It is time to stop using the word 'innovation': Telstra CTO

When it comes to actually innovating, Telstra CTO Vish Nandlall believes it is best not to use the buzzword and instead describe what is being achieved.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

"If you can't be clear about what innovation is, the odds of you achieving it are pretty low."

Innovation is a word that is best left in executive circles to talk about the great things people have done, according to Vish Nandlall, Telstra's chief technology officer.

Speaking at the Knowledge Nation 2016 summit in Sydney, Nandlall urged his audience to refrain from using the word innovation, and replace it instead with the likes of hypothesis, problem, goal, or experiment.

"We start to confuse the word for the thing itself," he said. "Most practitioners of innovation don't use the word innovation."

According to Nandlall, asking someone what they mean by the word innovation is also riddled with challenge, saying the respondent will usually pause out of doubt when answering.

"Chances are, if you can't be clear about what innovation is, the odds of you achieving it are pretty low," he said.

"When you speak about innovation, use some words that are clear: What are you looking for? Are you looking to do something new? Something new and good? Something new, good, and profitable? Do you just want to do things faster? You need to be very clear about what you're trying to achieve."

Nandlall followed immediately after the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne, who used his opportunity in the spotlight to again summarise what the Australian government has been doing in the four months since it unveiled its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Pyne spoke about how important it is to draw on the innovation agenda to deliver greater prosperity for "all Australians".

"We're here to talk about how to advance collaboration between industry and research -- which is critical," he said.

"But if Australians are to utilise knowledge, perhaps our greatest asset to secure the future for generations to come will need to do more than just talk about it.

"The government wants its recently released agenda to be nothing less than the start of an economic revolution."

Since December, the federal government has begun rolling out the 24 separate initiatives announced as part of the innovation agenda, which are sorted under four key pillars: Culture and capital, collaboration, talent and skills, and the government as an exemplar.

"In the four months since the launch, we've made some serious progress in all four areas," Pyne said. "We're hoping to expand the culture of entrepreneurship in Australia."

Speaking on the second pillar, collaboration, Pyne said the government is "on the move".

"Collaboration is something to be driven by our academic institutions, but business and industry must both be there," he said. "It takes two to tango."

According to the minister, it is business entrepreneurs and industry that will transform knowledge into economic benefit.

"I'm pleased to say that business is putting its best foot forward," Pyne said.

Amongst the initiatives that Pyne said industry was getting involved in was the cash injection both the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra had given to the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to develop a practical quantum computing system, after a team of engineers from UNSW unlocked the key to enabling quantum computer coding in silicon last year.

He then reminded the audience that the funding was pledged less than 48 hours after the federal government allocated AU$26 million of its AU$500 million science funding to support the developments the university has made.

He also said significant groundwork has been made by the government on its 24 innovation items -- international collaboration being one of the most recent examples -- with the government's AU$11 million startup landing pad initiative, designed to help Australian entrepreneurs bring their ideas to market, already kicking off.

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