As part of the DigitalLife@Daimler unit, engineer Ludwig Maul paves a shortcut to the digital age for 280,000 Daimler employees. His tools: creative thinking, Lego bricks – and superpowers. We catch up with the digital pro after his talk at the house of smart in Austin, Texas, flanking the SXSW conference.

Ludwig, could you tell us a bit more about DigitalLife@Daimler?
Ludwig Maul: DigitalLife takes a creative approach to winning over the 280,000 Daimler employees for future digitalization. It is an initiative that informs people about digital trends and empowers them to participate in the transformation with their own ideas.

Your mission is to transform the culture of a very large and successful company with a great tradition. Sounds like an incredible task …
Ludwig Maul: Indeed. But this transformation is embedded into larger social changes that everyone can relate to. We are not only researching trends, but it’s also our job to highlight their meaning in our everyday lives and draw attention to them. In the future, our products, services, and value chain will become more digital. That’s why we ask: What exactly does this mean – and how are things developing? We want to let everyone participate in finding new solutions: through platforms such as creativity workshops, hackathons and an online ideation community.

Engineer Ludwig Maul with two smart Models built from Lego
Ludwig Maul believes in the power of Lego to spark new thought processes.

Could you tell us more about the DigitalLife Day event you are organizing?
Ludwig Maul: The Daimler DigitalLife Day is an annual event for more than 500 interested employees – the first one took place in 2015. At the event, we introduce new devices featuring artificial intelligence and voice control, different wearables or connected home appliances – just to show people what consumer electronics are already capable of and to underscore the potential of the digital shift. We want to show people how they can play a crucial role in this digital transformation by being entrepreneurs within the company. Not everybody believes they can make a difference. But at DigitalLife, we give them the stage and chance to be somebody who opens up great opportunities for the company. We think that simply pushing people does not work in a creative environment – instead, you have to awaken their curiosity.

DigitalLife@Daimler engineer Ludwig Maul at the SXSW conference
Always up for a fun experiment: Ludwig Maul.

At DigitalLife Day, employees also get the chance to present their own ideas on stage. Some of these have already turned into actual products …
Ludwig Maul: That’s right. These presentations are my personal highlights. And we’ve just put the 2015 winning team’s idea into practice. It’s an app called pacTris. It helps you manage your shopping: The app tells you what will fit into the trunk of your smart – and how to stow it. pacTris is now available for iOS and all smart models.

Sounds like a great example of the pioneering role smart plays within this transformation process!
Ludwig Maul: We need beacons. It’s always important to have a proof of concept. smart gives us the perfect opportunity to experiment with new technologies. Within the Daimler universe, smart is this young and aspiring brand that tries out new innovations and brings the future to our lives a little earlier than other brands.

Engineer Ludwig Maul driving a smart
Inspired by smart.

What are the biggest obstacles to digital innovation?
Ludwig Maul: At the moment, we only see the tip of the iceberg. But there is a massive digital transformation ahead. The automotive industry is aware that it’s on the verge of something new. Trends like artificial intelligence and the internet of things reveal the sheer complexity of challenges for the automotive industry. But we also have to unleash our imagination. We need it to look below the surface and identify what’s to come.

What kind of role do humans play in this digital transformation?
Ludwig Maul: Employee creativity is at the heart of our transformation. Successful transformation addresses people on an emotional level. It’s important to put humans at the center because they are key to the right innovations. Hundreds of new technologies and products are released every day, but only those that address customers as humans will be successful.

DigitalLife@Daimler engineer Ludwig Maul sitting on a skateboard
Ludwig Maul in Austin during the house of smart.

You always travel with large plastic boxes of Lego bricks and superhero action figures. Why?
Ludwig Maul: We call this method “creative construction.” We once did a workshop called smart 4.0, involving a city built from Lego bricks. We then tore it apart and asked people to find and build new solutions from scratch. Superheroes like Batman and Superman address another important question: How would you solve a problem if you had superpowers? A lot of the time, this helps people unleash their imagination and come up with ideas they wouldn’t even have thought of before.