Humans of New Work

Samuel West

Founder, Museum of Failure


Wednesday October 4th, 2017
Monika Jiang

What does work mean to you?
One thing you like or dislike about your current job?
The current workload is way too much.
How is the human placed in the center at your current work?
Telling stories is human at the core and telling stories about human error is even more so.
One thing you’d like to change in the system of work?
We should shake ourselves free from the Industrial Revolution’s notion of work being separate from play.

Samuel West is a clinical psychologist by training who has worked with companies and CEOs in the past. Today, he’s the founder of the world’s first Museum of Failure in Helsingborg, Sweden. The unlikely exhibition focuses on aspects that aren’t usually showcased — failed products, botched innovations, and broken business models by well-known brands like Google, Apple, and Kodak. A character with little attention span and loads of natural enthusiasm, Samuel has switched his own work every three to four years for as long as he can remember. After working as a therapist and business psychologist, he felt as though he figured out what it means to be human. As he explains it, we all have vulnerabilities. Even if you’re a big shot in the industry, at the end of the day, you’re still human. When he applied this view to the current world of work, Samuel discovered that people were most high performing, innovative, and creative when taking a playful approach to what they’re doing.
“I found that work environments which were more playful allowed workers to feel free as well, which is more conducive to creativity. You’re also allowing psychological safety to be innovative. After my research, I concluded that employees need to have a degree of exploration and experimentation to facilitate progress and innovation. And that’s where the failure lies. So I asked myself, why are we so handicapped and ashamed of failure?”
That’s how the idea of the Museum of Failure was born and, so far, it has been an unexpected global success. For Samuel, it’s important to reveal how great companies like Apple or Google failed greatly to relativize the glory of most corporations. Especially in times of digital disruption and the replacement of industrial workers and psychotherapists by robots (which apparently do a better job at showing empathy than humans) Samuel calls for a redefinition of work. As he perceives it, most of us live in a place full of what he refers to as bullshit jobs that wouldn’t be missed at all should they cease to exist tomorrow. ____
“We’re not working in the fields or factories anymore, yet we still adhere to the same grueling idea of what work is. It is time to break free from those constructs that only serve corporate interests. I’m shocked and disappointed to see how many workplaces still convey a 9 to 5 style. Why is it even a discussion to have people work from home? I have four employees, and I don’t care how or from where they work as long as they fulfill their tasks.”
To make the leap to a new understanding of work, we first need to learn how to innovate, which means we must learn to fail. Most companies trying only to innovate are not fully taking the risks required to fail, which, as Samuel states, is an essential part.
“Innovation is both novel and beneficial, and you can’t have innovation without the risk of failure. Look at older people who become more conservative as they age, while the younger generations are often less concerned with maintaining the status quo and instead seek out an individual path. This difference can be exactly applied to organizations. The older they are, the more they strive to maintain. Apple, for example, was awesome 15 years ago but now, they’re very fat, rich, and non-innovative. It’s all about balancing exploration and exploitation. Meaning how to balance making and selling things, but also developing new products and services you don’t necessarily get paid for upfront.”
By showcasing failure at the museum, Samuel is looking to destigmatize the concept of failure by taking stock of the most famous brands out there. That, he believes, is liberating to people. The Museum of Failure will reopen its permanent exhibit next April in Sweden, while a touring exhibition will be opening in Los Angeles this December before moving to Shanghai.
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