Louisa Heinrich, Founder of Superhuman
Louisa Heinrich, Founder of Superhuman

Louisa Heinrich is the Founder of Superhuman Limited. She brings over 23 years’ total experience (18 in Digital), working with businesses and governments to design strategies, products, services and organisational structures that use digital technology to improve individual lives, make a positive contribution to society, and achieve commercial results.

She has held many titles, including Design Director in the first dotcom boom, Executive for Future Platforms at the BBC, and most recently Head of Strategy for international Service Design agency Fjord. She has led teams worldwide for multi-national businesses, is a thought leader and a recognised speaker on the intersection of people, technology and business.

We are proud to have her presenting at Data Natives 2015!


 

What led you to the creation of Superhuman?

I saw some trends and challenges emerging across the digital world that I didn’t feel could be properly tackled from inside the existing agency model, or from inside a single corporate – trends in the way human beings are considered (or not) in product development, the way new ideas are developed and monetized, the way success is measured, the way strategies are adapted and adjusted as circumstances, technology and people’s preferences change. I created Superhuman to be as nimble as possible, responding to changes in the landscape and helping businesses respond to those changes as they emerge, in whatever way makes the most sense for the business and the challenge at hand.

You’ve been a startup mentor at Wayra and Highway1 for some time now – what do you find yourself telling new founders over and over again?

That the customer needs to be embedded in every part of the company, not just Marketing – a lot of entrepreneurs still subscribe to the notion that you can make whatever you like and then marketing will determine whether it succeeds in the marketplace or not. In reality, the most successful products and services are built from the start around a need, desire or challenge that people have. Marketing can’t fix a poor experience, and a great customer experience is the best investment a young business can make.

Your time at the BBC must have been fascinating. How did you go about fostering innovation within a national broadcasting company of that size?

The BBC is actually full of brilliant people who have a genuine desire to be innovative, to push things forward, to make the world a better place. It’s remarkable and humbling and wonderful, and I’m still friends with many of the fine folk I worked with while I was there. Of course it’s also rife with politics, like any organization of that size, but finding and connecting with like-minded folk from across the divisions can go a long way. Ad-hoc and under-the-radar projects often end up feeding into much larger programmes of work – some of the threads we kicked off years ago are still running now, albeit in different forms. Innovation is a state of mind, not a team or a process. Making things happen is often just a matter of having the drive and the patience to find a way through. And having such a volume of amazing content to work with is an ongoing inspiration!

'Innovation is a state of mind, not a team or a process.' - @customdeluxe Click To Tweet

The Internet of Things is one of the most heavily hyped subjects in tech – what’s the truth behind the buzzword?

The truth is that, outside of some operational contexts (supply chain management, manufacturing and logistics, etc.), nobody yet knows what the Internet of Things is going to be. How could we? The idea that virtually any object could have the capacity to communicate – it’s both mind-boggling and strangely banal. On the one hand, do you really want or need your toaster to talk to you? On the other, how wonderful would it be to feel close to a loved one who’s thousands of miles away, without having to look at a screen? I think it will take some time and experimentation before we really understand what all this means.

Are there any IoT applications that particularly excite or impress you?

I’m really excited about the idea of using technology to facilitate human interaction, to enable us to be more present in the real world around us. For example, we talk a lot about ‘Smart Cities’ but at the moment, most projects that fall under that heading are focused on infrastructure. What about the people and the communities that exist inside those cities? Aren’t they the real heart of the city? I think IoT could facilitate an ‘Internet of Neighbourhoods’ where people come together to form more close-knit communities, assisted by connected objects and places. We’re starting so see some of these things happen with the Things Network in Amsterdam, and I’m hopeful we’ll see more and more.

I’m also really impressed with connected objects that are completely intuitive and, at the same time, highly flexible and adaptable. One of my favourite examples is the Good Night Lamp by Alex Deschamps-Sonsino. It’s a family of internet-connected lamps – a ‘parent’ lamp and one or more miniature ones. When the parent lamp is switched on, the babies turn on as well. It’s so simple that everyone gets it instantly, and yet it can be used to mean whatever its owners want it to – a hello between friends, a check-in with a family member, an invitation, anything. And most importantly, all you do to ‘set it up’ is take it out of the box and plug it in.

I guess the things I most admire in the IoT space are the ones that genuinely make things simpler or better for people – a lot of the projects I hear about might add automation or features, but also come with a lot of overhead in the form of control apps, settings panels and so forth.

What superpower do you think technology could give us next?

Ha! What a question. Technology has already given us lots of superpowers: we can fly (in planes and helicopters and flight simulators), we can see and hear things that are happening thousands of miles away in real-time (Periscope and other live-streaming tools), we can be in multiple places at once (telepresence and VR tech like Oculus Rift), we can control things with our thoughts (Emotiv, MUSE, MindWave, etc.), we can remember thousands of names and numbers (any mobile phone)… I suppose for me it’s more about how we apply technology than what it’s capable of. The same technologies that enable us to do all this magical stuff could also be used in some rather dark and dystopian ways. So I’m more interested in the how than in the what.

I would really, really like a teleporter though.

Which of the other talks at Data Natives are you looking forward to checking out?

Alex’s of course, and Suzy Moat’s talk looks interesting. I’m also curious as to what Dr. Belusa will have to say on nanotechnology and health.

Which companies individuals inspire you, and keep you motivated to achieve great things?

How much time have you got? It’s a long list. But to name a few: my partner and collaborators in Superhuman: Ayman, Alex and Simon. My brilliant hacker/artist friends like Shardcore and Henry Cooke. My family and friends outside the tech world, who challenge me and call me on my bullsh*t, and who also happen to be the people we’re actually making all this stuff for – especially my godchildren, who will have to deal with the consequences. All the people I know who’ve sacrificed personal comfort – physical or mental – to do important and meaningful things. People who are unafraid to try something new, take a risk, speak their mind. My favourite poet, e.e. cummings, my favourite physicist, Niels Bohr, my favourite anthropologist, Joseph Campbell, and many many more. I tend to be inspired by people rather than companies. It’s people who make the companies go anyway, right?

(image credit: GX Software)

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