2018 will represent the beginning of my thirty-fourth year of practice, and it represents a lot of time and experiences as well. Over this time, I have had opportunities to both be student and teacher. And it all began with being brought up within a certain system – a dental school learning system which had a certain philosophy and approach toward the transfer of knowledge and testing of competency. My initial experiences occurred at the University of Michigan just like my father and my uncle – his brother – before him.
Each dental school comes up with its own system of education – but to a large degree most are quite similar. So as a community, most of us have had similar experiences with slightly different highs and lows. Our similar educational experiences has much to do with the creation and maintenance of our professional culture – a shared set of thinking patterns as well as assumptions, and feelings about the work that we do and the way things are trending for us on a personal level.
These experiences and feelings are sometimes paradoxical, as some learnings are still valid while others have become counterproductive or significantly outdated. So the challenge soon becomes continuously trying to figure out the current best way to do things – and the best way to think about things. Because if we fail to do this -and often- we can easily become a slave to our old beliefs without even realizing it.
So how do we best approach this challenge? Adopting a concept from Zen Buddhism known as ‘shoshin’, which means “beginners mind” is helpful. Shoshin refers to letting go of our preconceptions and focusing on the creation of an attitude of openness when studying a subject.
Shoshin is helpful because there is a danger which can acccompany expertise, as becoming an expert in a given area can easily lead us to mental laziness and cognitive bias; it can block us from considering information which disagrees with what has worked well for us in the past… it can rather insidiously undermine our ability to grow and adapt to the rapidly changing knowledge, technology, and marketplace which surrounds us.
The concept of shoshin is best when used with our entire Care Team through the creation of a learning organization – represented by a practice culture which encourages innovative thinking, respecting and supporting one another and strategically collaborating to create new outcomes, test out application of new knowledge, and forge new directions.
Three leadeship strategies which will support shoshin in your practice are:
1. Let go of your need to be the primary source of knowledge about everything in the practice. Micromanagment kills creative innovation. Instead, encourage each team member to become a recognized entrepreneurial expert in the areas of their strongest knowledge and interest. Find ways to funnel resources to them in a timely fashion to suppprt their learning and growth. And find ways to empower them, encourage them, and to get out of their way.
2. Let go of your need to come out on top of every discussion (this applies to working with patients as well). If you are having a conversation and someone makes a statement that you disagree with, try releasing the urge to correct them. Instead approach the topic from a place of curiosity, “Isn’t that intesting – can you share more with me about why you feel this way?” Such an approach opens up the opportunity for us to learn something new, and it may even cause them to learn something new as they explain an issue that they may have previously approached too dogmatically in the past.
3. Assume you are an ignorant person – because you truly are about many things- and particularly about how others feel, about how others come to make certain priorities in their lives, and about what motivates them. The key here is to recognize this truth, remain humble, and therefore discipline ourselves to listen carefully for meaning when others are speaking.
If you approach running your practice with a beginner’s mind, you will not only learn more quickly, but you will make fewer inaccurate assumptions, and therefore make fewer mistakes. And you will also find that your relationships with others will deepen and become more and more effective over time.
Shoshin is a great great leadership mindset, as Bob Dylan tried to teach us as well, “ah – but I was so much older than, I’m younger than that now”.
Paul A Henny, DDS
Thought Experiments LLC, ©2017
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