“It’s the space between the bars that holds the tiger.”Zen Koan
How does anyone become really good at what they do? Is there a magic recipe?
From the opposite side of the bars, an adult Bengal tiger studied me from his resting spot. He was big, topping out just over five-hundred pounds. He was also strong. Pound for pound a tiger is four times stronger than a man. Our guide explained this to me while she pointed out some of the finer elements of the great cats stalking behaviors.
The Feline Conservation Center in Rosamond, California, isn’t like a typical zoo. There are few barriers that prevent guest from reaching inside the cages if they chose to be so foolish. Hence our watchful guide. At the observation end of the enclosure, thirteen bars kept me from becoming tiger lunch. Once the great cat fixed on me, they seemed hardly adequate.
In truth, they weren’t. Bunch them all close together and the tiger would surely escape. Space them randomly across the gap and you’d get the same result. In fact, even the slightest alteration in the spacing between the bars would produce the same result. Free tiger.
While we tend to pay attention to the bars, it is the space between them that contains the power of the tiger.
If you’d asked me what saved me from becoming a tiger snack, I would have undoubtedly pointed at the bars. We tend to focus on what we can see. We are drawn to the obvious. The necessary perfection of the spacing would have never crossed my mind. And so it is with our job skills.
If you told me about an EMT that you know who is really good at what they do, undoubtedly, you would tell me about how they perform on calls. You would tell me stories about their great patient assessment skills or their ability to ask that just-right question in that just-right moment to bring the whole call together. You might discus the way the interact with people or their superior clinical skills.
You would point to the things they do from the time the call drops to the time they place the patient in a hospital bed.
Hard evidence. Strong proof.
You would point to the bars.
While it is their performance during a call that defines them as great, it is what they do in between the calls that makes them great. We tend to pay attention to what they do during the calls. It’s what they do between the calls that contains the power of their skill set.
The next time you have an opportunity to work with someone you feel is really good at what they do, pay attention to how they use the space between their working time.
Notice if they leave the hospital room immediately after giving a report or if they linger and listen to the questions the hospital staff ask and talk with the doctor about their impression of the patient.
Notice how they check out their rig before their shift.
Notice how they respond when they encounter information that they are unfamiliar with.
Notice what they do when they make a mistake. (Yes, they do make mistakes.)
Notice if they spend time on continuing education, or research.
Notice the million little things that they do to prepare themselves for the next call.
What they do on the next call will be the thing that people talk about. What they do before the next call is every bit as essential. I imagine it’s the same for just about anything.
What about you? What do you do with the space between?