Failure is never pleasant. But it is a natural and essential part of life. As flawed human beings, each embarking on our own unique journey, we are bound to make mistakes. But these mishaps should not be viewed negatively. In fact, it is through our shortcomings that we grow and become stronger, better individuals.
Each time we fail to meet the challenge of a given task, we must make an important decision. We can either give up and abandon our quest because it becomes too difficult or, we can have an honest conversation with ourselves and address the issues that caused our shortcoming so that we can avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
The same is true of the market process. Each time a product fails, the creator has a chance to either give up on the project or learn from his mistakes and try again. You may not know it when you check your iPhone or drink your Coca-Cola Classic, for example, but you are reaping the benefits of someone’s failure.
Failure Leads to Discovery
Sweden recently opened a museum dedicated entirely to market failure. But the rejected objects on display at the Museum of Failure are not there to poke fun at the inventors or even the ideas themselves. Instead, it exists to celebrate all the wonderful lessons and successful innovations that came into existence as a direct result of market failure.
The museum’s curator, Samuel West, commented on this unique facility, saying:
“We know that 80-90 percent of all innovation projects, they fail. And you never read about them, you never see them, people don’t talk about them. If there is anything you can do from these failures, it’s learn from them. But you can’t learn about them if you can’t talk about them or see them.”
West and the others involved in the unconventional museum hope that by showcasing these products they can tell inspiring stories. They are also hoping to encourage future innovators and to teach an important lesson about the role failure plays in both personal and market development.
Visitors touring the museum will get to see infamous market rejects such as Crystal Pepsi, Google Glass, and the Microsoft Zune. But what is just as important as highlighting why these products failed is recognizing what this failure led to.
Before smartphones and tablets were owned by nearly everyone, Apple invented the Newton MessagePad in 1993. Today, the Newton can be found within the walls of the Museum of Failure.
The Apple Newton MessagePad
Marketed as a portable, electronic device that could store contact information, take notes, and manage your calendar, the bulky Newton was the world’s first “personal digital assistant” (PDA). However, the Newton itself was a product ahead of its time and the technology needed to sustain it just wasn’t ready. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t still create immense value.
Lamenting the death of this early handheld device, Wired wrote:
“The Newton wasn’t just killed, it was violently murdered, dragged into a closet by its hair and kicked to death in its youth by one of technology’s great men. And yet it was a remarkable device, one whose influence is still with us today.”
While not a conventional success, the Newton MessagePad did, in many ways, change the world. For starters, it marked the beginning of Apple’s mission to create portable computers that were so small, they could easily fit in your pocket, a dream that would someday manifest itself in the modern world. But in the early 90s, this sounded like an idea better suited for a science fiction movie than reality.
As Wired says, “with Newton, Apple didn’t just set out to create a new device. It wanted to invent an entirely new class of computing.”
The device was great in theory, but each sold for $800 and the technology was spotty, to say the least. One of the minds behind the device, Steve Capps, commented, “We were just way ahead of the technology.”
One of the device’s most cutting-edge feature was its ability to translate the user’s handwriting into type. Unfortunately, the idea was better than the resources available at the time and the handwriting recognition feature was never able to perform as it should.
As the geniuses at Apple worked to find a solution to fix the Newton’s handwriting recognition, they accidentally stumbled upon a new technology that would largely impact our modern day.
Thanks to the Newton MessagePad, the “ARM processor” was invented. The ARM processor works by “stripping out unneeded instructions and optimizing pathways, RISC processors provide outstanding performance at a fraction of the power demand.” But the real appeal in using this new processing technology for the Newton MessagePad was that it was smaller making it ideal for handheld devices. Originally designed to help prolong the battery life of the Newton, today the ARM processor is used in smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices like the Apple Watch.
Before his death, Steve Jobs commented on the Newton situation saying:
“If Apple had been in a less precarious situation, I would have drilled down myself to figure out how to make it work. I didn’t trust the people running it…By shutting it down, I freed up some good engineers who could work on new mobile devices. And eventually we got it right when we moved on to iPhones and the iPad.”
No one is born an instant success. Market victories are born of perseverance and a willingness to learn from your mistakes and create better, more efficient products.
Sure, the developers at Apple may have been discouraged by the flop of the Newton. But their work paved the way for the future of mobile devices. Without the discovery of the ARM processor, we may not have the same caliber of mobile devices we have grown accustomed to today.
With each failure, we are given a chance to grow, both as individuals and as innovators. Market failure should never be viewed as a sign to give up and throw in the towel. Instead, it should be welcomed and celebrated as part of the market process.