What do you do at Eriksholm?
“Since 2013 I am the Senior Director of Eriksholm Research Centre, the fourth since the foundation of Eriksholm. That means I handle the management of the research centre, which ranges from determining the long term research strategy and direction to the daily operations like handling financial and HR matters at Eriksholm. An important part of my work is the global networking with external partners and internal colleagues, facilitating and coordinating new research projects, and identifying important new scientific directions.
I like to get actively involved in research whenever I can. For managing Eriksholm I am applying the trust based leadership concept of Oticon, giving the researchers as much freedom as possible or – as one of my previous managers at Bell Labs in New Jersey put it: “recruit the best, give them a direction, and get out of their way.’ The less scientists are “boxed in” by restricting boundary conditions, the more they can think “out of the box” and the more chances for disrupting innovations we get.”
For how long have you been working here?
“I applied for the position in 2013. It has been an interesting journey so far, because - at the time - I was at Siemens, and was not expecting to leave any time soon. However, I had just returned from a 3-year expat assignment, and upon coming back, I got a new position in Siemens Karlsruhe. Living in Munich meant my weekend commuting continued, so actually I was looking for a new position at Siemens in Munich. At that time, my son worked on a student job at Oticon, and told me of the open position at Eriksholm Research Centre. He suggested to me that I apply for the position.
When I got the job a short while later, I really saw the potential of the Eriksholm Research Centre, and in our fields of science. I felt like a little boy with his own toy store. There is so much freedom to pursue your interests in the field, and so much creative potential to tap into.”
What surprised you the most, when you started at Eriksholm?
“When I joined Eriksholm Research Centre, I changed from a big international conglomerate with hundreds of thousands of employees, to a much smaller organization. William Demant employs about 12 thousand people, Eriksholm around 25. That made the transition especially interesting to me, because I came from a formalized environment where there was a detailed, written process for everything, to an organization with much fewer formalities, memos and written process rules. In many ways that is a big change, sometimes it is better, sometimes it is more difficult. Less formalities make it easier to act and react quickly. On the other hand, mistakes can happen easier, when there are no long checklists and signature lists which have to be followed prior to each decision.”
What were some of the expectations you had for Eriksholm Research Centre, that turned out different than you thought?
“Well, I am a big fan of the “no surprises”-approach. Particularly, I like A.P. Moeller Maersk’s idea of “due diligence”. If something happens unexpectedly, it usually means you did not do your upfront casework properly.
That being said, there are always cases where things happen outside of expectation, and for me – at Eriksholm – those things have been mostly positive so far. I knew Eriksholm Research Centre had a good reputation and a solid footprint in the scientific world, but I do not think I was at all prepared for how big that footprint actually became. The centre’s very minute attention to detail, and its far-reaching efforts in networking and determining mega-trends, has really put Eriksholm Research Centre on the global scientific map, to a degree where I have no words left but “wow.”
What do you like the most about working at Eriksholm Research Centre?
“Eriksholm Research Centre is a very beautiful and inspiring place to work. It is very open, friendly and welcoming. Everyone quickly feels “at home” among their colleagues, and the open and constructive communication culture fits well with my personal philosophy of collective leadership: We review all important topics together, make big decisions jointly in the management team, and this reflects on our work environment. People are very engaged, willing to push a little harder, go an extra mile, and still nobody is so conflict-averse that they cannot offer constructive criticism on new ideas and research. To me, in a management role, having an open and trustful dialogue with my colleagues is a very central thing. It is very important in a creative and innovative research unit, I think.”
What are the three most important values in your life?
- “Treat others like you want to be treated – The Golden Rule sums up many of the values I cherish in life. Fairness, integrity, honesty, humility. This, I think, is the most important rule in life.
- Focus on solutions, not problems – You have to be a “glass half full” kind of person in the world of research. Frankly, you can always find a reason not to do something; either it is too dangerous, too uncertain, or too complex. In my life, I absolutely do not believe that not trying is an option. As researchers we have a responsibility to push the boundaries of knowledge.
- No surprises – There are very few consequences in a professional life that one could not truly have foreseen. I believe you always have to plan accordingly, prepare for the risks, and make sure you have a strategy for when Murphy’s Law inevitably kicks in, and everything that can fail, will fail at one point.”
Where do you see the hearing aid industry in five years?
“I believe we will see a shift in the way we handle hearing impairment. Hearing research will be more integrated and holistic in its approach to hearing impairment. Today, we concentrate mostly on the technology and the hearing aids themselves, rather than the complex environment where people are using them. We see this in cases like Senior Researcher Thomas Lunner's cognitive hearing science; cases where we look at the specific issues people have with e.g. fatigue and cognitive overload, and try to determine how to best improve their quality of life. Today, hearing aids are "rigid" so to speak, where users can only change between limited amounts of pre-installed programs via their remote control. That will change. In the future, hearing aids will be able to understand the intention of the users, e.g. via integrated EEG sensors. The users will then intuitively adjust their hearing aids to specific situations, e.g. by concentrating or looking at a sound source. Things like intention, situation, location, time of day, fatigue, mental state and much more will come into play in the hearing aids of the future. Medicine will also play a larger role; we see a lot of pharmaceutical companies beginning to develop medicine in this field, e.g. to enhance and supplement hearing aids. This relates - for example - to medicine that can be provided together with Cochlear Implants (CI) and trigger the growth of nerve cells in the Cochlea in order to improve the performance of the CI.
Speaking of holistic approaches again, we will see a world where pharmaceutical companies and hearing aid companies are much more integrated, and much more holistic in their focus on the quality of life for the end-user. Hearing aids will become multi sensor platforms, integrated into clinical web-based services offering many more functionalities than “just” enhancing sound.”
What is the most exciting scientific breakthrough in your life time?
“Moore’s Law; the prediction that processing power for computers will double roughly every two years. While it is not technically a single breakthrough, and more of an observation, it has held true ever since the phrase was coined in 1965 by Gordon Moore, a cofounder of Intel. Ever since the first transistor was built in 1947, processing power has been increasing at this incredible rate. I remember working as an electrical engineer in the 80s, and I heard the pundits and experts on the news saying “this is it for Moore’s Law. It cannot continue at this rate.” That, of course, was in the 1980s, and those experts were certainly wrong. Today we are staring down the barrel of the next generation of computing; the quantum computers. It certainly seems like they will carry the torch onward, and uphold Moore’s Law for a number of years still.
In our industry, that means we constantly get stronger signal processors for our hearing aids and medical equipment. It means we get better radio functionality, e.g. supporting multiple radio connections at the same time, which is a key for advanced future services like e.g. connecting a hearing instrument to a “cloud clinic” that continuously tracks and optimizes the audiological performance.
Naturally, computer power alone is worthless if there is no software to use it. To that end, our progress has been equally impressive. We are slowly beginning, now, to understand how the brain works, and how to copy Mother Nature’s well proven concept of “neural networks”. Essentially, we begin to structure a computer much like a brain, and open up some of the capabilities that provides. The buzzwords of these new SW technologies are Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Neural Networks (DNN). With these technologies computers are no longer “programmed” in the classical sense, they are trained and learn by themselves. If you look at the way we do research in acoustic scene analysis, for example, you will see that with these DNN technologies, a signal processor can filter out specific voices within a sound complex environment. The amazing thing is, that nobody knows the program that enables the computer to do so; because the computer taught itself how to do it. That, I believe, will change the way we look at computers, the way we look at work, and perhaps even the way we look at the world as a whole.
What do you do in your spare time?
“Well, I like recreational activities compensating for the long work hours in the office, like sports, handiwork and activities with friends and family. I became a grandfather last year and one of the best things I know, is going to the baby gymnastics with my grandson. I like to attend dance classes with my wife, I spend a lot of time bicycling in all seasons, skiing in the winter and flying the glider in the summer when the weather permits. I love to fix up old rusty bikes, my car, or unwind with some good old DIY-work in our summer cottage. As I mentioned, I am also an electrical engineer, and as such I also received a practical workshop education in welding, soldering, metal processing, electrical work etc.
For that, we have a fun expression in German. You remember James Bond’s “License to kill”, right? “Lizenz zum Töten”, and so someone came up with a twist on that; “Lizenz zum Löten”, specifically for the electro-engineers. Essentially, it means “license to solder”, the license of the electrical engineer which - in contrast to James Bond’s license - never expires.”