The Museum of Failure’s founder has a failure of his own: personal bankruptcy

Facing failure
Facing failure
Image: AP Photo/James Brooks
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In 2017, organizational psychologist Samuel West established the Museum of Failure in his adopted home of Sweden to house his collection of flops and failed products. Its initial run in Helsingborg, Sweden, drew worldwide attention, and it now travels the globe as a pop-up museum.

Now West is grappling with a setback of his own. West has been forced to file personal bankruptcy in Sweden after his former business partners, Niklas and Jenny Madsen, sued him for what they claim was a broken agreement regarding the museum’s ownership.

“After years of advising organizations on accepting the risk of failure, I now get to apply that on myself in an unexpected way,” West tells Quartz via email.

The Madsens are designers at the Sweden-based design company Superlab, where Niklas Madsen is CEO. Niklas Madsen referred questions to his lawyer, who has not yet responded to our request for a comment.

The legal squabbles over the museum’s origins won’t affect the actual exhibit, which moves from its current home in Shanghai to Munich in the spring.

“Dr. West is a visionary who created a very successful international exhibit. His personal matters have no impact on the operation of the show,” said Martin Biallas, CEO of SEE Global Entertainment, which manages the museum.

When the museum debuted, West described the collection of horrifyingly ill-conceived products (Harley Davidson-inspired perfume, coffee-flavored Coca-Cola BlāK) as a tribute to organizations that give their employees the freedom to try (and fail) at something new, and to the value of failure as a teaching tool.

“Learning is the only process that turns failure into success,” West told Quartz at the time of the museum’s opening. “So if you don’t learn from your fuck ups, then you’ve really fucked up.”

From the failure of his business partnership, he said, “the obvious lesson is to choose your business partners wisely. Like too many others, I did not see (or even worse, chose to ignore) the early signs of problems.”

There is a silver lining to these trials. Future visitors to the museum may see a new exhibit on West’s experience of having a popular idea lead to personal financial catastrophe.

“I am currently working on including this ordeal into the exhibit so that others can learn from my experience,” he said. “Once this legal hassle is over it will make a great addition to the exhibit and to my talks.”