The lesson of the Museum of Failure is that innovation means risk

We should explore failure at least as much as we celebrate success. Why? Because it teaches us more.

As I argued yesterday, the fact that digital sucks isn’t the most interesting thing about our conference theme this year: it’s what we can learn from it.

Take speaker Dr Samuel West and his Museum of Failure. His work is a reaction to the constant cheering line we hear about startup — and other — successes. And nowhere is that more evident in the digital world, where we hear endlessly about the successes and the so-called unicorns, and so rarely about the failures – and why they failed.

Design Week interviewed Dr West about this:

In my work as an organisational psychologist in the field of innovation, I became tired of all the success stories. Every single business magazine and academic article seems to glorify success at the expense of learning from failure.

Take a quick trip to your local bookshop, and scour the bookshelves for any books exploring failure. Bet you don’t find many…

West again:

The original ambition of the museum was to target organisations and teams that work within product development, design and other areas which require an innovative approach. As the museum has gained more attention, the idea of giving failure more attention has really resonated with the general public. There is something liberating about seeing big brands f*ck up. This frees individuals to think, ‘when I try something new I will also most likely fail, and I have none of the resources of these huge companies.’

Innovation and failure are two sides of the same coin.

Innovation means risk – and risk of failure

You cannot have a perfect success rate with innovation. Nobody can. If you’ve never had a failure — you’ve not really been innovating. There’s a silicon valley mantra of “fail fast”, but perhaps a more apposite one would be “fail smart”. After all, failure is a teaching point.


We also want people to reevaluate failure as something that is not entirely negative. It is only by taking risks and experimenting that we can actually develop. This goes for innovations, but also any other kind of development as individuals, companies political organisations and even countries.

Digital sucks. But if we understand how it came to suck, we can make it better.

Further reading:

Quartz Has done a short video that gives you a taste of the museum: