Digital transformation is where modern organizations are all supposed to be headed. To you, the individual IT practitioner, that might seem intimidating. But you can succeed in your digital transformation journey by continually and steadily improving your digital innovation skills, and learning from failures along the way.

Golfers, too, know that success is an attitude, not a goal, and continuous improvement and failure are part of getting better. That’s why I was surprised to find important lessons for digital innovation in, of all places, the Will Smith golf movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance“.

Don’t Be Uptight When It Comes To Driving Digital Creativity

When the main character, Rannulph Junuh, gets off to a rocky start in a championship golf tournament, his caddie, Bagger Vance, suggests he should “Just hook it out of bounds, just carve it out into those trees and into the ocean.” If my caddie told me this, I’d break down laughing. Does he want me to embarrass myself? When it comes to digital innovation, the key lesson here is that we need to relax and not take ourselves so seriously. It’s hard to innovate when you are tense and worried whether your idea is going to be the next Uber or Facebook — or whether your boss and co-workers will completely reject and laugh at it.

Persevere In The Face Of Adversity

By the end of the first round, Rannulph has fallen so far behind the other golfers that it would take a miracle for him to close the gap and win the tournament. Bagger tells him it would be okay to quit and put himself out of his misery. Rannulph’s response is, “Now you know I can’t do that.” Persevering in the face of failure is what separates innovation wannabes from innovation rock stars. Innovation rock stars not only persevere in the face of adversity, they excel at learning from their innovation failures.

Focus On The Digital Innovation Game, Not The Outcome

The most powerful lessons in life and innovation are captured by the simplest of statements. During a quiet scene in the movie, Bagger explains to Rannulph that “Golf can only be played, not won.” Chew on that for a moment. Isn’t golf, as well as innovation, all about winning, about getting a good outcome? No; as I learned over many years, digital innovation is not simply about outcomes. Focus instead on putting repeatable innovation practices and processes in place.

As with golf, to succeed at innovation you will need build muscle memory. However, with innovation the focus is  on training your creative muscles instead of physical muscles. We need to train our creative muscles to be open to learning and not automatically viewing every failure as a negative experience. For example, ask in every project, “What will I learn if this succeeds, and if it fails?” And then approach each project as an opportunity to strengthen your creative muscles.

The lessons from Bagger Vance provide a foundation for stepping up your innovation game. But as one IT practitioner recently asked me, “How do I get my boss to accept failure as a positive outcome for innovation projects?” If your boss isn’t already leading innovation in your organization, you will need to have a conversation with her about the fact that you might fail as you work to strengthen your creative muscles. And the two of you will need to agree on failure tolerance levels to minimize the impact of failures on the company.

If you’re ready to grow your creativity muscles and become an innovation rock star, come join us on September 21 for our Design Thinking Crash Course. In this immersive half-day bootcamp, you will learn the essential tools of design thinking, rapid prototyping, and digital innovation. Best of all, throughout the bootcamp you get a chance to apply new design thinking skills to real innovation challenges, which will help you build and flex new innovation muscles!