Museum of Failure: Dr. Samuel West
The. Hey, everybody. Welcome to art of failure. I'm your host Steve Friedman. Thanks for tuning in. Yes, this is art of failure the podcast that explores what it means to fail as a human person. We all try so hard not to fail on a daily basis. And we also forget on a daily basis that failure is part of life, and that we can use failure as a catalyst for growth and movement towards bigger and better things. Did you know that Kodak started a precursor to Instagram Colgate toothpaste company, tried to get into the frozen food market, hate remember fat, Frey? Oles released Pringles. I do I did a voice over for them. I had to say things like may cause anal leakage. These are all examples of failed products. Our next guest said, quote, all the literature is obsessively focused on success, but eighty to ninety percent of innovations fail. Why don't these? Failures. Get the attention. They actually deserve. Well that guest is Dr Samuel west. He started the museum of failure. A museum that illustrates the failures of major companies in an effort to encourage people and organizations to learn from their failures, Dr west. We'll talk about why he started the museum of failure. What we can learn from the museum failure, and his very own personal struggles with failure including filing for bankruptcy. This is doctor Samuel west doctor Samuel west failure is a better teacher than success. I love that quote. I'm so interested to talk to you about failure, and your museum museum failure before we get into that. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, maybe some early failures some things that happen to you early in life that. Get into your connection failure. But what? Where'd you where where were you born? I know you're in Sweden now we born in Sweden. No seeing you just opened up a can of work here. Yeah. I've lived everywhere. I was born in Norway. Okay. Mothers, Icelandic my father's American grew up just about everywhere. He was works in the oilfield. So I I moved every year someplace. But now I live in Sweden the oil fields of Norway. Yeah. All right. What is that, like, moving moving moving moving? It's like you're an army brat. I remember can I say the word fuck. I'm podcast you can. I, I moved to California went to a good school there and the elementary school, and the remember I spoke English, but I didn't because I only learned it from my parents, I didn't know any of the bad words. So, so I remember out a recess. Somebody was saying some words and they were saying fuck. So I said it to, you know, fuck this fuck that I had no idea what it meant, and I didn't know idea is a bad word. So I got called in for foul language. I remember sitting there. I don't know how old I was nine or ten they're looking at saying fuck, I don't. What does that mean what I've never heard the word fuck? And they didn't believe me. I got detention and how old were you, I think I was about nine or ten ten year old doesn't know fuck is a bad word. That's quite understand that they didn't believe me. Listen, if you're a New Yorker and you're not saying that every two or three sentences. Nobody takes seriously. So what I mean it's like that's a big part of the article that people who swear are more intelligent people don't wear hats. Fucking true. Man. Are you fucking kidding me? Yeah. All right. First of all, tell people about the museum of failure. I and then what was the impetus to start that a collection of over one hundred different failed products, and mainly products products and services that the criteria to in the museum is obviously has to be failures, but they have to be in some way innovative. And then the probably also have to be interesting. Those are the three criteria to make it into the museum and the failure part from an organizational sort of innovation perspective failure. I like the academic definition is the failure is a deviation from expected results. All right. So you're an organizational psychologists, correct. Well, I started off as a clinical psychologist, doing a cognitive behavioral therapy and Daviel medicine, I work for about ten years, and I got tired of that and get a PHD. Doing research with an organizational psychology focused on innovation and climates for innovation. Let's what I've been doing past ten years would is an organizational psychologist. It's kind of abstract. I mean, an organizational psychologist doesn't really know that themselves. But it the study of, of the psychology of organizations. What, what defines the culture of a lot of what happens in organization is is connected to the culture. So how do you get from that? What's the moment? What's the bridge from that to the museum of failure? He went the long or the short version medium. The, the wages as of PHD's are really. Wade salary failure. I did a lot of consultancy work, the workshop and whatnot on the theme of innovation and realized that, there wasn't a lack of innovation message or techniques, and there's so many experts on vacation on the problem was that people are afraid of failure. So they don't take the risks the meaningful risks that they need to take the innovative. I was think as thinking about the how can I take exciting science? There's quite a bit of research on learning failure, and how can take that and package it in a way. It's interesting because there's so much information out there. The good stuff gets lost. And I didn't want to write a book and I didn't wanna do a couple of articles I wanted to find a new way of communicating and I didn't know how so two thousand. Nd sixteen I was on vacation with my family in Croatia. And I stumbled on a museum called museum of broken relationships. Google that it's common. People are just crying in there. It was just a beautiful beautiful beautiful museum simple. And just they communicate this abstract dot of broken relationships in the most wonderful way, simple, wonderful way. And it was there and then I decided, whoa, I should open museum, a failure. All right. So the museum starts give us give us some greatest hits from the museum. There's a lot of mean there's over one hundred one these there's. Tragic story of Kodak invented the digital camera. But in nineteen seventy five I think four seventy five but pay they didn't, you know, continue with digital cameras because they were frayed it would threaten their profitable, film products. Right. And once they cut up with everyone else, and they were they were really kick ass at digital cameras. And at the museum we have the first sort of camera for, for consumers, they even started an Instagram likes where you could share photos, but the used both the digital cameras and this image sharing service, as a way to get people to print more photos. So their whole business model is still about selling expensive photo paper. So then thousand eight nine people stop printing photos and Kodak goes up two thousand twelve and the same year Instagram was still Facebook for a billion dollars. Integrators thirteen employees. Remember that? Well, couldn't couldn't Instagram, just given Kodak? Here's two hundred million dollars keep you guys going. You helped us get to this point. We're going to be a little altruistic here. Keep you in the game just to keep you alive here. We're gonna throw the money your way. We're just polaroid stand these days, that whole instant photo thing, I have a polaroid video camera, a polaroid video camera. Yeah. It's a it's a polaroid video camera. The polaroid developed the uses same or similar film technology, but it was, so it was so complicated and expensive needed a special viewer to watch the film and all the films were like dark colors off. Go only film a certain length short films who's a hugely cost. The end of misadventure comes in the museum kind of being the of course, and I may have fun fun stupid things we have rejuvenate electric facial man, like, yeah, it looks like something about horror film. Itsel endorsed by Linda, Evan from the hitch. Oh, dynasty, you can't go wrong with her. He's a package thing. If you just shock your face for about fifteen minutes, a look is beautiful. It's really not that far away from, you know, at home shock therapy. I I'm I'm giving my producer Miranda a pen here. Unfortunately, it's, it's, it's a big pen and I think it's a male big man. Can you talk about the big for her? Yeah. She she holding it. Well, she broke her wrist into parts. So I'm wondering if that female version of the BIC pen would be better for somebody with a broken wrist because, because, you know how women are delicate. Hands a complete the so different from ours and most, I mean, the, the standard Penn is developed for us, intellectual strapping, manly men. Yeah. So big decided in two thousand eleven they decided to depend specifically, for women in this Semin hand. So it's, it's completely different from the pen for men comes into colors women, like, oh, okay. That's one check the box. Check one. Check two glitter. Of course, unicorns ruin it or mermaid things for this is for women, women. Okay. And then 'cause generally women, make the salary men big women are more expensive than the regular pens. So let's go to let's go to that. Meeting at big headquarters for big marketing arm, and they're sitting around a table. Bob, what do you got to Jeff? I got an idea. Go ahead. How about big for women. What do you mean? Women colors. You're onto something here because when I do my talks, I used the big Pender as an example of I don't know what actually went on at big. There's no documentation. I don't know. We're so bad. You speculate. So for a new product to be developed all these teams, I'm teams marketing teams, there's a lot of people who have to discuss product that's being developed before it's actually launched. So you have to imagine what's going on there, where there, no women at or where women or any half until Geant man would've said, hey, guys fucking stupid idea. It's not to it getting me. Yeah, you would imagine that somebody could have said that, you know, but I'm speculating again, there might not have been sense of psychological safety, the concept. It's really important for learning from failure, where in a team, people feel safe to express doubt to wanna Rable fallible and to speak up unpopular opinions and BIC Masumi that. There's no psychological safety because if somebody would have said, this is a stupid idealist is not do it either. They didn't say or they said it nobody listen to them. Right. Interesting. And and you know, we make light of the fact that these things are failures. But obviously this podcast and failures such an important tool to learn from always interested in the turnaround time from failure. But I'm thinking I'm thinking, go ahead. I can't I'm a museum the texts that are the presentation there is humor failure is. It's funny. I mean as long as nobody dies or get hurt. I think humor is important. I don't want to be a missionary of failure accepting failure without humor. Sure the people I have on this podcast are successful people who have had failure, and what have they done to us failures of catalyst, overcome it? And I'm I'm thinking in terms of, you know, again, that moment, let's, let's move on for a second to Colgate Palmolive or at the time, I guess, Colgate. And Bob or sewer Jeff comes up with the idea. I got it Colgate. Lasagna. Go ahead. Go ahead. Yes. And. In the grand literature, this failed products from Colgate, which is frozen dinners when I opened, I couldn't I original packaging from Colgate. So we created a replica based on the the miniature, so we're quite care about this is a reconstruction and yeah, I mean, Colgate they more or less denied this actually ever existed? But they also don't give us any more information about cease and desist. Did they say stop? We're going to see you not formally, but they I remember this is right after I opened the first museum into seventeen I was doing so many interviews. So I got phone call. It was a New York number. And I thought, oh, wow, this is something important, and I was excited about some high profile newspapers doing I represent Colgate like oh, shit. And all he said, was we this. We had Colgate, have no recollection of Colgate, lasagna. Yeah. Well, I understand because my inter made that replica, but this is what I've got this information. I have from, from literature, and all he said, was, we have no recollection of Colgate lasagna. Nope. But you had frozen dinners I made up the design. Yeah. You had other been can you send me some information, I wanna have the correct sort of uptick in the museum, and all these, it was we have no recollection of Colgate lasagna, a true politician with the American people. Don't want is a Colgate, lasagna. We don't remember I don't recall if it is a urban legend in the branding, that they could at least address. Hey, this is bullshit. Never existed. You know, this is wrong, but they haven't said that they specific as they didn't have gone. And of course, the irony isn't net. Crest has, you know, salmon, and couscous toothpaste. No, that's not true. I want to ask if you take the Colgate, lasagna you take all the big pen for her, which is essentially. Append that's different color. What, what, what are these companies learn? We just heard an example about the Colgate gay people giving some of availed denial, you go further with well polaroid learn this or Kodak learned, this is there is there a learning thing, or are you just putting the failures out there for people to see? Present at, at the museum each product reach item on display is presented, like, okay what, what was the idea? What did they want accomplish this, what was the was the excitement and expectation about? And then how did it say where did they fuck up and then present the information, and I don't wanna force the learning down the roads? It's there, there's the story of the product, and sometimes it's more, you know. Well describe sometimes it's not sometimes the pails are not due to the companies themselves. I mean I tried to for each object, actually what what can we learn from this? What's, what's the take home? So that's the doctor Samuel west take on it. But do companies what are your thoughts about companies in apologies? And did Google glass ever say we screwed up or another iteration is coming or they just have these failures? And they don't publicly knowledge in general. General leap it under the car. So there's very little learning going on just to ask about that. Like what do they learn from it if anything nothing and I would say that there's very few companies that actually make an effort to learn from their failures? I mean, they, they might you know, set up house committee or something into discuss it, but there's, there's very little actual learning going on. And you know what we don't do as humans you and me and other people, we don't sweep it under the carpet. We actually learn from our mistakes we try, and it's the same thing for individuals. I mean, when you fuck up in your, you know, whatever relationship does a parent or job, whatever you do you're doing we, it hurts. I mean failure. It's a it's not just a sensitive topic actually actually it's uncomfortable to. Thank you for my next Sigua. You said that you have to practice what you preach and that you get to apply some of this to yourself in un-unexpected way. Can you talk about this as, as it relates to the public bankruptcy that you are dealing with? When I started museum of failure. I had a business partner in old company that we had together when I applied for funding from the Swedish innovation authority, government money, I played for the money through company that we own together, and that came back to bite me in the ass when museum Pedic took off became successful. So then I got sued by my ex business partner, and the legal fees, etc. Were way out of control led to personal bankruptcy. So it's a consequence of anti fuck up in one way, what I have done differently, but it definitely has consequences is your background is kala just help you through that. Yeah. In many ways, because I am not my bankruptcy at something that just happened. It's not me. Interesting. And you know it's funny when I read about the bankruptcy in some ways bankruptcy is, is forgiveness. Like we're gonna forgive these debts. Right. We're gonna we're gonna Mark you or whatever they do. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on forgiveness and failure as well? This is not just for industrial failure, but personal failure. Forgiveness. Pacelle forgiveness of others. If you look at how, how do we react, when, when companies screw up even friend individuals when they do something when they screw up if you own it are very understanding that it's when you don't own it? The people start judging you, that's when you get that sort of negative mental part, doctor, same, it west. I, I hope that someday, one of my failures if not more than one, we'll get into the museum of failure, and the travelling exhibit. You're very look. I got I got some space, please keep a wall or an area of the museum open for me. Dr semi west. This has been an awesome couple of minutes to spend with you here. Thank you so much for participating in this very much. Hey, thanks so much for listening to art of failure. I hope you'll join us again special thanks to cale fuss. -ment Sally Sanborn Noah Samborn, Friedman, Musi Friedman, my agents at C, E, S, T, Anita. Billy, Donna and Sam John mcgeown maranda Schaefer Joanna Pinto my mom sunny, sisters, Marci, Michelle who witnessed many early failures. Thanks Barry Friedman so much for our music and special thanks to everyone out there who has experienced failure at keeps moving forward. That's what we need to do. Let's remember that Winston Churchill defines success as the ability to move from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. Stay enthusiastic keep moving. And I'll see next time. Thanks for listening.