Innovation is sparked by bringing together diverse teams, Robyn Denholm, Telstra’s Chief Operations Officer, told the recent Telstra Wholesale Market Connections Forum event.

I have a fundamental belief that if you put people with different experiences around the table, you can create something incredible.

I have been fortunate enough to work with some highly innovative companies, including Juniper, Toyota and Sun Microsystems. They have shown me what can be achieved when you employ diversity of thought.

Let’s take Sun Microsytems for example.

Sun had four founders: there was Vinod Khosla who was an engineer, Andy Bechtolsheim who was doing his PhD at Stanford, Scott McNealy who was involved with sales and marketing, and Bill Joy who was the software expert.

The four fulfilled very different parts of the spectrum – they had very different personalities, were from very different backgrounds, and had very different ways of thinking. But they all had a common purpose, and together have created a company of global renown.

Innovation requires disruption

If you are faced with the same problem and you’ve got experts with the same backgrounds, they’ll normally try to solve the problem in the same way. Innovative thinking requires disruption.

I also think that the voice of the customer is very important in the innovation cycle – to understand the business, to actually see the problems you’re trying to solve and then produce products that actually respond to that. All the engineering companies I’ve worked with over the years, including Telstra, actually take the customer and put them into that cycle.

Telstra’s innovation delivery challenge

We are on the precipice of a very big set of technology changes at Telstra as the NBN rolls out,
which will change the dynamics from a network perspective and allow us to deploy products more quickly. We can go from idea to real live products in customer’s hands in a much shorter period of time.

I do not think we have a shortage of ideas; I do think that we have not always moved those ideas from concept to market in a timely manner. Some things take years to do, but these need to be few and far between. By using new ways of working, we can actually get products out faster and can unlock a lot of our potential.

I do think there’ll be a lot more collaboration between us and third parties, customer and partners included, to actually bring out the next wave of products. So, as opposed to saying to customers, ‘Here it is, buy it,’ it will be, ‘Okay, well, this is our idea around that. What do you think about it? And how do we actually evolve that?’ I think it’s this that will really change the way we work as an ecosystem within Australia.

Fundamentally we have the best technology in the world. Moving forward takes a slightly different business model, which is a collaborative approach between customers, partners and ourselves.

What you need to know:

  • The founders of Sun Microsystems came from a variety of backgrounds and had vastly different approaches to business, but this diversity of thought was the key to their success.
  • One of the key challenges facing Telstra is the time it takes to get new products to market.
  • Through collaboration with customers and partners, Telstra is better able to deliver their products.
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