With life imitating digital, a real life encyclopaedic compendium of failure is the Museum of Failed Products.

The exhibit is featured in Oliver Burkeman’s book “The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking” excerpted in the article “Happiness is a Glass Half Empty”. Its subtitle is a thorough embrace of failure: “Be positive, look on the bright side, stay focused on success: so goes our modern mantra. But perhaps the true path to contentment is to learn to be a loser.”

  • “In an unremarkable business park outside the city of Ann Arbor, in Michigan, stands a poignant memorial to humanity’s shattered dreams. It doesn’t look like that from the outside, though. Even when you get inside – which members of the public rarely do – it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to what you’re seeing. It appears to be a vast and haphazardly organised supermarket; along every aisle, grey metal shelves are crammed with thousands of packages of food and household products. There is something unusually cacophonous about the displays, and soon enough you work out the reason: unlike in a real supermarket, there is only one of each item. And you won’t find many of them in a real supermarket anyway: they are failures, products withdrawn from sale after a few weeks or months, because almost nobody wanted to buy them. In the product-design business, the storehouse – operated by a company called GfK Custom Research North America – has acquired a nickname: the Museum of Failed Products. This is consumer capitalism’s graveyard – the shadow side to the relentlessly upbeat, success-focused culture of modern marketing…The Museum of Failed Products was itself a kind of accident, albeit a happier one. Its creator, a now-retired marketing man named Robert McMath, merely intended to accumulate a ‘reference library’ of consumer products, not failures per se…What McMath hadn’t taken into account was the three-word truth that was to prove the making of his career: ‘Most products fail.’ According to some estimates, the failure rate is as high as 90%. Simply by collecting new products indiscriminately, McMath had ensured that his hoard would come to consist overwhelmingly of unsuccessful ones.”

The heart of his message about happiness and failure, for which the Museum stands as potent tribute, echoes ones of the tenets of my life: “Expectations are the enemy of happiness.” .

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