Tuesday, November 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: Thankfulness

Welcome to the November edition of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers collaborate each month to write about a common topic.

This month is hosted by Melinda AkaTrigger, and her chosen topic is "Thankfulness" which is certainly appropriate since the United States has a holiday towards the end of the month called Thanksgiving. While it seems many people associate Thanksgiving with football and food (often the overindulgence thereof), the holiday is really intended to be a time to reflect and "give thanks" for the many blessings in our lives.

I have to say this was one of the tougher PoolSynergy topics for me... not because I lack appreciation, but more because I had a hard time coming up with something that I felt might be halfway interesting and pool-related without sounding corny or something.

Sure, I'm thankful for my health... my family... the roof over my head... the fact that I'm able to support my family and so on - and I'm very aware that many people struggle with some or all of the above. I wanted to dig a bit deeper and come up with something that might be perhaps a little more unique. Something that I feel might give me a bit of an edge in pool and something and isn't related to the ability (or lack of ability) to pony up some $$ for better equipment or instruction or table time or whatever.

For me, it's a much higher than average level of Attention to Detail. What does this mean? Generally, I tend notice a lot more things in the environment around me than the Average Joe (or Josephine). Sometimes it's a little awkward, because I notice things that I shouldn't (or wish I didn't)... but I usually consider it a pretty useful superpower. How can it be awkward or annoying? Well, for instance, it sometimes turns me into a freakishly overactive proofreader. If I'm reading an article or book that contains a lot of errors, for example, the errors jump out at me so much that they become distracting and detract from the informational content of the article.

It's definitely a sub-conscious activity - I recall noticing some misspelled words in a marketing video a few years ago. I was amongst a few hundred people viewing the video as part of a "preview session" prior to a major trade show. Portions of the video had numerous words popping on and off the screen in rapid-fire fashion, rotating, moving, fading in and out and so on to a pounding dance beat. The individual words weren't really meant to be read... certainly not all of them. It was just an effect kind of thing.

Unfortunately, my spider-sense kicked in, and I felt compelled to go up to the VP of Marketing after the session to tell him that I was pretty sure there were a couple of misspelled words in the video. I was trying to be helpful, thinking there might be time to make corrections before showing the video at such an important show. The VP asked me which words were misspelled and the odd thing was, I couldn't tell him! I only knew that my brain 'triggered' on at least two. He rolled his eyes a bit and gave me a "this video was professionally developed and proofed by dozens of people, I'm sure you're mistaken" line. I persisted, and convinced him to play the video again in slow motion. I was right, two misspelled words.

Other things tend to jump out at me as well - something out of place in a room, or details about someone's clothing, or whatever. Details in general. And that's where the "thankfulness" comes in. Partly because some of this is undoubtedly innate ability, but also because I had a father that drilled it into me as a child. My father was a policeman you see - and as you might guess, attention to detail is huge with policemen. Failing to notice a weapon tucked under a shirt or someone laying down in the back seat of a car could mean the difference between life and death... or failing to notice something ever-so-slightly out of place at a crime scene could mean the difference between getting a conviction or watching someone walk.

So it turns out attention to detail was my father's life. He made it his mission to make it a part of my life as well. I didn't enjoy it at the time, but I now realize it's probably one of the best gifts he gave me.

His method was simple but effective: he'd randomly pepper me with odd questions about things going on around us - while driving, he'd ask questions about things we passed after we passed them... signs, for example - "what elevation are we at?" "how many miles is it to Reno?" "what mile marker did we just pass?" In other settings, just about anything else was fair game - "what color socks did that lady have?" "what was the name on our waitress' name tag?" and so on.

He had the advantage, of course, because he knew when he was going to ask a question and could actively look for something obscure to ask me. That drove me crazy! At first, I hardly ever got an answer right, and he'd act as if I was some sort of failure... but over time, the competitive part of me took on the challenge. I began to soak up minute details of pretty much everything around us, and even discovered patterns in his questions... tipping the advantage in my direction by being able to anticipate what he was going to ask before he even asked it. I eventually got to the point that he could rarely stump me.

So how does this relate to pool?

I believe it gives me an edge when "processing" table layouts. I tend to see things that others miss, even players with a lot more experience (remember I'm an average hack who really hasn't been playing all that long, relatively speaking). Similar to the way misspelled words jump out at me... so do angles, wired combinations, caroms, billiards and the like. Just last week an experienced player painstakingly studied the table and executed a safety exactly as he intended to. It was a good safety - I'm fairly sure it would have stumped most opponents, but I noticed something obscure with the table layout during a previous turn at the table that turned out to be the key to turning his safety into a very quick and easy run out for me. I knew the answer to his safety before he even conceived and executed it! He was dumbfounded with the speed of my response.

So... as muscle memory can be built through practice and repetition, so can perception and other related activities... and I'm thankful that I had a father who took the time to develop that within me (although I hated it at the time).

Be sure to check out all of this month's PoolSynergy articles as well!