Fail Fast and Fail Hard

Posted on Feb 3, 2011 | 5 Comments

“Design thinking” has become all the rage in management circles—so much so that there is now a backlash building against the concept. One blogger, in fact, recently suggested that “we need to stop this ‘exciting new phenomenon’ before it kills its host.”

Nevertheless, we at the Drucker Institute remain big believers in the notion of using design principles to help spur innovation and enhance effectiveness. Indeed, the mantra around here has become “Fail fast and fail hard,” as we increasingly incorporate the process in our day-to-day work.

Embracing failure is just one part of design thinking. According to Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, design thinking is “best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps.” The three spaces are:

  • Inspiration: expose yourself to the customers’ environment, patterns, choices and behaviors to discern what the customers’ actual needs and values may be;
  • Ideation: rapidly generate ideas without judging them;
  • Implementation: build prototypes to quickly test ideas with customers, and fail fast to get rid of those that don’t work.

The central role of the customer in design thinking is closely aligned to Peter Drucker’s own ideas.  He advised that the customer should always be at the heart of any business or organization. “‘Who is the customer?’ is the most crucial question in defining business purpose and business mission,” he wrote in his 1973 book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices.

“Fail fast” is the mantra of design thinkers because if you do that, you can avoid investing a huge amount of resources—both time and money—in something that then fizzles when it finally hits the marketplace. Your risk goes gown greatly.

Drucker, for his part, favored this kind of experimentation. “You have to start small,” he said.

To put these concepts into practice, we’ve zeroed in on two specific design thinking tools best tuned to our work: engaging customers in co-design, and not relying on assumptions about what customers need.

Co-design means inviting customers to dive in to our ideation and prototyping work long before we have a final implementation ready for them to use. At first, we were worried about looking rough around the edges. But we quickly discovered that our customers love to help us shape our end product, and that the product is always far better—thanks to their input—than anything we could’ve created on our own.

For example, we host a few high-level executive forums each year, and even the very busy, very in-demand people who are our customers at these events love to take a few minutes to help design the experience in which they’ll soon engage.

What do you make of design thinking? Is it mostly hype, or a useful frame for approaching your work?



  1. Tweets that mention Fail fast and fail hard | The Drucker Exchange --
    February 3, 2011

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Drucker Institute, SB_CRE. SB_CRE said: How can I not click on that?? RT @Michael_MBA: Yay! We Failed! #PeterDrucker #designthinking #failure [...]

  2. Braden Kelley
    February 4, 2011

    I disagree with this whole fail fast, fail cheap, fail often mantra and wrote about it on my blog in article called ‘Don’t Fail Fast – Learn Fast’ – Here is the link –


    All the best,


  3. Juan-Pablo
    February 5, 2011

    Drucker is right on! Working closely with customers as prime contractor in multimillion dollar projects, our first responsibility as project management is come up with a technical, procurement, project controls, or design engineering solution to resolve the construction problems that arise and then quickly engage the customer representatives to allow them to help us design the best solution to “our” problem. This creates accountability to the whole project team and always results in the best solution under the given circumstances.

  4. Fail Fast and Fail Hard « Fail Fast
    February 18, 2011

    [...] Drucker’s work in the context of failing fast, but apparently I should have been based on this article. Tying the concept specifically to design thinking is a useful model, and hearing the Drucker [...]

  5. Birds do it, bees do it, even members of the faculty do it | The Drucker Exchange
    March 24, 2011

    [...] rank last on the list of professionals likely to engage in design thinking—a process that, as has been noted, the Drucker Institute holds in high [...]


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