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How to Fail the Right Way, According to a Psychologist

Who Studies the World's Biggest Flops. There are plenty of lessons entrepreneurs can take away from the globetrotting Museum of Failure.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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Clinical psychologist Samuel West believes you can learn more from a big swing and a miss than you can from a big win. That's why he curated the ­Museum of Failure, a globetrotting exhibit of more than 170 of history's most ill-advised products, which will next pop up in London in February. Here, West unpacks three lessons founders can learn from his collection of commercial catastrophes. --As told to Ben Sherry

Admit you got it wrong.

"When you fail, you need to admit it to yourself and your audience. When you've really messed up, that might be the only way to win back trust. In 1985, the Coca-Cola Company made one of the biggest blunders in business history when it discontinued the original Coke ­formula and replaced it with New Coke, which was slightly sweeter. Obviously, Coke fans freaked out. There were letter-writing campaigns, demonstrations, even protests outside the company's Atlanta headquarters. After three months, Coca-Cola held a press conference at which its president apologized for the decision and announced he'd bring back the original for­mula. The rollback worked, and further solidified Coca-­Cola as the beverage industry's market leader."

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Refocus on your audience.

"Many of our items are from companies that were preoccupied with proving they could develop something and assumed consumers would follow. When you misread your audience, take a step back and visualize your actions from their perspective. After Ruth Handler, the inventor of Barbie, was pushed out of Mattel in 1975, the company released Growing Up Skipper, a doll that could grow taller and develop breasts. Mechan­i­cally, it was a marvel, but girls found it creepy. It was only when Mattel refocused on the brand's original mission to inspire girls that Barbie bounced back."

Keep on innovating.

"If you're innovating, you're going to fail. You need to see failure as just part of the process. Look at Nintendo: In the '80s, the com­pany released the Power Glove, a wearable controller designed to let kids play video games by moving their fingers and flicking their wrists, but it barely worked. In the '90s, Nintendo tried innovating again with the Virtual Boy, a super-­early VR system, but the device was overpriced, had only a few games available for it, and gave users headaches. Both products flopped, but the lessons Nintendo learned about developing innovative, consumer-friendly gaming technology directly helped produce the Wii, one of the com­pany's most successful products."

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