The year was 1984. The Raiders won the Super Bowl, Magnum P.I was one of the most watched TV shows, an average 3 BR house in Chicago cost $123,000, Michael Jackson won 8 Grammy awards (after having his hair catch fire in a Pepsi video) but even more importantly, I got my drivers license. For a 16 year old new driver, watching the fictitious detective Thomas Magnum race around Hawaii in his Ferrari 308 GTS was a dangerous thing. I got pulled over 3 times in that first year, and as I would go on my way, the only thing better than thinking my Dodge Colt could outperform Magnum’s gleaming red Ferrari were the life lessons the detective gave as he narrated over the action.
In advice he said he would include in his character’s future memoirs was “rule 168: No matter how fast your car is, there can always be one that’s faster”. While it was impossible to believe that any car could ever outperform that gorgeous Ferrari, there, in episode 82, the bad guys caught him in a car chase and my bubble was burst. Magnum was right. There is always a faster car. I’ve never forgotten that lesson in life or in business.
I don’t care how successful your practice, how good your outcomes or how innate your business acumen, there is always a way to get better. The first step to growth is to simply accept the fact there are others out there doing it better than you.
I’ve never been interested in reading technical books on my craft. I learn by watching, so I visited dozens of offices of better dentists. I picked their brains and watched how they practiced and I learned a lot, as well as the fact that the “cool” thing they did in their office, might not be a good fit for the culture of my office (see my post “The Purple Velvet Suit Syndrome”). But business lessons are applicable across cultural boundaries and that’s what really helped me learn how to run a successful practice. (Keep an ear out for my the launch of my upcoming Podcast which will focus on interviews with successful business leaders outside of the world of orthodontics.)
So, when I bought my practice in 1996, I became a voracious reader of business books. I figured that I had mentors to teach me the clinical, but I had very few to teach me the business side. So, I went out and read every business and leadership book, DVD and tape (yep, cassettes) that I could find. I went to business school and hired every consultant I felt could help me learn. Learning about business, leadership and management became a bit of an obsession and then I came across an amazing book.
In 1998, when I was listening to basketball coach Rick Pitino’s audiobook “Success Is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overacheiving in Business and Life” (I’ve included a link to a summary HERE) step 10 was entitled: “Survive Success”. Here’s what Pitino had to say:
“Never forget what you did right. Keep going back and examining what you did to get you here. Write down your own secrets to success. Study them. If nothing else, they will remind you that it wasn’t luck or good fortune that caused your success, but an entire lifestyle of achievement.”
I couldn’t appreciate it at that time, only 6 years out of school, but man, those are great words…“an entire lifestyle of achievement.”
Then, in his final summary…
WOW!!! Who does that? Who succeeds and then reexamines their systems ways to make good even better? In today’s world, it’s common for a successful person to say “look at what I accomplished” and live off their success like an aging ballplayer who gets a huge contract based on what they accomplished, not their current work ethic.
Orthodontists tend to be drivers but when they get their practices “humming along” they often think they’ve made it and become complacent in their growth goals. But like a boat going against the current, if you’re not powering forward, you’re going backwards, and we’ve all seen those amazing practices slow down over time until their once vibrant leaders are “riding their dinosaurs into extinction” as one colleague so aptly put it.
It takes a lot of energy to make something good even better but it’ll get you to jump out of bed even faster on work days, even more excited about the day ahead of you.
So, whether you’re still in school, or a veteran with 30 years of practice under your belt, always look for ways to get better. Stop and figure out what made you successful. Learn from others both inside AND outside of your profession. “Double down” on your strengths and delegate what you don’t do well to others. But most importantly, remember Coach Pitino’s words from step 10:
“Becoming successful is a process that never ends.”
All the best,
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