Mall of America exhibit celebrates stories of failure

a man looks into an early digital camera
Dr. Samuel West, psychologist and curator of the Museum of Failure, demonstrates the Kodak DC 40, an early digital camera. West maintains the film photo giant didn’t have the right business strategy to support their digital products.
Tom Crann | MPR News

“Failure is not an option.” NASA flight director Gene Kranz said that sums up NASA's approach to their work so well that he used the phrase for his autobiography. But most companies aren't NASA, and a new pop-up exhibit at the Mall of America is celebrating failure and its place in society. 

“I think failure is infinitely more fascinating and interesting than success,” said Dr. Samuel West, a clinical psychologist who studies failure in organizations and created the Museum of Failure. 

“Failure is painful. And we learned that early on as children, that it's something to avoid,” West said. “The problem is that we often confuse failure. We clump them all together. There is good failure, and there's bad failure.”

He said good failures are the ones that come in the name of exploration, or where experimentation is done for progress.

“That's the kind we celebrate at the Museum of Failure,” West said. 

a caricature of albert einstein
A caricature of Albert Einstein greets visitors to the Museum of Failure at the Mall of America, with a quotation often attributed to him.
Tom Crann | MPR News

As an example of a good failure, West pointed to Nintendo's Power Glove and Virtual Boy accessories from the 1980s. Both were early attempts at game immersion, which proved unpopular with gamers at the time.

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“They learned from these failures, and they developed one of the most fantastic successes in gaming ever, called the Nintendo Wii,” he said. “They got it right. They learn from their failures.”

West said that bad failures are the kind that come from incompetence or sloppiness. 

“Those should be penalized by companies and employers and by society. So there's a difference there,” he said. “The reality is most companies are the opposite. They penalize [good] failure. And that's the problem. You can't have innovation, any innovation, without some failure.”

Over 100 failures make up the exhibit, from bad marketing ideas like “New Coke” to companies that failed to innovate such as Blockbuster.

bottles of crystal pepsi next to cans of new coke
One of the most famous flops, “New Coke” (1985), enshrined in the Museum of Failure. Coca-Cola company brought back Coke “Classic” within months.
Tom Crann | MPR News

This is the first stop on the exhibit's six-city North American Tour. The exhibit will also visit Chicago, Atlanta, West Palm Beach, San Antonio and Seattle. The pop-up features a guided audio tour you can listen to on your smartphone. 

The Museum of Failure is currently on display in the North Atrium of the Mall of America. It is here until Jan. 19. Tickets start at $18 and can be bought online at www.thefailuremuseum.com or at the door.