Would you believe it? The Museum of Failure contains quite a few pieces of technology
Time to look back on those halcyon days of bad ideas, mindlessly hyped
If you work in Silicon Valley, you might want to look away now. Because one day your work may well feature in the Museum of Failure.
Created by organizational psychologist Samuel West and due to open in Sweden in June, the museum celebrates the screw-ups, the well-intentioned but poorly considered, and the outright idiotic.
And it's fair to say that the tech industry has a disproportionate number of exhibits.
Created from his very Scandinavian dislike of everyone celebrating success and ignoring failure, West has scoured industry and history to find failure. But at the same time, he takes a very Silicon Valley-like view of failure: it is not something to be ashamed of but something to embrace, as it invariably leads to learning lessons.
And accepting failure, and learning from it, is a critical skill that corporations all too often fail the see and cater to. We are reminded of one anecdote we were told years ago in which IBM CEO Lou Gerstner called a manager who had screwed up and cost the company $10m up to his office for a meeting.
After he'd walked through what went wrong, the manager said: "So, are you firing me?" To which Gerstner responded: "What, are you kidding me? It just cost me ten million to teach you a lesson."
(Incidentally, while it is very fashionable for Silicon Valleyites to talk about failure as a positive, we will note that they never spend too long dwelling on it and they always talk about it in terms of their current, amazing success. Just sayin'.)
But let's get to what you really want to know: what unadulterated electronic ass scrapings have made it into the Museum of Failure?
Let's start with a classic: the Apple Newton.
We have repeatedly referred to this famous failure, Apple's PDA (that's personal digital assistant all you people under 40 – look it up), usually in our every-ten-years summary of Apple's errors.
It was the brainchild of John Sculley – the man who ousted god-king Steve Jobs in 1984 – and it was a good idea. In theory. But its hyped-up handwriting-recognition was appallingly bad and it bombed, leading Jobs on his return to order the death of "that scribble thing."
But we should also note – and we hope that the Museum of Failure appreciates this – that ultimately that failure helped lead to an enormous success. Apple decided to use a new processor for the device designed by ARM, an offshoot of the UK computer company Acorn. ARM went on to become hugely successful and netted Apple $800m thanks to its 43 per cent share in the fledgling biz. Now ARM designs processor and GPU cores used in billions of phones, tablets, gadgets and other hardware.
Next up: the Nokia N-Gage
Remember this piece of crap?
Even now, we're not sure what the N‑Gage was supposed to be. It was a phone – but also a games console. It ran Symbian (ah, remember Symbian). But rather than the combination hitting a magic sweet spot, the end result was both a bad phone and a bad games machine.
Of course, the idea has been proven too right: the addition of games was undoubtedly a huge factor behind the take-up of smartphones by the broader public. We'd be tempted to say Nokia was ahead of time but then we take another look at the monstrosity that is the N‑Gage and think better of it.
Another gem: Google Glass.
When the Simpsons are featuring your tech, it's time to go hide and cry
This is recent enough for everyone to remember. It was going to change the world... but then everyone realized it was actually a bit creepy and not that useful. From the billionaire founder of the company riding the New York subway, to that guy getting punched in a San Francisco bar, Google Glass was going to bring a new magical future to us all. But in the end, it was expensive nonsense.
And, as ever, the idea is being reborn in a different format. Augmented Reality is the new hot topic. Just this week Mark Zuckerberg was up onstage waxing lyrical about how a Google Glass-style approach is the future. And all the Apple excito-blogs are in a frottage frenzy over the idea of the new iPhone having some kind of new AR.
Here's one that you may have a hard time remembering: the Twitter Peek
Remember that? It was a dedicated Twitter machine – the idea being that you could use it for Twitter without being hit with expensive cellphone data bills.
The downside? It had a tiny memory and so could only store a few tweets at a time. But perhaps most damaging – its screen couldn't even handle the 140 characters of a tweet at the same time. Even if there was ever going to be a market for a service-specific device (Facebook phone, anyone? India?), failing to even account for that service was a pretty big strike against this terrible idea.
And the rest
Of course it's not all tech, so go ahead and enjoy these other examples of terrible failure. Let's give it up for:
- Bic for Her – ballpoint pens for the ladies. How do you know? Because they are in lady colors like purple and pink. Of course there's nothing wrong with the actual pens themselves but there was something so mindlessly ridiculous about trying to gender-market a pen that it became a thing. And by "thing," we mean PR disaster.
- Harley-Davidson Perfume – Just what a man wants: to smell like a motorcycle. The "Hot Road" eau de toilette was good – in theory – it's a big brand, why not move into the perfume market? But honestly, no one associates motorcycles with nice smells. Not even men.
- Kodak Digital Camera – Yeah, poor old Kodak. At one point a monster corporation. And then we found that digital technology did it for us without all the hassle and the mark-ups. (Admit it, you miss having to hand over your reel to a snotty clerk and come back several days later to find out if any of the small, horribly printed photos were any good.) Poor old Kodak just couldn't admit to its own collapsing market. And so it died. This camera would probably make a good tombstone.
- Sony Betamax – We're not going to start on this one. There are still forums in which people rave about this format battle. It lost, people! Why? Because VHS recorded longer and Betamax quality wasn't actually that much better. Now shut up!
A likely future inductee The Reg might be nominating for down the road is the Juicero.
The Museum of Failure opens on June 7 and can be found in Helsingborg in Sweden. If you want to visit it, you should fly to Denmark. No, seriously. ®