Every idea is great until it doesn't work. Innovations that seem perfectly logical on the drawing board can be total disasters in the light of day. 


What brought this to mind was a news item about robots replacing humans in some jobs. You see, Japan is hosting the 2020 Olympics and to do so they need an additional 3,000 hotel rooms. So, the logical thing is to build more hotels, which they are doing. To staff those hotels one company figured robots were the answer. The idea has not worked out as planned. 


According to Hotel Management Magazine: “Japan’s Henn na Hotel, which first opened in 2015 with a staff of robots, has cut its robotic workforce after the experience failed to reduce costs or workload for its employees. The hotel will reduce its 243-robotic workforce by more than half and return to more traditional human-provided services for guests. The firing comes after complaints from both staff and customers.” 


The complaints were about a variety of things. Robots annoyed the guests and would often break down. Robots at the front desk could not answer basic questions. The luggage-carrying bots couldn't handle luggage. The in-room robot assistants “thought snoring sounds were commands and would wake guests up repeatedly during the night.” The list goes on, but the bottom line is that some jobs are more efficiently performed by actual human beings. (


After reading about this, I wondered if there were other examples of supposedly good ideas gone bad. I went on that new-fangled Interweb thingy and found a bunch. 


For example, everyone in Michigan is complaining about the poor condition of our roads, but at least they are not made of wood. “Popularized in the U.S. in the early-to-mid-19th century, wood block paving offered a reprieve from the uneven cobblestones that filled most urban streets at the time. The wooden blocks were fairly easy to install and cut down on street noise.”  

This almost makes sense, right? Well, there were some problems. Wood has “a propensity to rot and get slippery when wet.” The blocks were treated with creosote oil to preserve and seal them together and that “was extremely smelly.” Chicago had a lot of wooden streets and during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 “the city’s wooden streets acted to spread the fire.” 


There are still some wooden streets in Alaska, but the only surviving wooden street in the Continental U.S. is in a small cul-de-sac in Pittsburgh.  ( and


The food industry, it turns out, has a long history of failed ideas. For instance, Maxwell House coffee once tried selling pre-brewed coffee in a cardboard carton. Customers didn't buy it because they “were unwilling to take the extra step of pouring a mug of coffee and then heating it up.” The package was foil-lined, so if you put it in a microwave “you were in for a nasty surprise.” 


In 1982, Colgate tried to introduce “Colgate Kitchen's frozen meals.”  When people heard “Colgate” they thought “toothpaste.” This was “the opposite thought you want them to have when buying frozen dinners.”


Do you like Oreo cookies? One of the flavors they tried in 2013 was not well received and was quickly dumped – watermelon. “This weird flavor combination failed to find a following with consumers.” 


With summer coming on, you might want to protect your lips from the sun with some balm. Balms come in a variety of flavors, but one flavor from a 2005 product is no longer available – Cheetos lip balm. “The idea of purposefully smearing your lips with something Cheeto-scented/flavored clearly didn’t appeal to many.” 


Another scent that was introduced in 1990 didn't have much appeal to consumers either – Harley Davidson cologne. “Even the most committed biker was likely not clamoring for a branded cologne. Especially not one with the slogan, 'The scent of freedom,' and which possessed top notes of bergamot and mint and a base of patchouli and sandalwood.”


Another failed idea (from the 1950s) would have been just perfect for date night once you were adorned by the alluring scents of Cheeto lip balm combined with Harley Davidson cologne – a movie featuring Smell-O-Vision or AromaRama. “The film industry experimented with new technology after TV became popular. One of these experiments sought to sync scents with films. AromaRama pumped scents into the movie theater through the air conditioning system while Smell-O-Vision released scents from vents placed under the seats so viewers could smell what was happening in the movies. Neither was well received.” (


Most of these “innovations” never found a niche in the marketplace, but every once in a while a seemingly goofy product idea hangs around. If you enjoy a frosty ice cream cone on a hot summer day but don't want drips running down your arm there is a perfect solution. Still available for purchase is the Motorized Ice cream Cone. Scoop your ice cream into this cone and it automatically turns your ice cream while you lick. (


Digital Trends says: “Tired of turning your hand to avoid getting melted ice cream on yourself? This little gadget spins and vibrates, so you don’t have to do any extra work while eating your ice cream cone.” This puts the “lazy” in the lazy days of summer. 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and