Failing fast can get your idea to fly

Swimming noodles, bubble wrap, hula hoops, playmobil toys and lego blocks – yes, this definitely is the Design Thinking master class of the Service Innovation and Design Master Degree Programme.

During the two-day workshops we ran through Mindshake’s model Evolution 6², guided by professor Katja Tschimmel from Mindshake. The model has six phases: emergence, empathy, experimentation, elaboration, exposition and extension accompanied by a set of methods for each phase.

The E.6² builds on previous models of Design Thinking, such as IDEO’s first model in 2008 (inspiration, ideation and implementation) or Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (2010) which defines the steps as emphatize, define, ideate, protype and test. Kelley & Kelley (2013) describe the phases of design-driven innovation to be inspiration, synthesis, ideation and experimentation and implementation. It came evident that it is not the exact methods or practices that count but the overall process that triggers new ideas and innovations.

During the lessons, we learned about for example the importance of reframing the problem and generating many different ideas. Not to be satisfied with first idea, but to push our minds further. (Tscimmel, 2020)

We had the opportunity to find new solutions to educational institutes and students affected by Covid-19 pandemic through the exercises.

What were the swimming noodles for then? The visualization and experimentation phase!

Prototype of the storytelling app using Playmobils. Photo: Minna Elo.

In the Mindshake model this part of the process is called the elaboration phase. At first, we might have been a little skeptical about the simple Playmobil and Lego prototypes. However, the feedback received based on them from other groups was very useful; they had so many questions about the services and users regarding our 1) storytelling app for informal familiarisation with fellow students and 2) the concept to raise funds for educational institutes. The feedback brought up some questions we had not thought of in our groups. This fast exercise showed that even with limited time and rough prototypes, testing your idea early can help it evolve a lot.

Legos in action. Photo: Kimmo Kemppaala.

As Brown (2008) states, the goal of prototyping isn’t to finish the product or service, it is to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the idea and to identify new directions.

Posters to support our elevator speech pitches. Photo Minna Elo & Kimmo Kemppaala.

What really struck us, was a fellow student’s comment about being relieved by the fact that we didn’t need to work on this concept after the workshop, as these solutions were not intended to be real services, like those in our workplaces. We are not sure what the student really meant with that, but it got us thinking about fears that we have. Are we afraid that our ideas are not right or not clever enough to be considered as new innovations?

Kelley & Kelley (2013) discuss this fear that blocks us from being creative and provide new innovative approaches or solutions. Even though Design Thinking embraces failure as a part of the process, many times we might feel that our ideas or solutions are not good enough and we stay silent. That was also evident during first day as many of us found it hard to come with ideas or at least say them aloud.

Carlgren et al. (2016) also suggest that idea is to “fail often and fail soon”. That is why we need to lose our fear to fail and have courage to try our ideas early and get feedback from customers that can guide us to right direction.

During second day of our workshop it became more natural to speak up and everyone of us was coming up with new ideas. That is the magic of Design Thinking methods.

At home, the kids are growing but we might not get rid of the Legos just yet…

Text: Minna Elo and Kimmo Kemppaala


Brown, Tim (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95.

Carlgren, L., Rauth, I. & Elmquist., M. (2016). Framing Design Thinking: The Concept in Idea and Enactment. Creativity and Innovation Management, Vol. 25, Nr. 1. 38-57.

Kelley, D. & Kelley, T. (2013) Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Crown Business. (

Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5th 2020. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland.

Tschimmel, Katja (2018). Evolution 6² Toolkit: An E-handbook for Practical Design Thinking for Innovation. Mindshake.

5 thoughts on “Failing fast can get your idea to fly

  1. I strongly agree with your thoughts, Minna and Kimmo.

    Our emotions play a huge role in an innovation process, or in any teamwork for that matter. Too often we just tend to forget the fact that we humans “run with feelings”.

    Fear is one of our most primitive feelings. So, it’s not that surprising that fear of failure inhibits us in many situations. Luckily, practicing the skills, methods and processes used in Design Thinking – and playing with the Legos and such – help us become more flexible with our (inner) thoughts. Trust and general atmosphere of acceptance in overall make us more courageous. That is also the reason why I think innovation is most often social – not only personal thing.

    BR, Nora

    • Hear, hear Nora – trust and general atmosphere of acceptance do indeed make us more courageous.

      Minna’s and Kimmo’s question “Are we afraid that our ideas are not right or not clever enough to be considered as new innovations?” is a very valid one. It takes courage to tell even the ideas that may feel silly at the time.

      In the article Design Thinking Comes of Age Jon Kolko brings up that one challenge for design thinking is embracing risk. Not just the risk of our ideas being not right or not clever enough, but also that all in all transformative innovation is risky in itself. The outcome is not guaranteed and there may not be enough information on the problem that the designers are trying to solve. But in a culture that allows taking chances and were failing is ok, there is courage for taking on these risks.

      I wrote in my notes Katja’s remark of “If no mistakes, you are not distrupting but doing incremental work”. Indeed. And when not distrupting, nothing new will be born.


      • I totally agree with you Nora and Anna! “Trust and general atmosphere of acceptance in overall make us more courageous. That is also the reason why I think innovation is most often social – not only personal thing.” Therefore, I think that both designers as well as the whole organisation should pay attention to the culture and atmosphere. The management should pave the way and show their vulnerability by taking part in design challenges but also in general speak aloud even not being 100% sure about the correct answer and prevail also something about the personal life. Another perspective is that for what employees are rewarded. I am sure there are organisations selecting e.g. the failure of the month and celebrating it. Because the failures really make the innovation process faster. However, all the employees can contribute for creating a safe environment for everyone to express their ideas and try new things fearlessly. One concrete action is to change saying from yes, BUT… to yes, AND…when somebody suggest a new perspective/idea/process/method of doing.

  2. Hi Minna and Kimmo,

    And thanks for bringing up these important thoughts. I also noticed that the design thinking workshop raised many different emotions during the weekend. I think many organizations and employees are deeply rooted in the culture of achievement, measuring results and focusing on finishing projects. So it takes practise to get to used to this new mindset of exploration and playfulness. And it’s not a simply task to convince others to let go of their fears, too.

    P.s. Your projects were very inspiring!


  3. Thank you Minna and Kimmo for the very interesting blog post!

    I started to wonder, how does a successful business idea look like in the very beginning of the iterative process. For sure, I can relate to being relieved by the fact that we didn’t need to work on our concept after the Design Thinking workshop, because I wasn’t able to see it’s potential. But does that mean there wasn’t any?

    I would be curious to know from those of you who are more experienced in Service Design and especially Design Thinking: how and at what stage can you tell the potential of an idea? Is there really any other way than involving users in the process?

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