Networking to solve problems

By RDH, MPA

You are going crazy, pulling your hair out because of problems in the practice that no one in the office knows how to solve. Engagement is lacking; the doctor, staff, and patients are unhappy. Costs are rising. Revenue is down. Compliance is sketchy, and the schedule is "weak."

You are working harder for less, stretched to the limit, and therefore stressed to the max. It is beginning to feel like a time bomb that is likely to explode. You can't continue. You need new ideas or a shake-up -- something. Maybe even something bold. What to do?

If only your team could learn skills that would enable a breakthrough, it would be like winning the lottery. Everyone would feel uplifted, free, be more energized, and joyfully engaged in the office. Creative problem solving is required for a much needed change. In the past few Crafting Connections articles, I have written about two of the skills in the "discovery cycle" that will enable innovative breakthrough. Those two skills are questioning and observing. Today, I offer a third tool -- networking.

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You are the expert. You have studied dentistry for a considerable period of time. There isn't much that you haven't seen. Yet, some social scientists say that the more specialized you become, the less likely you are to give birth to innovative ideas. It is like brushing and flossing one quadrant of the mouth. You get to know that one quadrant, but the remaining teeth become diseased with decay or periodontal destruction. As experts, you box yourself in, not visiting other possibilities because you haven't seen or studied it. This limits you because you fail to investigate the whole issue.

Non-experts do not have enough expertise to box themselves in. As a result, they look elsewhere for ideas. Breakthrough ideas are often thought of by people who are not experts. They are not limited by their knowledge and will explore other possibilities. One example of limiting views was demonstrated in 1905 when "experts" at the German company that developed Novocain waged a furious national campaign to prevent dentists from initially using Novocain. The company "experts" developed the drug for doctors, not dentists.1

Most ingenious innovations, whether they are products or processes, are the expansion and improvement of what has already been created. But where do people come up with the fodder to generate or expand ideas? More often than not, these breakthroughs are triggered by other people, but not by people like you. A new train of thought is understandably sparked by the association with "different blood."

When you encounter people who are not of the same ethnic origin or who have a different background, viewpoint, education, culture, or age, you begin to develop different mental models. When you expand your mental models to look, weigh, and incorporate ideas and experiences, you begin to formulate new models for your team, and, bingo, a new solution often appears!

Daniel Pink, a leading creativity expert, says that the most creative people have lived in at least two countries, exposing them to different cultures and different ways of doing things.2 The result is they are open to new possibilities. This is supported by the fact that 40% of the largest U.S. companies are founded by immigrants or their children.3 Companies such as DuPont, Google, AT&T, Goldman Sachs, eBay, Radio Shack, Kraft, Sara Lee, Pfizer, and Procter & Gamble have all been launched by immigrants.

In fact, immigrant-founded Fortune 500 companies were responsible for more than $1.7 trillion in revenues in 2010, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy.4 These innovators have taken their knowledge, views, and paradigms from their native countries and, through networking in their adoptive country, generate ideas, products, and processes that are inventive, groundbreaking, and of benefit to the masses.

So, how can the dental team network broadly for ideas in the microclimate of the dental office? By consciously peppering your teams with people of diversity, from different cultures, backgrounds, age groups, and personal values, you will find a wealth of views that can spark fresh thinking. Engage in exchanges with your patients, invite disagreement, and don't try to have all the answers. Listen intently, openly, and with your full focus, and you will be surprised at the ideas birthed. Although they may not to be able to offer clinical expertise, they may be able to trigger answers on multiple problems and issues.

Another resource for expanding your thinking is the Internet. With technology today, we have access to creative people from all parts of the world, all walks of life, and different ways of doing things. Tapping into your online social networks can introduce you to different thinking. Today, the corporate world regularly taps into the Internet to obtain solutions to perplexing problems from large online communities through the practice of crowdsourcing.5

Yet, networking shouldn't stop there. Your personal life can be enhanced by associating with people who are different from you. Although all my personal friends have the commonality of being kind with a strong sense of social consciousness, that is the extent of their similarities.

My circle is filled with both ultraconservative and ultraliberal people who are diverse in culture, color, orientation, economic status, and viewpoints. Some are open-minded; others aren't -- yet all are opinionated. Some of my friends are artists, some are scientists, one is a quasi-hermit, and others are socialites. Some are hard to get a word in edgewise, and some are thoughtful listeners.

I adhere to my bipolar-like friend's philosophy of befriending people who are both smart and interesting. It keeps life fun and there is no question many of my best ideas are prompted by my eclectic group of friends.

Don't overlook the opportunity to add a stable of new ideas borrowed from other industries. Of particular benefit is attending learning venues in a field other than dentistry. Often, systems from another industry can be modified to the dental environment, and surprising models can be revealed. I have found great value in attending programs sponsored by school boards, the business community, and other medical professions. Make a commitment to yourself to expand your repertoire of ideas by attending alternative continuing education venues regularly.

When your team develops networks, both professionally and personally, they add one more skill to their toolbox for creative problem solving. Equipping yourself to diagnose the root causes of your office problems, paying attention to what is truly going on around you, and networking with people who are "different" will lead to that much valued and needed breakthrough.

Save your hair and your stomach lining. Be proactive in obtaining team tools to defuse the time bomb, and the tomorrow that you create will be what you envision today … successful! 

Ways to Broaden Office Networks

  1. Aim for diversity in your team
  2. Invite disagreement -- discuss, do not argue
  3. Seek both expert advice and non-expert advice
  4. Broaden your personal network
  5. Attend seminars regularly that are not in the dental field
  6. Read broadly with an open mind

References

1. Thinker Toys – ISBN-10:1-58008-733-5, Michael Michalko, Ten Speed PRESS, 2006.
2. Drive - ISBN: 978-1-59448-480-3, Daniel Pink, Riverheadbooks, 2009.
3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlenzner/2013/04/25/40-largest-u-s-companies-founded-by-immigrants-or-their-children/
4. immigrant-founded Fortune 500 companies employed
5. Best Practices Are Stupid – ISBN -978-1-59184-385-6, Stephen M. Shapiro, Penguin Group, 2011.

DOROTHY GARLOUGH, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change in both the dental and corporate worlds. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at dgarlough@innovationadvancement.com .
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