What Would Our Museum of Failure Include?

Museum of Failure, Downtown LA

Museum of Failure, Downtown LA

This weekend we headed to downtown Los Angeles to check out The Museum of Failure.  If you haven’t heard of it, you probably aren’t alone.  The Museum of Failure is a relatively new collection of more than 100 innovation failures, conceived by psychologist and innovation researcher, Dr. Samuel West.  Dr. West became tired and fed up with the constant narrative of success and felt that failure was a much more interesting topic to unpack.  The museum first opened in Sweden, but has made it’s US debut in Los Angeles and will be moving on to other cities soon.  Some of the failures were humorous misses (Colgate Lasagna, The Shake Weight or the sexist disaster pen “Bic For Her”),  while other failures were due to a competitive landscape (Betamax), but all led to interesting conversations about the notion of failure.  

In addition to the collection of failure items, the museum had an entire “Failure Confessional” wall dedicated to posting your personal failures.  “I really hope visitors will walk away with the message that you have to accept failure if you want any progress,” said West. “It’s the idea that maybe failure isn’t such a dangerous idea.  Hopefully, this exhibit encourages more companies and people to take meaningful risks while embracing the necessity of failure.”

Giving up on your goal because of one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat.
— Anonymous

This visit to the Museum of Failure got me thinking about failure and our inability to celebrate or even learn from failure in many education circles.  I wonder if we were to create an exhibition celebrating the biggest flops in education what would it include? How would we curate the collection?  While there are a lot of articles about US education failing to meet the needs of students, we aren’t specific about the failures.  Some would argue that using new tech for learning is a massive fail, and yet others are building schools around individualized playlists using tech to facilitate this rote learning.  Do we even have a common definition of failure in education?  Is there a fear of failure in education?   And “if failure is a better teacher than success” than why aren’t we more publicly learning from our failures?

I’d love to hear what you would put in the “Education Museum of Failure.”  Maybe together we could curate our collection and learn from it.

Leader as Designer


Last year brought innovation and some pretty cool new inventions to a lot of industries, yet we still see very little innovation or large-scale change in education. We continue to face many of the same problems we have been facing for years—problems of equity, achievement gaps, outdated instructional practices and lack of funding just to name a few.  As I ponder the problems and solutions we’ve collectively tried, I am convinced it’s time to more widely embrace design thinking and mindsets of designers in education.

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that is human-centered, possibility driven and iterative.  Engaging stakeholders in design thinking has the potential to bring something new to the conversation.  Many businesses have accepted design thinking as a practice to solve their “wickedest problems” with great success. Our problems in education tend to be bigger, messier and in at least my opinion, the outcomes matter more. We aren’t just focused on improving the bottom line or designing a new product, we are focused on designing a better future for our world. Embracing design thinking can help us approach this work differently.

In order for the world of education to fully utilize design thinking, we need leaders who are able to embrace new mindsets and incorporate design principles into their leadership. Leaders who understand the importance of empathy in their work, leaders who are willing to question the status quo, take bold risks, and constantly iterate in pursuit of what is best for students.  It’s time for education to embrace “leader as designer.”  Why designer?

  • Designers love problems.  But even more, they love starting with people who are impacted by the problem.  They ground themselves in empathy and are clear for whom they are designing.

  • Designers love questions. They are curious and constantly questioning the way the world works.  Good designers not only ask a lot of questions, they reframe questions to allow space for new insights and ideas.

  • Designers embrace ambiguity.  They see that they are multiple possible solutions and there isn’t one perfect answer or solution, so they embrace “better over best.” They know the first idea is unlikely the best idea, so they stay in the dark a little longer playing with lots of ideas and possibilities.

  • Designers build to learn.  They don’t just live in theory and think about the future or solutions.  They acknowledge the impossibility of knowing what will work without trying it, so they actively build prototypes with a transparency and feedback loop that allows for quick iterations.

Education desperately needs leaders who can lead like designers.  While researching our upcoming book, Design Thinking for School Leaders: 5 Mindsets & Mindsets that Ignite Positive Change (coming May 2018) we were especially interested in researching leaders who were using the mindsets and habits of designers to impact change.  

Our working theory was that leaders who have embraced these mindsets are able to impact greater change more quickly than leaders who are working with more traditional educational leadership mindsets. We identified common mindsets that these “Design Inspired Leaders” have and believe any leader can learn to lead in this way.   Without taking the time to understand design principles, many leaders are operating as “accidental designers,” occasionally stumbling upon innovative ideas or solutions that aren’t lasting. In our upcoming book,  we’ll provide knowledge, tools and actionable steps that help leaders shift from being leaders who are  “accidental designers” to “Design Inspired Leaders” acting with greater intention and achieving greater lasting impact. “You don’t think your way to creative work.  You work your way to creative thinking.” -George Nelson

Next week, we’ll begin sharing profiles of “Design Inspired Leaders” we met on our research journey.  While our book is complete, our learning isn’t.  We would love to continue to learn from “Design Inspired Leaders.”  Do you currently lead this way?  Do you know any “Design Inspired Leaders?”  We’d love to hear from you and learn from your experience. Email to connect, look out for our book and in the meantime keep “Leading Like a Designer!”