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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.




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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Losing Your Religion

February 18, 2013



Time was expiring on my Groupon at a hot new restaurant in town.  We called ahead for reservations, but they didn’t accept them.  They asked if we had a Groupon.   When we arrived, the maître d’ seated us, throwing the menus on the table.  I sensed displeasure.  Twenty minutes later she took our order.  Are you starting to get the picture?  The only thing acceptable about the experience was the shrimp marinara which she threw on the table with the same gusto as the menu.

I am not a big fan of social e-commerce, for many reasons, mostly because of what they can potentially do to a business and the people who work there.

The maître d’ in this case was also the waitress, and the owner.  She was understaffed.  A lone busboy and another waitress helped her with the crowd.  The stress was palpable. 

I think “roller skates” is the term we use in dentistry. The scene reminded me of the way I practiced dentistry many years ago…when I participated in all of the dental plans.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.  This is what happens when we work with partners with incongruent business plans.

I changed my way of practice many years ago…to a practice driven by TAO—trust, appreciation and ownership.  Hence—the way—I practice.

I spend time getting to know each and every patient so I can serve their individual needs.  We serve the best food too.  High quality materials and and dental laboratories…really good shrimp marinara.  But what I really take pride in is the service…the very intimate caring service that can only be performed by a happy staff and a happy dentist.

Or else I couldn’t have survived in dentistry.

It all comes down to a business model.  When I decided not to base my practice on price, everything changed.

An insurance based practice doesn’t have the time to spend getting to know patients.  Dental insurance is nothing more than a (G)coupon for dental services.  The concept devalues the personal service so necessary in health care.

Yet so many health service businesses are using the Groupon model.  And dentists seem to be the number one perpetrators.  Examinations, cleanings, tooth whitening, Invisalign are just some of the services being devalued.  I met a girl last week who only goes to the dentist every six months by taking advantage of a Groupon deal.  This isn’t the dentistry that I grew up with.

I could say that I really feel sorry for the patients, but that would be presuming that the dentistry was just bad…I won’t do that, because I don’t know.

What I do know is that for a dentist to enjoy his work over a long period of time a certain amount of mastery and passion is necessary.  I can’t imagine working the way I used to.  So many dentists have a hard time living up to their business model and they let the wolves in the door.  And the wolves have changed the entire profession.

A business model is a statement of your philosophy…it should be sacred…and you never want to lose your religion.








What Happy Dentists Know

February 12, 2013

Filed under: ARTICLES,Business of Dentistry,Philosophy,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Barry @ 10:00 AM



I have a pet peeve.  It bothers me when dentists look at the very best people in the field and believe they will never achieve that level of success, because they don’t have the “hands” or the technical skills necessary to do great work.  This problem isn’t restricted to dentistry...artists and writers look at great works and judge only the result rather than looking at the process that the person went through to achieve the result.

No matter how many times I hear the story about what Michelangelo told an admirer when she called him a genius, he said,   “If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius, ” and I truly get it…so many of us turn to the beautiful photography on Facebook or the work displayed by dentistry’s masters, and say we can never do that because they are “genius’s”  and I just don’t have the hands or the skills to do that work.

The other day a dentist commented on some work I did, saying it wasn’t up to the “Pankey” standard.  He expected that every piece of work would be perfect if done by a Pankey dentist.  Well we’re all on the same journey.  When starting out our work can be just plain shitty.  Then after a few years it just sucks.  But eventually it gets good with the potential of becoming great.  The problem is that most people expect great every time.  Maybe the masters can do that and I certainly shoot for that, but the reality is we do our best and grow to be better and better.

And that’s all we can do.

But there is a problem… (more…)

What Would L.D. Pankey Do?

October 16, 2011

Filed under: What Would LD Do Now? — Tags: , , — Barry @ 10:21 PM

Just to set the record straight, the title of this post may just be a rhetorical question.  I really couldn’t tell you what L.D.Pankey would do if he were alive today, but asking the question might open up some meaningful thoughts on how to live and practice in these difficult times.

History has no shortage of people who have left behind their philosophies on how to live.  Humanity’s very best ideas have been passed down from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and Montaigne’s Essays to Aldous Huxley’s Perrennial Philosophy.  These people have given us the tools to help us create happiness and success through core principles that work in any period.

I am often asked the question, you see above, from younger dentists trying to apply Dr. Pankey’s philosophy.  What separated L.D. from the multitude of educators was that he blended this perrennial philosophy with the dental science of his era.  The question, I believe, these students are asking is, “how can we use old wisdom with new science and technology?”

And that is a fair question.

You see what Steve Jobs was to computer science, Thomas Edison was to invention and Peter Drucker was to business management…L.D. Pankey was to dentistry.  Their legacy went way beyond their fields…they gave us more than information and knowledge…they gave us wisdom.

Think about Job’s commencement speech to the graduating class at Stanford.  He didn’t speak about iPods or iPhones…he spoke about life, just as L.D. Pankey spoke to dentists in 1948 at the Florida Academy of Dentistry, in his famous speech, You Are the Future of Dentistry.

That is why Pankey added the arm of “Apply Your Knowledge” to his Cross of Dentistry.  Application…action is not easy…for that we must turn to the perrennialists.  I am sure that is why Pankey himself turned to Aristotle for guidance.  He faced the same problems then as we do today.

The same but different.  Sure he didn’t deal with insurance, advertising or the Internet, but he had his own issues.

I was watching a football show last Sunday.  ESPN’s Chris Berman, Tom Jackson and Bill Parcells were discussing the future of quarterback Tim Tebow with the Denver Broncos.  Berman and Jackson argued that Tebow would do well because of his background.  He had all the tools to make him a winner…all of the character traits.  Parcells wasn’t convinced.  He said the quarterback still needed to throw an accurate pass.  When I heard that I thought of L.D. Pankey.

He knew that the philosophy included more than character.  It included the technical skills as well.  Pankey blended both into his philosophy and that is why, although times have changed…it still works.

Dentists have told me that they are thinking about leaving dentistry, selling their practices and just doing something else.  That would be a shame because there are ways to make things work even in tough times.

I will be using this blog to post specific questions about “What Would L.D. Do Now?”  Please help me by sending questions in… preferably in the comments section so readers can chime in.  I invite everyone to put their two cents in…because together we can can figure it out…because we just can’t ask him.

Was L.D. Pankey Dentistry’s First Positive Psychologist?

April 21, 2011

Filed under: Article,Pankey — Tags: — Barry @ 9:27 PM

Most dental seminars and courses share similar traits. Lecturers generally speak for hours on some concept or technique while the audience sits back and takes notes. During breaks or at the end of the day, questions arise that have less to do with the technique and more to do with how to apply the technique in their own practices. In other words, after watching the speaker show incredible cases by applying the newest technology, the dentists have questions mostly concerning how to persuade their patients to accept the treatment.

It’s like listening to a telephone call from a patient who wants to try to break an appointment. They begin by making small talk and lead to the crux of the matter…”by the way, I can’t make it next Thursday.” People save the best for last.

Persuading people to do do the very best dentistry for themselves has always been the dentist’s greatest challenge. It requires many skills, mostly in the area of relationship building, communication and human behavior. Of course dentists see the value in learning these skills, but seem to spend more time and effort concentrating on the technical skills.

Further exploration of the the persuasion skills leads to the bigger questions. You see if you can’t get the dentistry off the shelf, the shelf just gets overloaded with all that great technique. That is frustrating, and is the source of much disappointment and unhappiness.

So at the heart of those questions about marketing, and persuasion are the bigger questions. Questions like:

“How can I find happiness and success in my practice?”

“How can I learn to love and stay engaged in my work?”

“How can I put more meaning in my work?”

“How can I get my patients to do all this incredible dentistry?”

These are the BIG QUESTIONS…the ones that were answered for me many years ago at the Pankey Institute. The unexpressed questions that are still being asked at every dental seminar today if you are really listening.

L.D. Pankey understood dentistry’s BIG QUESTIONS. That’s why he studied philosophy and created his own philosophy: to help dentists live better lives. He studied Aristotle. He could have studied Abraham Maslow or Carl Rogers as Dr. Robert Barkely did. Both Pankey and Barkely had a deep sense of what would truly help dentists create fulfilling lives and practices. They were unique in that regard. I was lucky to have seen them both. I haven’t seen that type of lecture in many years.

The word used for many years, even by L.D., to indicate the definition of a fulfilling practice is HAPPINESS. The problem with that word is that it has become a buzzword that has lost its meaning these days. Even Aristotle used the word as to represent man’s sole purpose in life. The problem is that “happiness” is an empty word that needs more explanation.

In 1997 Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania coined term “positive psychology.” Its goal was to describe what a life worth living looked like…a healthy model, rather than the dis-eased models of Freud. Seligman and his followers further described the goal of positive psychology as “well-being,” and use the term “flourishing” to describe those who have achieved this goal.

They measure well-being through 5 elements:

1. Positive emotion

2. Engagement or flow at work.

3. Meaning…or serving something that is bigger than the self.

4. Accomplishment–pursuit of success and mastery

5. Positive relationships

When I looked at the list I realized that is what I learned at the Pankey Institute. Those are the elements that allow me to get my dentistry off the shelf. Those are the principles that L.D. Pankey taught so many dentists during the fifties and sixties. And that is why I have a Pankey-style practice.


I’m not sure if Pankey had the language to express his philosophy that succinctly, but after reading Seligman, I believe that L.D. was dentistry’s true positive psychologist. Sadly, I am not sure that exists in dental CE anymore. There is way too much emphasis on high tech dentistry, high profit dentistry and high speed dentistry…that will never answer the BIG QUESTIONS.

Isn’t it time to stop the craziness? Time to slow down, maintain positivity, engage deeply in our work, find more meaning by treating people, not teeth, accomplish more through mastery and build great relationships. Start thinking about how to make dentistry work better for ourselves and our patients…start creating flourishing lives instead of reacting to the demands of insurance companies, irrational patients and salesmen.

TAO – The Book Installment 6 – Can’t Sing Your Way Out

April 11, 2010

Filed under: TAO - The Book — Tags: , , — Barry @ 9:34 PM

Look at Everything


When I first began to search for ways to improve my practice, I was distracted by promises of quick wealth and easy rewards. The “gurus” promised to show me how to make more money through trickery and manipulative “strategies” that would make patients say “yes” to treatment. I tried to follow their advice but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t convince myself to do things to patients that I would object to myself.

I couldn’t become someone else by modeling their behavior or style – or worse yet by copying or mimicking their vision.  I truly wanted to be (more…)

TAO the Book – Installment 3

March 15, 2010

My first book chronicled my career in dentistry. I made many mistakes in every area of dentistry. I fell down – hard. I wish I had a book like this to help guide me through those difficult times.  Dentists must become autodidactates. They must learn to educate themselves. Our dental school experience is not enough. Seminars leave us wanting for more in terms of applying our lessons. We work alone with very little guidance. Some of us are lucky enough to work with skilled mentors who are not only excellent technicians but also know how to transfer learning through great teaching. These are rare exceptions.
This is truly about growth and self-development.  If you choose to do fillings and cleanings for your entire career, so be it.  Providing meaning for patients and staff will require you to stretch outside of that world.  Dentistry is a very complex field, that requires both technical and behavioral skills.  Sometimes we feel very alone.  You will see later that I have a vision to help dentists succeed through developing the Academy of Dental Leadership. The Academy will provide services that will help dentists and staff bring all of the skills together, to help them create successful lives by providing meaningful dentistry for their patients.
I promise that if you read the lessons in this book and apply them in a slow, methodical manner, you will reach your desired outcome. This book is about transformation (more…)