Does loving humans make you naive?

Vanessa Bolosier
Vanessa Bolosier

And why showing love is desperately needed when building tech for better health.


Using words like “human-centric” or “human-first” feels awkward these days. At least for those of us, who really believe in it. We have seen the concept vulgarised, violated and the terms overused in contexts that are at polar opposites of what it stands for. I have developed an aversion and, in some cases, scepticism towards those who jump on what is now considered the human-centric bandwagon. The fact it has become a bandwagon is what I deplore.

When it goes wrong

People have used it as an excuse for making the most appalling decisions because only parts of the processes attached to the concept were implemented. The idea is starting to feel like a boring excuse to stay away from meaningful actions, being seen as just doing research some say “doesn’t work” or is “cute”. When did creating for humans become inefficient or cute? Isn’t it completely antithetic? Should what we create not be something people want?

You’ll hear the smart-asses quote Henry Ford about cars when trying to argue we must listen to what people want. But did he not actually fulfil the need they expressed?

Why would a human touch not work?

There are industry sectors in dire need of a human touch and because – just like design thinking – human-centric design has been packaged like a magic potion that solves all business problems. The risk is that in a few years, the people that wouldn’t have been properly introduced to the methodology, and wouldn’t have made the organisational changes needed to encourage and support its roll-out, will dismiss it.

Many industry leaders know very little about the people they design, build for and sell to and in the case of health, since being sick gives you very little consumer choice, whatever is prescribed or made available to you, you must make do with.

This has made many companies complacent. Being led by a person living with diabetes, passionate about solving this problem, is partly what makes Quin legitimate.

A definition

My experience in healthcare has led me to quickly identify what a non-human-first programme looks like. I’d like to tell you what human-first isn’t in my opinion.

It’s not a process-first change programme. When making decisions about business, departments or projects, people often say they do so thinking about humans first. They say it because it just doesn’t sound good to say you’re:

  • Money-first
  • Peace-of-mind-first
  • Getting-this-promotion-first
  • Getting-the-investment-first
  • Keeping-my-job-first
  • Being-in-charge-first
  • Getting-to-the-leadership-position-first
  • Having-the-power-I-thirst-for-first

What does human-first really look like

Oftentimes, being human-first will mean you’re seen as naive. Turns out that naivety is what is often at the source of meaningful innovation because it’s a sign you’ve asked yourself the right questions and these are often very uncomplicated. A sign it will work.

Operating with humans in mind will mean it can get messy. When people are given a voice, but also are heard and listened to – especially for the first time – they generally have a lot say and it can get noisy. It can be confusing but this is why real human-centric methodologies exist: to make sense of it all and foster real change.

You might not get the money. Because being human-first also can mean you must sacrifice the things that might make you shine in front of those holding the purse strings and unfortunately, the world of business often rewards heterogeneity of thought.

Why do we think it pays to be driven by humans

When everyone else zigs, it pays to zag. Ever so slightly. The more prevalent a belief is among your competitors, the greater the gains to be had from disproving it (I didn’t come up with that but can’t remember where I read it). Otherwise, the concept of competitive advantage would not exist.

There is never one right answer to any question and what we deem the right answer can change. Why? Because as much as I’m not the same person I was five years ago, don’t have the same needs or even opinions. The solutions that are offered to me should or at least could evolve. Or maybe I move on. Nevertheless, some needs will not change and to me, it just doesn’t make sense that a man was put on the moon before wheels on a suitcase.

Human-first could also be about creating friction? Or at least accepting the fact there will always be friction? Friction highlights what could be. It can show you the difference between how you’ve been operating, and how you need to be. I recently thought for a few minutes I was sharing my screen in the midst of a 12-people showcase on Google Hangout. I wasn’t.

This highlighted a video call is only as good as its most technologically challenged participant – in this case, yours truly – and as good as the worst internet connection from its participants. The joys of virtual work in times of COVID-19.

Being human-centric is also humbling. It’s being willing to simplify. Willing to sound like an 8-year-old because you’d want an 8-year old to understand what you want to convey. Or someone that has a learning disability and someone that’s time-poor, someone that’s older and less acute on your tackled topic. Anything on the extreme, because the “extremes” are still people.

Being human-centric can be about being assertive, powerful, strong. A constant conquest to overpower or disempower others in the ecosystem.

Being human-centric also goes hand-in-hand with seeing and respecting the humanity of our competitors, customers or colleagues. Seeing your competitors as peers contributing to an ecosystem. In Quin’s world, that’s overlaying the insights produced by our users on existing technology.

It’s having people with a variety of ethnicities, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, socio-economic backgrounds and neurotypes. Factoring that at every stage of our decision-making to ensure we’re as representative as the world is. It’s diving into new territories, with fear, yes, but a trumping desire to really embed in the communities we serve.

It’s trying to inspire rather than influence, trying to motivate instead of incentivising, trying to align instead of persuading, it’s trying to engage instead of capturing. Not dwelling in pure logic knowing humans aren’t logical. It’s believing in things like our users’ intuition.

It’s being inconsistent, sometimes. Despite the conviction that changing our mind puts us at risk of losing face. We could be celebrated for delivering plausible generalisations but our decision was to not adopt the dominant frame of thought. No one gets invited to speak on stage and say ‘I don’t know’, I’m not sure’ and ‘It’s complicated’. But we, at Quin, are willing to.

So Humanising Diabetes Technology is what we’re running with for now. This isn’t our go-to-market slogan, nor is it as clear as we’d want it to be. An 8-year-old would probably not get it. It’s not a gather-all-together strapline. But this is what we’re doing and right now something we can firmly get behind as a team. We love humans. And that’s where meaningful change should start.

Vanessa Bolosier
Vanessa Bolosier