July 27th, 2011

No Limits: Keynote from a professional gambler

A few weekends ago I went to a totally non-work related conference in order to do the most important professional development work my husband and I have: raising this intensely (emphasis on intense) bright kid of ours who also has learning disabilities. Despite what society thinks the two realms are not mutually exclusive, and twice exceptionality is extremely challenging to adequately identify and support.  I highly recommend the Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) library of free resources if you or those you know are facing some of the same intense challenges gifted kids have as part of their wiring. It’s not just your household, believe me.

I noticed a recurring theme in the library blogosphere about the same time I was trying to cram as much work as possible in before attending the conference and Scouting camp: The concepts of good service, excellence, and perfectionism.

An overview – Sally Gore with Practice Makes Perfect Permanence  including

How many millions of hours has your favorite musician practiced? What artist is ever found without a sketchbook in his or her bag? The Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences where I work always has a nice black Moleskin notebook with him whenever I see him (I have a thing for journals and take note when I see one), as do others I know who think a lot, ask questions a lot, and try to solve problems a lot.

David Rothman with Voltaire & Information Services: “Good Enough” – “Excellence” – “Perfection”, Michelle Kraft with When Good Enough Just Isn’t Good Enough, and I’m pretty sure there was more but I lost them in the sea of a thousand unread entries in Google Reader that I falsely marked as all read because I knew I wouldn’t ever be able to catch up on everything.

To this I offer our Sunday brunch keynote speaker: Phil Gordon, another intense type who went to college at 15, had Cisco Systems acquire his first business, then went on to win over $2.8 million in poker and was lead commentator on Celebrity Poker Showdown. He is also at least 6’8″ and I could relate to how everyone picked him for basketball at school even though he sucked at it since I’m the same at 5’10″. I particularly admire that he and all the other conference keynote speakers donated their time to the summit because they believe so strongly in SENG.

He spoke about 7 qualities he brings to poker and life in general. What is a bit unusual is he clearly said 7 at the beginning of the keynote, despite all publicity saying he only covers 6. Sure enough one of the first questions from the audience was ‘What’s the seventh?”

Be Aggressive – While telling his overly protective parents ‘This is going to happen’ when he announced that he’d applied to and been accepted for college wasn’t one of his smartest moves, he stuck to it. They countered with saying he had to go on a real date first as a sign of social development.

Patience – always be on the lookout for a good opportunity, and know that no matter how smart you are it takes ten thousand hours to master what you learn.

Courage – in poker if you’re never caught bluffing, you’re not bluffing enough.

Resilience – being willing and able to fail is key to success. He further emphasized the point by saying this is an amazing time to fail often and quickly, learn from the experiences, and try again.

Being observant – always be aware of others who do things better than you, then watch and learn from them. Challenge yourself with experiences outside your comfort zone. (You’ll see soon how I put this into action for myself immediately)

Well rounded – look across the field and don’t specialize too much. For every hour you do something well at, spend 10-15 minutes doing something you are terrible at.

Desire to improve – when asked what the seventh trait was, he said ran out of time  but we always need to be working on our game.

How did I immediately challenge my own comfort zone?

Despite the conference staff making it clear that Phil had to leave immediately I walked up to the front of the room and patiently waited as they took The Official Pictures, then smiled and introduced myself & asked for him to autograph the only paper I had for our son – the bottom of my session notes.

I don’t do that type of thing. I did it anyway. The same goes for jumping in a lake to pass a standardized 100 yard swim test after not swimming so much as a backyard pool lap in over a decade but that’s a different story.

We in the library field should be focused on our service to our users and/or measurable outcomes but not overlook these other important steps in the process of honing them, especially being observant, looking for opportunities, and exercising courage and resilience. If something doesn’t go as well as planned, we should ask What Can We Do Differently? instead of holding a single failure as an example of why We Have Always Done It That Way. Have an idea for reaching residents and faculty with a journal club for mobile apps? Try it out as Alisha Miles is for her Family Practice Residency Program. Have a new technology that is potentially very useful to users but you’re not the total master of it? Teach it anyway as Sarah Houghton-Jan did for Google+.

I agree that excellence in service for well-known terrain is essential (don’t underestimate an eye on the door) but in areas you’re not as certain about jump in anyway! Your users will see and appreciate your attempts at staying on top of the game.

Let’s not forget the wisdom of Ferris Bueller about how life moves pretty fast:

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