By Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA
Honeybees are considered highly developed insects with a society that is ordered, complex, and synergistic. Bees are incredibly efficient, and the hive has a sophisticated hierarchy.1 The queen bee has the sole job of laying the eggs while worker bees clean the hive, feed the larva, or fan the hive to keep it cool. In addition, the drones live short lives after mating with the queen, a tough job but somebody has to do it! Bees can forage for miles and manage to find the hive by orientating themselves to the sun. They pollinate a third of our food, and make and store their own food.
Yet, if you place honeybees in a glass jar and put the jar next to a window with the opening away from the window, they will exhaust themselves and die. They are programmed to seek the light and will not experiment trying to find the opening.
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Do you see similarities in your practice? For a while now, many clinicians in the office are seeing holes in their schedules -- big holes. There are too many days where your schedule falls apart with last minute cancellations. In reality, you are booked for only half a day.
Fortunately, you are not working on a commission. But realistically, how much longer can this go on before hours or even days are cut? It is affecting everyone in the office. Morale is low, some members of the staff are applying cutthroat tactics to make others appear less competent, and even the funding for necessary supplies is being cut. The office no longer finances continuing education, and your disposable income is being affected. It is an infection and the malaise is spreading. Something needs to shift and you know that, in order to flourish, a radical change is required.
Fortunately, there are means available that can help you escape this glass prison. Over the past few months, I have written on the tools available through the "discovery cycle." You have learned how to gather data by:
- In-depth and poignant questions
- Being an astute observer
- Bouncing ideas off of others who have a different perspective
- Incubating the information
Some ideas and possible solutions have come to you that may provide results, but you are not sure. Now is the time to experiment. Experimentation is a step in the discovery cycle that is imperative to innovation. It's the best way to answer our what–if questions as we continue to search for solutions.
There are three ways to experiment.
Try out new experiences -- The discovery driven professional understands that learning might not have an obvious application, but understands it could have benefits in the future. In other words, what you implement today may not have immediate results, and you need to recognize that you are creating tomorrow by what you do today. As clinicians in today's economically challenged environment, experimenting with value-added services for your patients might help provide a solution. Perhaps you could make follow-up phone calls to see how their dental experience was and how it can be improved. You might discover that videos on your patients' explicit comments and home care are well received. Maybe you need a more flexible schedule or inventive ways for people to book conveniently.
Diversity of experience -- Expanding your skills allows divergent thinking. You can draw on a greater number of ideas when you have a broader experience to make associations. Think of it as a T–shape in terms of expertise, with a deep knowledge in dentistry and a wide variety of knowledge in other fields, perhaps human resources, marketing, technology, writing, or a multitude of other skills. This will enable you to boost your capacity to look at a problem from a variety of angles and perspectives and help create ideas for experimenting.2 Perhaps with a creative marketing plan, you will attract new families into your practice. Cause marketing, linking marketing to a community cause, has been shown to be a win/win for everyone -- the office, the patient, and the community.
Test new ideas through pilots -- You may want to look at the systems in the office and tear them apart. Why are patients waiting exorbitant periods between having had their periodontal therapy performed and having the dentist examine them? Why can't the patient book their one-hour laser appointment within a week of their regular periodontal therapy appointment? There may be gaping holes in the schedule, but they are not sufficient or optimum. It may be time to experiment and block off specific times for continued care.
Experimenters love to deconstruct products, processes, and ideas to understand how they work. Michael Dell of Dell computers got an Apple II computer on his sixteenth birthday and immediately disassembled it. But he put it back together and enhanced it through a variety of experiments. He installed more memory, disk drives, faster modems, and bigger monitors. He turned this hobby into a business by customizing computers for his customers.
You won't know the results of your experiments right away, and you need to understand that failure is a part of innovating new processes. One famous inventor, Thomas Edison, is said to have experimented with the filament for the light bulb 10,000 times before arriving upon a solution. Abraham Lincoln experienced failure and was defeated in campaigns 26 times before he found the winning formula for public office.
Change directions when necessary. Stop pursuing an idea when the experiment suggests a lack of viability or desirability. Experiments that are done well will deliver results on your focused initiatives, but it won't be overnight.3
It has been found that the discovery cycle lessens the need for more experiments because you gain insights to move forward. The bottom line is that if you ask salient questions, observe salient situations, talk to more diverse people, and incubate the data, you will likely need to run fewer experiments.
Recognize that your experiments are only a failure if you fail to learn. The world's leading innovation design company, IDEO, has the slogan "fail often to succeed." This drives home the understanding that not everything will succeed, and there are inherent risks in trying something new. If you glean why you have failed and fail quickly while gaining insight on a next project, it has been a worthwhile exercise. Building curiosity and inquisitiveness into risk allows you to recognize failure as a vehicle for learning. You have to expect that every idea won't fly but be willing to massage the idea into a new offering. By remaining flexible in your thinking, you will recognize when a new path is taking a wrong direction and be willing to diverge in another direction. If you can do this, unlike the honeybee, you will discover new avenues to success.
2. Dyer J, Gregersen H, Christensen CM. The Innovator's DNA. ISBN: 978142213481, Barnes & Nobel – 2011.
3. Shapiro SM. Best Practices Are Stupid. ISBN 9781591843856, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org .
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