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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 a positive force in the lives of my patients.
Before I found The Pankey Institute, I despaired that I would never find anyone else in dentistry who believed what I did. I was convinced that all of the teachers in my field were selling get-rich-quick schemes that might increase your bank account in the short term but over time would ruin the respect your patients had for you and the respect you had for yourself and dentistry. I turned to other fields and read every business book I could find to help me create the practice I could call my own, a practice that represented my own values.
As I learned, I realized that creating my dream practice would not be an easy task because there was no quick fix. That lesson was reinforced when I saw a commercial recently for IBM. Two aging rock stars are sitting at a long impressive executive table with the board of directors of a technology company. The head honcho of the board asks the two men, who look like members of the Grateful Dead, if they can create a jingle that will help the company get back on its feet because it had made so many business mistakes recently.

The one, who looks more like Jerry Garcia, looks shocked and says mockingly, “You think a jingle can correct that?” Then they both look at each other and laugh. It seemed everyone had their own formula for success, their own model.
I look at some of the “gurus” in dentistry who try to teach dentists metaphorical jingles to fix the real problems. And the real problems aren’t the ones you might think, for example, creating a vision or establishing a mission for the practice. Although I think these things play a role there are much simpler ways to create a practice that is reflective of the dentist’s own true value system.

The first step, of course, is defining your own values, which requires nothing less than the Socratic exercise of knowing thyself.
In other words the question I was asking was, “does success lead to happiness, or does happiness lead to success? “ Is it the practice model, or is it what is going on inside of me that creates happiness?  I believe that happiness leads to success, or that success is a by-product of our happiness.  Of course this begs for a definition of success and happiness, which I will get to in the upcoming pages.
The story I told about Willie Mays tells you something about my value system and how I found it even as a young boy. One of my strongest values is occupational satisfaction or having fun at work.  Looking forward to coming to the office or as Paul Simon once sang, “The cross is in the ballpark.” It’s important to me to work in an environment that is enjoyable.

I also highly value the concept that we are all alike at some level, and so I want my staff, my patients, and my family to have access to the self-actualized life, not just for me to have it. To be in step with these values and therefore be happy, I had to create an environment where the dentist and staff all feel comfortable and relaxed coming to work and where we all have opportunity and empowerment to meet our needs as equally as possible.
For me, providing patients with comprehensive care is helping them to reach the best dental health I can provide. Because this gives me highest satisfaction, I have chosen to practice comprehensive care. This works well for my entire practice team because we all share this satisfaction. You can see how easily your practice can takes shape once you decide what is truly important in your value system.  Deciding on comprehensive care enables me to create strategies to accomplish complete dentistry.  These strategies, of which the examination process is the key, become the foundational structure of the practice.
Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth, also a believer in Eastern philosophy asks small businessmen why they are in business?  He asks them to clarify their “primary aim.” What I came to find out at the Pankey Institute, simply put, was my primary aim…or the reason I was in business.  That reason essentially was to create a happy life for myself.

Like Henry David Thoreau once said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Is there a better way to say that our work is more about the process than the product.   And so it is with dentistry.  Is it really about teeth?
So many great sports coaches, most notably John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach at UCLA, constantly profess that winning is more about getting to the championship than about the championship.  So many philosophers have tried to express this thought.  Like Thoreau, Cervantes expressed it by saying, “The road is better than the inn.”
In this book, you will learn about a system that you can customize to your own value system. I only ask you to go through the process of knowing yourself. I don’t have a “jingle” for your practice. In my experience, those kinds of gimmicks will not make your work life any better.  I have found in my thirty plus years of practice that there is no business secret that will unlock the riches, both tangible and intangible.  There is an ebb and flow of business…a business cycle if you will.  The traits that will bring success have more to do with attitude and an optimistic mind-set than the strategies.  This book is about helping the dentist and his staff to nail down a way to create a culture that  will guide success.


  1. I think when I started to “know thyself” I stopped chasing other’s dreams, stopped feeling I was in a race with other dentists, and also started understanding the only way to attain happiness in my practice life was to make choices that were at peace with my core values.

    (BTW – I believe “inn” and “road” were switched around in the quote). Thanks for the great writing. I know from the first book that you are well read and it comes through in a very comfortable, smooth style in both books. I’m also looking forward to the second addition of “The Art of the Examination” as mine is pretty beat up.

    Comment by Wyn Steckbauer — August 6, 2010 @ 6:38 AM

  2. Wyn — you are right — the road is better than the inn…nice pick up. I’ll fix it. I believe that “Know Yourself” is a great starting point. Having self-trust and confidence vs. the opposite (self-doubt) is the beginning of making our lives and practices better.

    Comment by Barry — August 6, 2010 @ 3:29 PM

  3. Hi Wyn– The road is now really better than the inn.

    Comment by Barry — August 7, 2010 @ 10:19 PM

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