Frequent readers of the blog may recall that our own Dr. Sean Lavine was the 2015-2016 chair of an important neurosurgery organization. Called the Joint CV Section* to those in the know, it is a group of neurosurgeons from the United States and abroad who specialize in disorders of blood flow in the brain.
At the 2016 Joint CV Section meeting in Los Angeles, Dr. Lavine was honored to give the Chair’s Address to attendees from around the world. And as one might expect, the subject of the 2016 Joint CV Section Chair’s Address was basketball.
That’s right: Dr. Lavine’s Chair’s Address focused on late basketball coaching legend John Robert Wooden. And despite its surprising subject, Dr. Lavine’s inspiring talk was highly applicable to neurosurgeons—and to anyone else who strives for excellence in teaching, leadership and performance.
“Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day.”
— John Robert Wooden
For non basketball fans, Dr. Lavine explained that Wooden coached basketball at UCLA for nearly 30 years. In Wooden’s last dozen years there, his teams won 10 NCAA Championships, including an unprecedented—and still unduplicated—seven in a row. (The most another coach has achieved is two in a row.)
Wooden was named the Greatest Coach of the 20th Century by ESPN. A rival coach said about playing Wooden’s teams: “You knew exactly what they were going to do, but you just couldn’t stop them.” Wooden was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2003.
In his talk, Dr. Lavine connected the skills Coach Wooden used to achieve his unparalleled success with attitudes and practices that can help cerebrovascular neurosurgeons with their work.
“Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details.”
— John Robert Wooden
One of Wooden’s fundamentals was meticulous attention to detail. A former player recalls that the coach was so serious about detail that on “the first day of practice, he literally showed you, ‘Gentlemen, this is how we put our socks on. We make sure there are no wrinkles.’”
This level of attention to detail probably had some neurosurgeons nodding their heads and smiling. To perform their best, neurosurgeons know they must achieve wrinkle-free mastery of each aspect of anatomy and technique. Excellent surgeons pay the same detailed attention to every step of a procedure, from putting on their socks, as it were, to leaving the court.
“Work creates luck.” — John Robert Wooden
Another key to Wooden’s success was to practice and prepare relentlessly. Former player Bill Walton wrote that Wooden’s practices were “absolutely electric,” “crisp” and “incredibly demanding.” In that environment, excellence became routine. Walton wrote that the actual games sometimes seemed like “slow motion” because the practices were always so fast, so organized, so rich in information.
Neurosurgeons, said Dr. Lavine, must also practice with the explicit goal of maximizing their performance. This means bringing the same high level of focus and determination to every opportunity to practice—whether in a cadaver lab, in a simulator or as a proctor and mentor for other surgeons. By the time they are “in the game,” excellence is routine.
“When you think you have all the answers, you’ve stopped asking the right questions.”
— John Robert Wooden
Dr. Lavine also had words of inspiration for experienced neurosurgeons who are, like him, years or decades into their work. He encouraged them to be brave and to tackle new challenges—to master new devices or new approaches. They can continue to grow, achieving the best success for their patients by using the same principles of preparation, relentless attention to detail and insistence on excellence.
Wooden wrote extensively on leadership, excellence and success. (And, by the way, he defined “success” as “a result of satisfaction from knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.”)
Inspired to look up his writing or apply his lessons to your own life? The ball is in your court.
*Joint CV Section: American Academy of Neurological Surgeons / Congress of Neurological Surgeons Joint Cerebrovascular Section
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