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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.





  1. Barry when I read you stuff I wish we were next door neighbors. Your Garden metaphor is so applicable to our practice and I sometimes question my dogged determination to continue in this philosophy. Then I consider the alternatives and I calm down. Thanks Barry. Jim

    Comment by James (Jim) Craig DDS — August 18, 2014 @ 1:18 PM

  2. Thanks Jim—I always think in metaphors. The 1000 True fans is so appliocable to every business…we need “members” and “subscribers.” Real fans (remember Ken Blanchard’s book Raving Fans from years ago?). I find it amazing that the focus–even among those who know, is one the “quick hits” and the big cases. After building my “garden” for so many years it’s wonderful not having that pressure to sell everybody who comes in. That’s the biggest reward.

    Comment by Barry — August 18, 2014 @ 1:27 PM

  3. I’ve been pondering this for awhile…. the need to keep cultivating the 1000 fans is what’s important, not necessarily achieving 30 new patients a month. But first it’s necessary to understand who your fans are! Or who you want your fans to be!

    Comment by Doug Sandquist — August 18, 2014 @ 2:31 PM

  4. Great point Doug…and really the key to the whole approach. Most dental practices focus on constantly getting more and more new patients when the ones that already exist in the practice are the most important ones. It costs so much in time, energy and money to bring in more “suspects” when most practices have enough. One thousand true fans is also a metaphor…honestly I have been working that model for years.

    Comment by Barry — August 18, 2014 @ 3:32 PM

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