Creating a Culture of Innovation: The Art of the Possible

October 10, 2023
Creating a Culture of Innovation

Even the most well-known brands face the constant challenge of maintaining a competitive edge without losing sight of driving growth and streamlining operations. This is why promoting a culture of creativity and innovation within a company is critical. Creating an environment that encourages employees to think outside the box and generates new ideas can lead to more innovative products, services and business processes.

To better understand how embracing a culture of innovation can contribute to new perspectives, unleash creativity and delight customers, we caught up with two of our keynote speakers joining us at Deltek ProjectCon; Duncan Wardle, former Vice President of Innovation and Creativity at Disney, and Deltek's newly appointed Chief Technology Officer, Dinakar Hituvalli.

The pair shed light on the endless possibilities that can emerge from cultivating a mindset of innovation and challenging teams to think beyond conventional norms. Their collective insights not only give organizations a competitive edge but encourage disruptive breakthroughs that position them to shape the future of technology.

Prioritizing Diversity of Thought

Diversity of thought is essential for innovation, helping organizations break out of their limiting patterns and explore new possibilities. Bringing together people from different backgrounds, disciplines and perspectives fosters an environment to challenge assumptions, ask provocative questions and generate breakthrough ideas.

“Creativity and innovation are about thinking differently. People who look different to you, think different to you and can help you think different. What’s more, diverse cultures and backgrounds have different ways of solving problems, ways you will have likely never experienced,” explained Duncan.

When employees feel encouraged to express their creativity and see their ideas valued, it enhances their sense of ownership and pride in their work. “Building a diverse team with varied backgrounds brings new ideas and skill sets. It’s those new perspectives that allow us to be more innovative,” shared Dinakar. An innovative culture also attracts prospective employees, who are looking for a forward-thinking and dynamic work environment.

To encourage risk-taking at Disney, Duncan gave each staff member a “get-out-of-jail-free card” to bring to their annual review. If they could prove that they used one of the tools in their innovation toolkit and failed, but shared the learnings with the organization, they could play the card and it wouldn't impact their end-of-year review. “You want people to try and do things differently, but you have to give them permission,” he said.

Inclusive leaders who understand the value different styles of thinking bring to the table are skilled at encouraging people to contribute their opinions and being open to the perspectives and ideas of others. This type of diversity can enhance an organization's decision-making by providing more information, insights and alternatives.

“Innovation is a core value at Deltek that starts with a commitment from our leadership team that is highly encouraged throughout the organization. And it's our leaders' responsibility to show the employees that it's ok to fail as long as we fail fast and learn from it,” said Dinakar.

Adding, "One of the first things I did when I came to Deltek was to encourage my team to have a strong point of view. Even if it's different from mine, if you can defend your point of view ─ even if I disagree with the arguments ─ and it's logical, then I'll have a lot of respect for that."


Technology Innovation with a Purpose

Reimagining project success with Deltek's industry-leading ERP solutions

Discover How


Freeing the Creative Mind

According to a PwC leadership survey of the “Top 100 CEOs”, one of the biggest barrier to innovation is the lack of time to think. But in a world where the speed at which we are innovating is at an all-time high, you need to make a conscious effort to free your mind.

Those who worked with Walt Disney or Steve Jobs often told you about their famous walks. When they wanted “time to think,” they would stimulate their curiosity by wandering the campus or holding literal “walking meetings.” With more and more companies opting to work remotely and spending less time in physical office spaces, the opportunities to observe and ideate may be less frequent – but the premise still exists; it just looks different.

Amidst the pandemic, Deltek implemented Project Nation Fridays as a means to support employees in stepping away from their screens. These bi-weekly half-days, have since become an integral aspect of Deltek's forward-thinking culture. Whether it's for completing a project, exploring new concepts, or focusing on learning and development, this uninterrupted time enables #TeamDeltek to accomplish what's necessary.

This includes taking the time to understand how technology impacts the world around us. “Most innovations come from looking outside your industry and being curious. Curiosity is a behavior that can help us unlock innovative solutions, because it drives us to dig deeper until we uncover the root issue hidden beneath the surface problem, noted Duncan.

When it comes to technology, like artificial intelligence (AI), we shouldn’t fear the unknown but rather embrace it. AI can take over the tedious, repetitive parts of our jobs, freeing us up to leverage the skills that make us uniquely human, such as creativity, empathy and imagination. These very skills are essential to innovation, as they help us break out of our limiting patterns and explore new possibilities.

“For the first time in history, our highly skilled labor is at risk of losing jobs to robots. But even with the uncertainty it brings, I do not believe AI should be treated as our enemy,” noted Duncan. So much potential can come from automating everyday responsibilities, adding, “Instead of taking our entire job, proactively find ways to let AI take over the mundane, repetitive and time-consuming tasks, so you can redirect your energy on delivering a human touch to your role.”

Dinakar shared his vision on how his team of software engineers should leverage AI to enhance the quality and innovation of Deltek’s project-based ERP software. Sharing, “Embedded AI solutions will provide employees the time to be more innovative, freeing up their mind, giving them more mind space to do more valuable things.” That is why, "To innovate successfully, you need dedicated bandwidth. It's very easy to use up all the available bandwidth for road map items, feature functions and things that are more tangible in terms of returns.”

However, in order to do this leaders need to be comfortable providing the time and the space to unleash this creativity. "With innovation, you must sit and think about what it does and the value it provides ─ it's a much harder process to conceptualize and design. Further proving why Deltek Project Nation Days are so beneficial; they give employees the time to go and explore their ideas and experiment," Dinakar explained.


“Customer feedback not only helps fuel innovation but is critical for us to ensure we build product capabilities that help customers deliver on their objectives.”

– Dinakar Hituvalli, Chief Technology Officer at Deltek


Empathizing with Customers

On the surface, theme parks and project-based software solutions may not have a lot in common. But in reality, they both aim to deliver solutions that meet their customers' needs and expectations and create value for them.

“The best brands in the world thrive because of an unrelenting passion and focus on customer experience. And to deliver customer experience magic, businesses need to transform from product-centric to customer-centric and deeply understand their customers’ needs and expectations,” shared Duncan.

By embracing modern technologies, breaking down traditional barriers, challenging assumptions and discovering innovative solutions ─ that were once beyond the scope of human imagination ─ organizations are reimagining how business gets done. This evolution empowers leaders to take bold steps in delivering customer experiences that resonate deeply and elevate the industry landscape.

Each year, Disney’s executive team sets aside a day to immerse themselves in the roles of their frontline employees. This hands-on experience provides them with invaluable insights into the daily challenges and interactions that shape the customer experience, enabling a deeper understanding of their audience's needs and preferences. Through this empathetic engagement with their organization, these executives gain a more holistic perspective that informs their decision-making and strategic direction, ultimately leading to a more customer-centric approach within the company.

Empathy is not only a human trait but also a business skill that enables companies to design solutions tailored to their customer's needs and expectations. By putting themselves in their customers' shoes, businesses can create authentic connections, foster trust and deliver memorable and meaningful experiences. "Empathy is a fundamental element in the process of ideation, innovation and developing customer-centric strategies that drive business success," said Duncan.

One way to practice empathy is to speak with customers and listen to their feedback. This direct engagement can help businesses validate their assumptions, discover new opportunities and improve their products and services. By understanding customers' industry-specific challenges and goals, companies can create solutions that work the way customers want them to.

“Customer feedback not only helps fuel innovation but is critical for us to ensure we build product capabilities that help customers deliver on their objectives,” shared Dinakar. There are many different ways companies can capture what their customers would like to see in a product or service. One example of how Deltek receives feedback is through our Idea Portal, an online tool that allows users to submit, review and vote on product suggestions.

By investing in user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) innovation, Deltek aims to deliver the best possible experience to our customers that helps contribute to a more engaged and productive workforce. “I firmly believe that it's upon us to figure out the art of the possible and give customers something that they didn't know they wanted but are delighted with once they use it,” noted Dinakar.

Shaping the Future of Technology

Embracing and nurturing a culture of innovation within your organization is not just a strategic choice; it's a fundamental necessity in today's rapidly evolving tech landscape. The relentless pace of technological advancement demands that businesses not only keep up but lead the way with novel ideas and inventive solutions.

Dinakar concluded by saying he recognizes the importance of an innovative culture is the first step; taking action is where the real transformation happens. As a project-based business leader, you have the power to shape the course of your organization's future start by encouraging an environment where ideas flourish, risks are embraced and collaboration fuels progress.

To learn more about how innovation shapes project-based businesses, visit our Deltek Project Nation blog and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.