Allow me to take one moment to define the perspective and wisdom of identifying myths vs the reality of seeking truth in a dental practice business model. I do suggest that if this is the first of the “Myths” discussions you are reading, please take the time and go back and review and familiarize yourself with the substance of previous discussions on individual dental myths. Up to this point, I’ve pretty much put the cart in front of the horse with this series called “Chasing the Myth of ______________”. I never really thought that this format, with its topics of myths in dentistry, would take on a life of its own. From the number of comments on Facebook and from our Summit Blog group, emails, and texts, I must have touched a nerve. Many said thanks for putting their problems and challenges in perspective along with an avenue for correction. Others challenged the cause and solution for each myth as if they either did not exist or that someone else had told them something completely different. Many responded by saying that this or that can’t just be a myth because it is too important or they thought the myth was truth. A majority pointed to the practice down the street that did something else without the faintest notion of what they did or their results or current situation. It’s as if a myth holds the hope of success while duping the follower into a practice or life strategy that will take them nowhere. This entire topic or series of topics arose from your questions and in particular the challenges each of you are facing. Every phone call or conversation uncovered a variety of challenges common to all dental practices at one time or another. In helping others cope with these obstacles, I began to see a “consistency of cause”. While all were common, most came from a misunderstanding of the real truth of dentistry business models, and the unnerving source of solutions proffered from various other sources. It was as if there was some magical formula or secret sauce to success in dentistry when success in any field requires becoming incredibly great at the fundamentals. The biggest surprise I continue to see is the seemingly unrelated and diametrically opposed solutions to the problems tendered by each of you. While many doctors would report the same problems, there was an array of different ways that were tried and yet failed to correct these challenges. While each doctor was optimistic, they still struggled with any successful resolution to their challenges. There was no rhyme or reason and very few actually turned things around or found a solution to the original challenge.
Myths are interesting phenomena when you consider that each and every one holds the potential of becoming a limiting belief for those who hold or believe it. Beliefs, whether they are true or false, always become truth to those that hold it long enough. Once this myth leads to a limiting belief, the holder tends to look at things through that perspective alone; a set of lenses that alter the true state of affairs and that blinds us to the obvious solutions. This myth becomes the one thing that holds that doctor back in taking their practice to the next level. I am sure that desperate situations and desperate times call for desperate action, but I am surprised as to where each of you sought out that advice or strategy. The common thread was found mainly in the application of the “fixes” each of you arrived at. Over and over, I would listen to the explanation of why you started down this path to salvation from the challenges you faced. Each time, you would point to the so-called expert that said this or that. Being desperate, you grasped at the opportunity of extricating yourself from your dilemma. It was as if you actually believed all that you read or heard without knowing how that source and their practice was actually performing or without even bothering to verify their results. I would suggest further verification and in order to compare their practice to yours, consult chapter 16 of The Super General Dental Practice (available for download free of charge at www.supergeneralpractice.com. Each of you need benchmarks to measure your progress and a goal that, while challenging, moves you in the direction of getting closer to the practice you always thought you would have. Where are you? Why aren’t you closer to the mark of a SGDP? What could you do right now to change the trajectory of your practice and the quality of your culture? Is there any possibility that once you have a worthy goal or a well thought out benchmark you discount it because it is at odds with your current situation?
The biggest killer in chasing myths is that they give you a jaded view of the path to excellence, or even above average success. Often times your strategy is based on running faster and modeling unproved strategies from unqualified sources. If you are not growing consistently by 15% or more each year in every benchmarked category, you are not on the right path and certainly have room to improve your results by taking a hard look at where you are and whether or not the steps taken move you closer to your goal. Myths are just that; a short cut to failure. They become a distraction from understanding the correct actions you need to take. It postpones your progress by wasting time chasing something that is not true. As I said before, it’s not what you know that concerns me. It’s what you think you know that isn’t so. Straight from the dictionary, the word myth is defined as a widely held but false belief or idea. Stated at it’s most basic, it is the “herd” mentality (blindly following what others do). Sheep are a good example. Get one to jump over an obstacle at the gate to get out, and even if you remove that obstacle, each successive sheep will also leap in the air to avoid the nonexistent impediment to its egress. We, in large, have become “sheeple”. We blindly follow unproven advice from an unproven source, because we will grasp at the illusion of the myth, only to find we once again came up short.
So, each successive myth covered is an attempt to push you past the well- trodden path to mediocrity to the correct path to success. By pointing out the common myths that have obtained “common practice”, I hope to push you to measure each one of them from a perspective of “common sense”, not “common practice”. Common practice is what you will most often see, common sense is what you need to see. Common practice defines the average practice while super successful practices exude common sense. They march to a different drummer. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice flees down the forest path only to encounter a fork in the path with the Cheshire Cat floating in the air. As she gasps for air and with confusion on her face she asks: “Which way should I go”? To this inquiry the Cheshire cat asks: “Where do you want to go”? Alice (thinking that she is simply trying to get away) says: “It doesn’t much matter.” To this answer from Alice the very wise Cheshire Cat responds: “Then it doesn’t much matter which path you choose.”
The various myths concerning a dental practice are often times common place. It is rare that people use common sense and learn to see the challenge differently, while formulating a specific reaction to their specific problem. It is not my goal to teach you what to think. It is my hope that I help you learn to think and look at challenges differently. Don’t be like so many before you that chase symptoms of problems without truly understanding the real problem. Example: Thinking you have a collections/accounts receivable problem when it is not really the problem, but rather a symptom of the person or protocols in financial arrangements and follow up. Or perhaps it is assuming that you have a “new patient problem” when it is just a symptom of a deeper, far-reaching problems of poor hours, weak protocols, not inspiring patients, and lack of consumerism. Stop thinking like the traditional dentist and begin to see your practice as it truly is and act on that reality rather than foolishly following the suggestions and ideas of some friend or unsubstantiated expert.
This is probably going to get me in trouble, but I want to address just a few thoughts about a common problem of younger dentists with limited experience and older doctors with lots of experience that has never changed. In the book Think Again by Adam Grant, he addresses the peculiar situation of what people think they know that may not actually be true. In fact, this feigned grasp of the facts or perceived intelligence is the main reason that we fail to question supposed facts, systems, protocols, and myths. In the opening chapter he poses these simple questions.
Why did English became the official language of the Unites States?
Why were women burned at the stake in Salem?
What job did Walt Disney have before he drew Mickey Mouse?
On which spaceflight did humans first lay eyes on the Great Wall of China?
Why does excessive sugar in a child’s diet cause bad behavior?
Adam Grant admits that one of his biggest pet peeves is feigned knowledge whereby people pretend to know things they don’t. In fact, this is the reason he gives for writing the book. The main point to hang your hat on is that the more people overestimated themselves, the less interested they were in learning and updating. If you think you know more about history or science than most people, chances are you know less than you think. This is called the Dunning-Kruger effect.
On the questions above, if you felt you knew anything at all, think again. America has no official language. Suspected witches were hanged in Salem but not burned at the stake. Walt Disney didn’t draw Mickey Mouse (it was the work of an animator named Ub Iwerks). You can’t actually see the Great Wall of China from space. The average effect of sugar on children’s behavior is zero.
One chapter is entitled: Stranded at the Summit of Mount Stupid. His point is that when we lack the knowledge and skills to achieve excellence, we sometimes lack the knowledge and skills to judge excellence. In a way, we are all novices at many things, but we’re not always blind to that fact. Absolute beginners rarely fall into the Dunning-Kruger trap. If you don’t know a thing about football, you probably don’t walk around believing you know more than the coach. Stay with me just a moment more, I have a point to raise. Mr. Gant goes on to say: “It’s when we progress from novice to amateur that we become overconfident. A bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In too many domains of our lives, we never gain enough expertise to question our opinions or discover what we don’t know. We have just enough information to feel self-assured about making pronouncements and passing judgment, failing to realize that we’ve climbed to the top of Mount Stupid without making it over to the other side.”
The last paragraph from Mr. Grant has never been truer when we consider the advice given and the information accepted as truth on social media, magazines, books, and lectures. Many things are close to being good advice, but most are not. Accept the statements of others but go further and verify the validity of that advice. It is amazing what passes muster as truth on Facebook. Mark Twain stated: “Be careful about reading health books. You could die of a misprint.”
I will close with the following from a resent Seth Godin blog post. (If you are unfamiliar with his writings, I urge you to investigate his many books and articles. One of my favorites is entitled The Purple Cow.) As we continue to explore and expose various myths, one of the mysteries of why dentists do not seek help or change their plight is definitely a paradox.
A Coaching Paradox
by Seth Godin
“At the top tier of just about any sort of endeavor, you’ll find that the performers have coaches. Pianists, orators and athletes all have coaches. In fact, it would be weird if we heard of someone on stage or on the field who didn’t have one.
And yet, in the world of business, they’re seen as the exception. Part of the reason is that work feels like an extension of something we’ve been doing our whole lives. Figure skating isn’t like school, but showing up at work seems to be. “I’ve got this,” is a badge of honor.
Part of the reason is that a few coaches have made claims that stretch belief, and we’re not actually sure what they do. It doesn’t help that there’s no easy way to identify what sort of coach we need or what we’re going to get…
It turns out that the people with the potential to benefit the most from a coach are often the most hesitant precisely because of what coaching involves. Talking about our challenges. Setting goals. Acknowledging that we can get better. Eagerly seeking responsibility…
And yet we avert our eyes and hesitate. It might be because having a coach might be interpreted as a sign of weakness. And, what if we acknowledge our challenges but fail to overcome them? It could be that we don’t’ want to cause change to happen, or that we’re worried that we will.
One company I admire believes in coaches so much that they’ve put several on staff, ensuring that their leadership all benefit from one. But mostly, it’s something we have to pay for ourselves.
And so, paying for a coach, for something that’s hard to measure, which might be socially awkward, to get better at something that feels normal—combine that with a hesitancy to ask for help—it’s a wonder that anyone has a coach.
The paradox is that the very things that hold us back are the reasons we need a coach in the first place.”
Michael Abernathy, DDS
PS. If you are enjoying, annoyed by, or just find these articles interesting, I would like to ask a favor. Right not, while it’s fresh on your mind, forward it to one of your dental friends. I want to reach as many dentists as I possibly can and you can help me with this. Thanks in advance, for taking a few minutes and sending this and other articles to your dental friends.