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One Habit That Will Make You Unique

March 30, 2015

Filed under: Ethics,Happiness,Leadership — Tags: , , — Barry @ 11:08 AM



And the Academy Award for Best Actor in a motion picture goes to…Eddie Redmayne…for his role of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.   What a moment.  The cameras switched over to a very disappointed Michael Keaton who was really counting on giving his acceptance speech.  That didn’t happen.  The Academy gave it to the relative novice because of the masterful job he did in portraying Stephen Hawking the Nobel Prize winning physicist and a victim of ALS.

Redmayne, in the tradition of many other great actors like Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot, and Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, won the award because of the difficulty of the role.  It required putting himself in the place of an another and actually becoming that person.  For Lewis it was the palsied Christy Brown, for Hoffman it was the role of a woman, and for Redmayne it was Hawking, who has been confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak since 1985.

Amazing performances all.  The one quality that makes those roles possible: empathy.

The dictionary defines empathy as:

The art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.

As dentists we must master the “art” of empathy in order to be truly successful.  Empathy and the habits that are necessary to develop, will be the trait that will separate dentists in the future. 

We live in a time where there is a deficit of empathy.  Most of us are overly concerned with ourselves rather than “the other.”  It’s a paradox, but none other than the famous motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar used to say, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

I take nothing away from Michael Keaton and as I will explain I really liked his movie Birdman better, but as far as acting performances go Redmayne became Stephen Hawking.

You see, Birdman, Keaton’s award winning movie discussed just that sentiment.  It was subtitled, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.  What does that mean?

It can be summed up in a scene where Keaton is arguing with a reviewer about how good an actor he is (in the movie…not in real life…seems to be his haunting theme).  She tells him he’s a celebrity, not an actor.

WATCH THE CLIP:<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/4d5KovCbU8w” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

So what is the difference?  Today it’s easy to become a celebrity…yes, even in a field like dentistry.  I see so many dentists who are more interested in Facebook and Twitter (a theme also revealed in Birdman—when he walked down Broadway in his whitey tighties, I guess that was the unexpected virtue of ignorance.), than in truly treating each and every patient with empathy.  They want to become celebrities—smile artists.

Empathy is what makes us human.  It keeps everything real.  The question is, can it be developed or is it just something we have or not. 

I guess, if actors can develop it, we can create the habit of empathy.

When I studied the Pankey philosophy, I noted that L.D. Pankey used the word virtue a lot.  Aristotle used that word.  I never quite grasped what it meant to the Greeks, but the writers of Birdman also used it in their subtitle.

A virtue refers to actions taken to create a level of excellence.  It takes practice to develop excellence, and enough good habits lead to what Aristotle called the “good life.”

Dentists understand this when it comes to technical practice…but what about the habit of empathy, or as Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, before trying to be understood.”

What are some things we can do to develop empathy:

  • Become Spock-like.  Get into a mind-meld mindset.  Imagine yourself knowing what the other is thinking.

  • Follow the Platinum Rule—I used to think the Golden Rule was the right thing but the Platinum Rule states that you should treat people not as you would want to be treated but as they want to be treated.  As if you were the other.

  • Use creative storytelling to imagine yourself in the life of the other.  Great empathists like Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela were masters of this.

  • Immerse yourself in the actual dental experience,  Feel that fear, feel the financial pressure.  Many dentists are masters of the “should,” without ever having experienced what it is to have extensive dentistry.

  • Practice the art of conversation.  Learn the language of empathy and take the time to understand patients.

  • Be curious about the lives of patients…as Pankey used to say, their circumstances, objectives and temperament.

  • Share your story with people…get deep.  Go further than small talk about the weather and sports.  As author Bren’e Brown advises, become vulnerable.

These are just a few of the things that we can do to practice empathy.  Readers of my book, Art of Examination, know that the dentists can build these into their daily practice…so in the end they will not only play the role of a real human dentist but they can actually become one.


The Garden of TAO

August 18, 2014

Filed under: Happiness,Philosophy — Tags: , , — Barry @ 12:37 PM




I love metaphors.  They help me explain things better. Metaphors not only make our thoughts more vivid and interesting but that they actually structure our perceptions and understanding.  And perception, as you know is everything.

Think of the metaphor, “time is money.”  I used to think of that as a rule.  That I should live my life and run my practice like that.

Until I realized that that metaphor was causing me all kinds of stress.  But who was I to argue, after all, I had heard that metaphor throughout my entire life as if it were handed down from high above.

I’ve since learned that time is not money…time is time, and money is money, and these days time is worth much more than money.

Recently I was assessing my last forty years in dental practice.  I was using Clayton Christensen’s ideas from his book How Will You Measure Your Life?

Tough times make one very reflective.  Christensen advises to look back on your career and focus on all of the people you have helped through the years.  We tend to focus more on our setbacks.  It’s called a negative bias.

So I did.

Over the past forty-one years I have seen over 31,000 patients.

But my practice these days has slightly less than 1000 active patients.

Well, they’re more than patients—they’re members.  People who have subscribed to my approach to dental and health care.  People who know, like and trust me.  People who have mutual trust, appreciation and ownership of their health.

The nutriments of a healthy,  long term fee-for service practice….and the title of this Blogsite.

They’re like family members.

I am sure there would have been more.  People have passed on, people have moved…things happen.

Of course, there are people who just didn’t “click.”

There is an online marketing concept known as 1000 true fans.  It was taken from the idea of the long tail in using keyword search.  The idea is that a business doesn’t have to serve the entire market—just the long tail, to thriveWired magazine editor Keven Kelley created the concept of 1000 true fans from the long tail, and describes many successful businesses as thriving by concentrating on that “niche” market.

Then the metaphor came to me.

Through my years I have been developing and growing my garden…my Garden of TAO.

By using my examination process and nurturing the above mentioned nutriments of trust, appreciation and ownership…I have grown a very nice garden.  Trust, appreciation and ownership are blended into the soil.  They make relationships grow and thrive.

It takes time to build a garden.  Great relationships, in contrast to what the practice management people tell us, take time.  I didn’t know that early in my practice.  It’s the reason I wrote and developed the Arts of Examination and Case Presentation.

Of course, like any gardener you have to be very protective of the beautiful flowers you are growing.  You must tend to the soil, provide nutriments and supplements, but most importantly, keep the weeds out.

That is one of the reasons I am purely fee-for-service.

I have my own philosophy developed through the years.  The last thing I want is to hybridize the garden with foreign thoughts and ideas.  That’s how I maintain my autonomy…that’s why I have learned that time is not money.  You can always lose your money…time is more precious.




The Graduate Goes to Dental School

July 21, 2014

Filed under: Happiness,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Barry @ 1:22 PM



I want your help.

I am writing a new book for young dentists.  The book’s theme is creating a long , successful and rewarding life in dentistry.

For some this may be self-evident.  It depends on what stage of career you are in.

For others it is very difficult.  And you don’t have to be a dentist to appreciate the question I am about to ask.  The question actually raises more questions as to where we are today in terms of health care, the economy and our work.

I am biased on the side of long, healthy, happy careers—maybe what used to be called The American Dream.


So here is my premise:

I am producing a remake of the classic Dustin Hoffman film, The Graduate.  The scene at the pool where Mr. McGuire tells young Ben, “One word, plastics.”  It’s a classic line.

Now remember, the movie first came out in 1969…times were much different then…and in my movie Ben just graduated from dental school. (If you are a physician…make believe he’s graduating from medical school).

You don’t have to be a health professional to answer…it’s more about our culture.

Here’s where I need your help—

What one piece of advice would you give young Ben as he entered into the workforce, as a dentist in 2014.  By the way—dental school left him with $375,000 in debt.

Be brief—and one caveat —you can’t advise him to stay away from Mrs. Robinson.

Don’t go there!

Leave your comments below—if they are good I will include them in the book and give you credit.

Reality Dentistry

August 7, 2013

AlokOnLake_t479There is a Zen story about a woman who goes to a calligrapher to have a painting made.  The Zen master interviews the woman to find out exactly what she is looking for.  He tells her to return in 3 months.

When she returns she is told that the calligraphy isn’t quite ready…he needs 3 more months.  She understands that he is a master and grants him more time, but she is a woman of some wealth and is a bit frustrated.  Three months latter she returns.

This time the master apologizes, saying that it is becoming quite difficult to complete the job.  He will need 6 more months.  The woman is close to pulling the plug, but she agrees to wait.

In 6 months, exactly one year from the time she made her original request…she returns.  This time the master leads her to a room where he is about to reveal the calligraphy.  The woman looks annoyed and says “What in the world could have taken so long?”

The Zen master opens a cabinet and out falls thousands of drawings of her calligraphy as he reveals the one master-piece.

My question is how realistic is it for us as dentists to try to mimic that level of mastery?  The answer lies not only in the commitment of the dentist but also in the patience of the clients.  The dentist must find the balance of providing the best he or she is capable of and the desires of the marketplace.

Of course, if the dentist chooses he can create a practice that concentrates on only those clients who expect the very best and are willing to wait for prodigious results.  Those practices exist.  Those patients exist.

But is that reality?

Dentistry, since the late nineties, has been portrayed to the public as a profession that caters to those patients who desire these exceptional cases.  And dentists attend courses that depict dentistry as something only worthy of masters.  But that isn’t what we see everyday.

We see patients who refuse to look at the crowns and veneers that we labored so hard to reach.  We see patients who come into our practices because of our outstanding reputation in the community only to reject the best dentistry.  As a lab owner I see dentists expecting the finest cosmetic cases without providing the best information.

There is a gap.

That gap leads me to the premise of this blog…trust, appreciation and ownership.

It proves to me what author Jim Collins said in his landmark book, Good to Great:  “First who…then what.”

A practice…a life… should be built on relationships.  Your success and happiness depends on it.  That’s reality….everything else…just talk.









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10 Ways to Get out of Network

May 20, 2013

Filed under: Article,Business of Dentistry,Happiness — Tags: , , — Barry @ 9:40 AM

images-1In previous posts I have promoted the idea of autonomy.  I am big on autonomy for may reasons.  Firstly, I believe most people go into dentistry to be the masters of their own destiny.  I know I did, but that was a long time ago.  I don’t know what motivates people these days.  One thing I do know is that if a dentist wants to be the very best he can be then having autonomy and the ability to make his own decisions is important.

Being in a network takes some of that independence away.  I know dentistry is heading in a direction that will change the way most of us practice, but I do believe there will always be room at the top.

Years ago getting out of network and building an insurance free practice was a lot easier, there was less traffic on the road less traveled.  And more patients looking for a ride.  These days getting out of network will require a bigger commitment.  Here is my list of things you can do to build a career of freedom and autonomy.  You may not get wealthier, but you will be happier.

  1. Become lean and mean.  In other words build the policies and systems in your practice that keep your expenses down.  By not being sub-servant to large monthly expenses, you can get to do the dentistry of your choice.  Don’t be lured into more expense by manufacturers looking to sell you the latest equipment if your practice doesn’t warrant the expense.  Your patients come to you for your care, skills and judgement.  Being hi-tech is only one factor that people judge your service by…dependability, reliability, competence and empathy come way before the expensive toys.  You would be amazed at how many staff members it takes to produce significant dentistry, especially when time management systems and financial policies are in place.

  2. Take more time with your patients.  Once again, building systems for re-care, new patients, treatment planning and scheduling will make you lean and mean.  All of these systems require the dentists to develop and build his communication and leadership skills.  Putting a system in place without being able to carry it out won’t work.  Think about football teams with great schemes.  Without the players executing, nothing matters.

  3. Become an expert in examination, diagnosis, planning and communication.  Take courses in these areas.  Get coached.  Don’t concentrate on the technical…step back and take leadership courses.

  4. Be a doctor not a businessman.  (more…)

Worry! Don’t Be Happy

May 6, 2013

Filed under: Happiness,Philosophy — Tags: , , — Barry @ 12:15 PM



I am a big fan of the positive psychology movement.  One of my favorite authors on the subject is the late University of Michigan professor Chris Peterson.  You would think that most positive psychologists would lobby for happiness for everyone.  Peterson was much more of a realist.  In his last book, Pursuing the Good Life, he posed the question: “can you be too cheerful?”

That’s a question I always wondered about.  After all, whenever I attend dental meetings and seminars…everyone is oh, so happy.  Life and dentistry can’t be all that good…I know my life has its ups and downs…just about every week, and sometimes daily.

But in public, most dentists are smiling, or at least talking about smiling.

In Peterson’s rant he sites a concept first discussed in 1899 by Thorstein Veblen, known as conspicuous consumption, which refers to the over the top and blatant materialism undertaken to show others how well off they might be.

He stretches that definition to a concept he calls conspicuous conservation which refers to people who take over-the-top ecologically relevant actions undertaken to show others how “green” they might be.

Quite honestly showing off how green or rich you might be kind of bothers me.

Peterson stretches the analogy to cheerfulness.  People who relentlessly display a positive stance.  I’m sure we can all identify someone like an ex-neighbor I had who always made a point to compliment me and tell me how great things were.  One week after a recent surgery and after losing ten pounds, she told me how good I looked.  And she didn’t know I just had the surgery.

Look, I’m all for the power of positive thinking, but I am aware the good things happen as well as bad things.  And Chris Peterson is not just another positive psychology happiologist…he confirmed that for me.  The goal for positive psychology is appropriate cheerfulness.

And Peterson tells us that appropriate cheerfulness and discontent with the status quo has likely led  to almost anything that has improved in the world.  I know that is true in my life.  I once took on the mantra of motivator W. Clement Stone who claimed he was always inspiration-ally dissatisfied.

So let’s keep it real…our lives and our practices can’t always being doing that well.  We all can’t be doing a big case everyday…especially if you live in New Jersey.







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