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What does the Museum of Failure teach us about capitalism?

Everyone knows that Thomas Edison discovered 2,000 ways to make a light bulb without making it yourself. James Dyson built 5,126 prototypes before achieving great success with his dual cyclone vacuum cleaner. Apple nearly went bankrupt in the 1990s because its Newton and Macintosh LC PDAs couldn’t compete with Microsoft or IBM products. Product failure is not something to be ashamed of or hide, it is something to celebrate. Entrepreneurs must continue to take meaningful risks, which sometimes fail, so that society can progress and solve some of the world’s biggest problems. The beauty of capitalism is that it encourages experimentation through trial and error, since in many cases it is impossible to predict what consumers will want.
The ability to take risks and freely pursue crazy ideas is the only process that leads to successful innovation. The Museum of Failure in Washington, D.C. highlights this fundamental phenomenon by showcasing many business failures, some ahead of their time, while others were simply blips in the product lines of some companies that were otherwise very successful. Reason spoke with Johanna Guttmann, one of the show’s organizers, about the importance of failure and how some industries, like tech, learn from it better than others. Here are some of the most attractive products presented at the exhibition:
Mattel first introduced Skipper, Barbie’s little sister, in 1964. But in the 1970s, the company decided it was time to let Skipper grow up. A new version of Skipper has been released, truly two dolls in one – what a bargain! But the thing is, when you lift Skipper’s arms, her breasts expand and become higher. It turns out that young girls (and their parents) are not interested in having a doll that is both a teenager and an adult. However, Skipper made a brief appearance in the Barbie movie in the treehouse she shared with Mickey (a pregnant Barbie and also a failed toy).
The Walkman revolutionized the way we listen to music on the go in the 1980s. In 1983, Audio Technica introduced the AT-727 Sound Burger portable player. You can listen to records anywhere, but unlike a Walkman, the Soundburger must lie flat to play, so you can’t move around with it. Not to mention, it’s bulky and doesn’t protect your open records. But the company survived and now produces a portable Bluetooth player for phlegmatophiles.
The Hawaiian chair (also known as the hula chair), listed as one of Time magazine’s “50 Worst Inventions” in 2010, is designed to tone your abs during your 9 to 5 job. The circular motion of the base of the chair is designed to… to “teleport” you to a quiet environment while keeping your back relaxed. But this feeling is closer to flying in a turbulent plane. Now more than ever, it’s important for employees to move around during the workday, but standing desks or even walking mats are less distracting (and more practical) in the workplace.
In 2013, Google released smart glasses with built-in cameras, voice control and a revolutionary screen. Some tech enthusiasts are willing to spend $1,500 to test the product, but there are serious privacy concerns about what the product tracks. However, new Google Glass that uses augmented reality technology is in development, so let’s hope this product doesn’t suffer a similar fate.
Image credit: Eden, Janine and Jim, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons; Polygoon-Profilti (producer) / Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid (observer), CC BY-SA 3.0 NL, via Wikimedia Commons; NotFromUtrecht, CC BY -SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; evaluator en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; mageBROKER/David Talukdar/Newscom; EyePress/Newscom; Brian Olin Dozier/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Thomas Trutschel/Photo Alliance/photothek/Newscom ; Jaap Arriens/Sipa USA/Newscom; Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom; Bill Ingalls – NASA via CNP/Newscom; Joe Marino/UPI/Newscom; Imagine China/Newswire; Pringle Archives; Envato Elements. Musical compositions: “Dove” Laria Se”, Silvia Rita, via Artlist, “New Car”, Rex Banner, via Artlist, “Blanket”, Van Stee, via Artlist, “Busy Day Ahead”, MooveKa, via Artlist, “Presto” “, Adrian Berenguer, via Artlist and “Goals” by Rex Banner, via Artlist.

Post time: Oct-20-2023