To represent a minority often means that your perspective is unique. It’s a position I’ve found myself in many times as a woman, as an innovation designer, as a Colombian living abroad and as a golfer. With my perspectives being different from the majority, I have learned to look at environments from multiple angles and create a type of high-resolution image of those places and moments in my mind. It’s an invaluable asset to have and one I’ve honed on the golf course rather than at design school.
Yes, you heard me correctly – the golf course.
I played many sports as a kid but found golf the most challenging – a battle I have not yet conquered completely. Golf is sometimes dismissed as just a ‘game’ but those close to the sport see how valuable a golfer’s brain is in the world of business and arts: assessing a shot, managing the risk a hole brings and the potential reward, the planning and patience to take each hole at a time.
Let me share five valuable lessons that I have learned from golf and use daily in my professional and personal life:
1. Be curious and remain humble
When watching golf on TV, it seems like an easy game. The moment you start playing it you realize there is more to consider in order to be prepared for the unknowns of the golf course. Being curious means that not only will you ask questions, but you will actively engage in seeking the answers.
When you are on this quest, your brain is actively trying to connect the dots, between a conversation you had with a co-worker, an article you read a week ago, and the email you just received. Information now is being scanned thoroughly by your brain in a tireless quest for connection. The first cluster of dots that you build is an idea and from there a natural process happens which is ideation or idea generation.
2. Failure is giving up before success happens. Never quit
I am not sure whether success at golf is the result of natural talent. I sure wasn’t gifted with a club and the easiest path would be to quit and try something else but I was stubborn and committed to my dreams and purpose. In high school, I qualified for national tournaments, which then led to world championships and then a scholarship to study design and play golf.
When I look at how I now approach my job I see that same stubbornness. Innovation to me is a form of creativity that didn’t give up. When faced with uncertainty many shy away from it and simply worry. In innovation, you need the opposite. Sooner or later you learn to lean in and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. A project begins with an idea. We craft a vision but do not know the obstacles that will arise. The process is to always take a step forward until a milestone or discovery has been hit.
3. There will be mistakes. Learn from them
What distinguishes an average golf player from a great one is the ability to recover from bad shots. The absolute best players know how to bounce back fast and make opportunities out of their mistakes. After a mistake, it is necessary to go find the ball, assess the situation, start the routine from zero by giving it your full attention and then commit to the planned shot. The goal is to become a recovery master by focusing on being fully present.
Like in golf, every day is a new shot. In innovation, we are always trying new ideas, which mean mistakes happen along the way. Those can be used to shape the path and the future decisions.
4. Learn from others and share your knowledge too
Being an individual sport, growing up playing golf was often lonely. In Colombia, there is no such thing as middle- or high-school golf teams. I learned the most when I played golf as a team in college. The team had players from all over the world including Mexico, Hong Kong, Philippines, USA, Canada and Colombia. This cultural diversity was our biggest challenge at first. Then it became our major strength.
My professional mentor and boss Jon Munns says, “Innovation rarely happens in a vacuum. Rather it is through sharing ideas, experiences and opportunities between people”. Collaboration allows more connections and higher chances of different ideas resulting in an innovative solution. This process is much more fun and will enable a broader and richer perspective.
5. Find that new angle
The fifth lesson that golf has taught me is related to finding new angles and approaches. In my opinion this is the fundamental lesson, as all previous lessons are related to this one.
Searching for those new and refreshing angles also strengthens my persistence, as I understand there are multiple ways to solve a problem. Lastly the search for hidden angles is a great catalyst to enjoy the ride and connect with others.
My experience has taught me that groups with rich and diverse perspectives like my college golf team are stronger, more efficient, and overall more innovative as there are multiple ways to approach a situation and solve a problem. The best workplaces have an environment in which ideas can come from anywhere and they will get heard. Diversity is a valuable characteristic and it allows us to find the hidden angles we would have otherwise missed.
Do you have experience of playing away from the mainstream to help your creativity? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
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