Prof. Hasso Plattner, Co-founder of SAP, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of SAP, SAP
Ten Years of Support for Design Thinking
– An Interview with Hasso Plattner

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Design thinking is getting more and more popular. Some already regard it as a new management paradigm. Ten years ago Hasso Plattner, co-founder of SAP, was one of the first people to support design thinking massively. Due to his financial support the in Stanford, California was established in 2005. The institute evolved to be a known beacon for design thinking. A few years later he founded the sister institute “HPI School of Design Thinking” in Potsdam, Germany. In his interview with us he looks back at a decade in which design thinking was made accessible for a broader audience.

Ten years ago you were one of the first people to see the potential of design thinking and to support it by funding the in Stanford. Why of all things did you invest in design thinking?

First of all I recognized design thinking as a chance for SAP. There was an urgent need for a cultural turn towards a user-centric perspective in Walldorf and on a global scale. Design thinking reminded me of the good old days at SAP when we were closer to the customer. When we had this entrepreneurial spirit in everything we did. I had the feeling that we had lost this spirit.


Which role did the play in this regard?

The already had this specifically entrepreneurial and user-centered mindset. They had the right people, like David Kelley. But they were still lacking a professional training program. I guess my support enabled this.


When the opened its doors in 2005 you said “These project groups are to provide innovations with even higher benefits for mankind than previously, and solve urgent problems in businesses and society.” What did you mean by “higher benefits for mankind”?

Design thinking manages to address problems at their source, not just by treating some of the symptoms. In politics oftentimes solutions are short-dated. And there are several companies producing mediocre products. Our society is in need of an entrepreneurial mindset, not only for companies but also for every citizen. Especially in Germany I see a lack of a culture that emphasizes individual responsibility.


Two years after Stanford you also founded the German version of the in Potsdam …

Right, especially in Germany we can copy ways of thinking and working from Silicon Valley. In Germany we have the best engineers but much too often our ideas and inventions vanish in drawers instead of being embedded into innovative business models. This is why it is my concern to prepare the next generation for this. I integrated the German version of the directly into the HPI in Potsdam where IT engineers are educated. Because “quality made in Germany” is useless unless somebody is able to see it, right? Americans are much more adventuresome. They build something, which might not be perfect in the beginning, take the iPhone for example, and then the quality gets iterated into the product later on.


Do you already feel the impacts of the design-thinkification at HPI?

The development of Hana at HPI was basically inspired by design thinking. At HPI I also see that the students have built a start-up culture. They are educated more comprehensively. These students are not only very good IT engineers, but also creative entrepreneurs. We have plenty of examples of this at HPI. We have one alumna, who was the best in her class. During her studies she always did a lot of design thinking, and now she founded her own start-up. It’s, a web app called Nuvyu.


Sounds like a great success story…

Of course things aren’t always that easy. Design Thinking is also a program of cultural change and companies need to be able to cope with that. And employees too. Design thinking creates uncertainty. Within the staff or management there can be much resistance.


What would you wish for the future of design thinking? What is your vision of design thinking in the next ten years?

From a global perspective I would wish that design thinking be used to tackle ecological problems. Or that it be used to address questions regarding population growth. I think that with design thinking we can learn to embrace those questions together and not separate ourselves along borders of disciplines.

I hope that being an entrepreneur is going to be a career option for young people in Germany. Design thinking can play an important role because it is able to promote people’s self-efficacy and creativity.

The Interviewers: Prof. Hasso Plattner was interviewed on February 2nd, 2015 by Eva Köppen, Holger Rhinow, and Jan Schmiedgen .

Some Facts on Prof. Hasso Plattner

Hasso Plattner (born 21 January 1944 in Berlin, Germany) is a German billionaire businessman. A co-founder of SAP AG software company, he has served as Chairman of the Supervisory Board of SAP AG since May 2003.

In 1998, Plattner founded the Hasso Plattner Institute for software systems engineering based at the University of Potsdam, and in Palo Alto, California, its sole source of funding being the non-profit Hasso Plattner Foundation for Software Systems Engineering. Plattner has pledged €50 million of his personal fortune over a period of 20 years. Since its foundation, Plattner’s commitment to the HPI has quadrupled to over €200 million. He not only fully finances the HPI, but is also actively involved as a director and lecturer in Enterprise Platforms and Integration Concepts.

In October 2005, with a donation of US$35 million, Plattner founded the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. Students of varying disciplines have been charged with the development of user-friendly innovations.

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The Authors

Eva Köppen

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1 Comment

  1. We should keep that Interview in mind, especially the signifikant Meaning “..closer to our customer…”

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