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Author's profile photo Lone Aggersbjerg

Fail Early and Often

We all make mistakes. We try out things and while some work out fine, other things fail. You fall, you get up, durst yourself off and move on in an eternity of learning cycles if you are lucky. It is not a granted statement that you can fail and start again, but the power you sense inside when you get to experience this atmosphere can be breathtaking. I like the “fail early and often” concept within the Design Thinking methodology. I resonates with who I am as an individual and it fits to the Danish heritage which I was given from birth. It gives me great pleasure when I get to be part of creativity based on that mantra.

As part of being a school ambassador for the SAP Young Thinkers program, I organized a condensed day in Design thinking for the decisions makers from the primary school and high school of the English Institut. At SAP, Design Thinking is part of our engineering curriculum since years, where we combine technical work with entrepreneurship and putting people at the core, so for me and my SAP colleagues this is not a new experience. However, for our guests from the English Institut this was a new experience – and therefore also for us a great opportunity to experience the magic of Design Thinking again.

We worked in two groups over the course of 6 hours, on the challenge “how can the primary and the high school of the English Institut work together collaborative and sustainable, leveraging the elements of SAP Young Thinkers like Design Thinking, Business Model Canvas and Snap coding!”? What I enjoyed the most was the participation of four high school students. Students are only one of many stakeholders in education. The federal, state and local governments all have an important stake, as to community members, parents, administrators, teachers and support staff. However, given that these students are the end customers, we should more often put them in the center to seek to understand them. An empathy-centered process stops asking what students want and observes what students do, say and think. In our interviews in asking “why” more often, that I know it from my own kids home, you get into the depth of understanding what our customers really want and what are their beliefs. It helped us gain powerful insights to help us understand the customer in front of us and therefore better understand what solution we can develop to meet his/her needs.


By building on ideas of others we went from a huge collection of ideas to a selected and prioritized collection, which we as a joint team can work further on developing. By interacting with our end users, the students, in the complete cycle, we all learned to match our ideas and our creation of solutions to the actual needs of our students. At the end of the day, I think we all went away with new learnings. The direct, targeted observation and iterative design with student feedback led to solutions that really hit the important details. I am hopeful that our guests went away with the belief that our future educational system can use Design thinking as teaching method, and that by involving our kids in an empathic mode as members of the solution and as equal partners in the solution solving, we will learn from each other and invite into sharing our individual skills for a mutual solution. Then we can fail together – but also get up and learn together.

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      Author's profile photo Michael Appleby
      Michael Appleby

      Hi Lone,

      Fine blog and fully agree with the philosophy.  Wrong decisions made early enough can be corrected before they become much bigger failures (and cost a lot more).  Late decisions rarely leave enough time for other choices to be implemented.

      Fail early and often also implies a willingness to learn, generally publicly, from mistakes.  The other implication is that a system exists which allows recovery from such mistakes.  It is not good to just fail and often (if that was the only goal, I am sure we can accomplish it!  :D).  Once failure occurs, corrective action needs to occur (and promptly).

      The value of failing early and often is completely lost if such fixes are not applied.  It is not enough to recognize that one has failed.  One must also fix the brokenness quickly and efficiently.

      Cheers, Mike