Telstra's Digital boss has a message for everyone who thinks they can mess up in business: 'Failure is not OK'

Gerd Schenkel, executive director of Telstra Digital, speaking at the Daze of Disruption conference.

Gerd Schenkel, Telstra Digital’s executive director and the founder of UBank has a bone to pick with all those entrepreneurs who argue that failure is a normal part of business and a valuable lesson before the next venture. It’s not.

Speaking at the Daze of Disruption conference on Monday, Schenkel discussed Telstra’s journey into the digital sphere and how it needed to change in order to avoid becoming a “dumb-pipe” internet provider – a term coined after teclos realised consumers were turning to Google Voice and Skype as preferred calling methods and the average mobile phone call time fell.

Schenkel was charged with overseeing Telstra’s push towards full digitisation in 2011 and within two years the company’s digital service transactions were up 69%, digital sales were up 102% and the number of digital customer contacts per month was up 130% – from 10 million to 23 million, according to the Telstra Digital First discussion paper.

And there was one thing he was very clear about as the telco pushed to reposition itself in an emerging market where everyone was guessing where the Next Big Thing would be: you can’t drop the ball and fall over – and you can’t allow your team to have that option.

Here’s what he said at Daze of Disruption:

“People say failure is a good thing – it just isn’t.

“If you have one project, that project can’t fail or you will with it. If you have 10 projects, then the portfolio of projects needs to succeed.

“You can make little mistakes here and there, but you can’t tell people failure is OK.

“It is a very unattractive proposition to people on the project and it’s very unattractive to your stakeholders.

“I think that language needs to be stricken from anybody that is trying to drive change.

“You have to succeed, and you can manage your risk profile by breaking things down into smaller [segments].

“Ultimately you have to succeed to earn yourself the next round.”

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