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Museum Houses Failed Products

The city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is home to one of the most fascinating museums on the planet. The facility run by GfK Custom Research goes under the informal name of the "Museum of Failed Products." At first sight, the shelves and aisles look just like a supermarket—except there's only one of each item. And you won't find these items in a real supermarket anyway: they are failures, products withdrawn from sale after a few weeks or months, because almost nobody wanted to buy them.

This is consumer capitalism's graveyard. It's the only place on the planet where you'll find Clairol's A Touch of Yogurt shampoo alongside Gillette's equally unpopular For Oily Hair Only, a few feet from a now-empty bottle of Pepsi AM Breakfast Cola (born 1989; died 1990). The museum is home to discontinued brands of caffeinated beer; to TV dinners branded with the logo of the toothpaste manufacturer Colgate; to Fortune Snookies, a short-lived line of fortune cookies for dogs; to self-heating soup cans that had a tendency to explode in customers' faces; and to packets of breath mints that had to be withdrawn from sale because they looked like tiny packages of crack cocaine. It is where microwaveable scrambled eggs—pre-scrambled and sold in a cardboard tube with a pop-up mechanism for easier consumption in the car—go to die.

If the museum has a central message, it's that failure isn't a rarity; it's the norm. For every insanely successful product such as the iPhone or the Big Mac, there's a whole host of ideas that only a mother could truly love. According to some estimates, the failure rate for new products is as high as 90 percent.

Given the ubiquity of failure, business expert Matt Symonds advises that we should help people "fail, fail again, fail better" rather than "filling [people's] heads with the unrealistic notions of winning every time."

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