As a child in the fifties, I was mesmerized by the C-movies starring Frankenstein, the Werewolf, the Mummy, aliens, and Dracula. The grainy black and white films captured a whole new level of fear for a young child’s mind. The interesting thing about any and all of these movies is that there was always some solution (a “silver bullet”) to the imposing challenge of a threat: From a simple virus for the aliens, to a cross or a neckless of garlic for Dracula. The term “Silver Bullet” is a perfect drug to cure a disease with no danger of side effects. This term originally came from a German scientist named Paul Ehrlich to describe an antibody and, later, the drug salvarsan that he created to treat syphilis. The popular definition is something that acts as a magical weapon, especially one that instantly solves a long-standing problem. Back to our movie definition, everyone knows that only a silver bullet will kill a Werewolf. From the dental perspective, it has become commonplace for dentists to constantly search for and pursue the purchase of some system, piece of equipment, or mentor as if this was the “silver bullet” to solve all of their problems.
That in and of itself is not unusual. The challenge is that we exist in a dental economy that has spawned thousands of salesmen that tell you they have the one shiny object or new never seen before strategy to fix all of your woes. It’s as if we as a group have adopted “throwing money” at a problem as the go to strategy for success. In a way, we are in a battle of mind capture and most of us are attention challenged. With so many choices, which one should we choose? A better question would be, do any of these “silver bullet” choices actually move you towards a better practice? Could it be possible that instead of the latest greatest whatchamacallit, we should chase mastery of the basics? It’s almost a certainty that regardless of what problem a doctor brings up, it is always a function of never perfecting the fundamentals of clinical dentistry and leadership.
Perhaps we need to over-ride the herd mentality of what has programed far too many doctors and their teams. What would happen if we went back to serving our patients as a foundation for a better business? What if we assembled a committed team instead of a quasi-compliant group of people that just happen to work together? Could there be something gained by understanding the viewpoint of the consumer, instead of the entitlement of our profession and lifestyle suck of overspending and debt? Is what we see as commonplace in our profession really just the opposite of common sense? I don’t believe there is a silver bullet for the chaos you find in most practices. I believe we need to revert back to perfecting the basics and then think of the shiny object as just a value-added tool to an already great strategy and super practice that helps multiply the impact of what you are already doing.
If we look at the levels of learning we can better see where our time and money should be directed over the long haul of our career. In learning and studies, we all begin at step one: You don’t know what you don’t know. You are unconsciously unskilled. Step or level two is when you gravitate to being consciously unskilled. Now you know that you don’t know. Step three is where the average doctor and most people in most professions end up spending their entire career. You become consciously skilled. On the surface this seems like a great place to be, but there is more, much more. Graduation from dental school got us most of the way there, but not all the way. We had to consciously think about what we did. Most graduates get to a point of either knowing the answer or knowing where to find it. People that hit this mark can have OK to pretty good practices but most are just average. They forgot that you never graduate from learning more and perfecting what you’ve learned. For a small percentage, it is at this point of understanding that your dental license is really just a learners permit and you are just barely not dangerous. They have only started the journey of discovery in order to reach the fourth step or level of learning. You become unconsciously competent or skilled. You have made consistent and never-ending learning part of your lifestyle and your command of the basics is without peer. While you are light years ahead of others in your field, you understand that learning is a journey and you will never reach a point where you can coast.
So, there is a foundational point of competence that each of us must reach and it does not mean chasing a silver bullet. After looking at thousands of offices, I would have to say that over 95% of the challenges were not simply a single glaring error in a system, but hundreds of small changes that would have an exponential change in results. Not once in a thousand times did I ever see a silver bullet or shiny object that transformed a struggling practice into a Super General Dental Practice. It was the culmination of many changes that resulted in the actual change of momentum, trajectory, and final results. Generally speaking, if you cannot write a check for this “silver bullet” you are not ready to add it to your practice. Practices that have mastered the fundamentals of leadership, clinical dentistry, and financial management can afford to pay cash for their shiny object shopping lists.
A childhood story can help represent what each of us needs to do. The Three Little Pigs speaks volumes about dentists. As a reminder, like most fairy tales, this too begins with once upon a time. Mother pig weens the three little pigs and sends them out to face life or in our case graduation from dental school. As you remember, the first little pig was lazy and didn’t want to work at all, so, he built his house out of straw. (Let’s say this is the long-term associate or life time employee that bounces from one office to the next.) The second little pig worked a little bit harder but he was somewhat lazy too and he built his house out of sticks, and then spent his time dancing and singing and played with the other lazy pig the rest of the day. (This is the average dentist that shows up and does what they have to do to support their lifestyle but fails to really strive for something more).
The third little pig worked hard all day and built his house with bricks. It was a sturdy house complete with a fine fireplace and chimney. It looked like it could withstand the strongest winds. (This is the life-time student, who does not settle or become a “sheeple”, but instead learns the basics and moves onto understanding more and more about leadership and management as well as clinical dentistry).
I think most of you know what happens next: The Big Bad Wolf shows up or, as I like to say, “life happens”. Examples: a “pandemic”, government interventions that make them close down for two months, how about a recession from 2003-2008, or any number of other unforeseen calamities that we call “life”. Divorce, death, disease, financial ruin will become part of your history. The difference will be in how you build your house or in our case our career and business. Challenges will come, bad times will pass, but the wise dentist that has built their house of brick and mortar with a chimney (don’t forget the wolf was not able to blow the house down so he decided to sneak down the chimney only to be scalded and leave) while still challenged, will not be deterred by life nor will they revert to desperation in the form of searching out a slick willie salesman to purchase some shiny object that they hope will compensate for a career of poor decisions and inactivity. This type of doctor will not settle for average. Not in their practice and certainly not in their home life. This is how you Summit.
Michael Abernathy, DDS