen, largely because Kamen’s city-of-the-future vision couldn’t overcome a near-universal perception of the Segway’s fatal uncoolness. So, instead of a world-changing Tesla, Segway is the province of mall cops and tourists on the National Mall.

But it’s also a billion dollar company, with consistent double-digit annual growth. Most entrepreneurs should dream of such “failure.”

Elon Musk: success or failure?

Museum of Failure Visitor Pictures | A Small Business Owner's Perspective

Caption: Image courtesy of Museum of Failure

Speaking of Tesla, the Museum of Failure plays on our collective obsession with the world’s (sometimes) richest man, asking visitors to “vote” on whether he’s a success or a failure.

Points in his favor include Tesla, PayPal and Space X. In the negative column: Hyperloop, the purchase of Twitter and bestowing his kids with names that make the Zappas seem conventional.

In lieu of a ballot box, the museum invited visitors to affix hot pink or yellow sticky notes to the wall under columns labeled “success” or “failure.” It’s a highly-scientific electoral process that, at least in Washington, DC, seemed to yield a near dead heat.

The final takeaway: learning to love your business missteps

As a small business owner, it’s easy to get bogged down by the pressure of success and the fear of failure. But a trip to the Museum of Failure serves as a refreshing reminder: setbacks aren’t the end; they’re just part of the journey. And does that winding road lead to success? Or failure? Probably both, and it probably depends who you ask.

Elon Musk’s rollercoaster career says it all: what goes up can come down, and vice versa. So next time you stumble, remember: you’re just laying the groundwork for your next big leap. And next time you succeed? Celebrate, but stay humble, because the wheel of fortune goes round and round.

Keep playing. Keep learning. Keep growing.

Buy Tickets | A Small Business Owner's Perspective

Unlocking Success by Learning from Failures

Are you geared up to embark on a journey toward achievement? The stories of these companies stand as a testament to the profound impact that learning from failures can have on the path to success.

By embracing setbacks as opportunities for growth and innovation, small businesses can transform challenges into stepping stones toward their goals. These experiences not only refine their strategies but also foster resilience, creativity, and adaptability, all of which are invaluable assets on the road to triumph.

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