Thirty Years of Dentistry: The Roller Coaster Treadmill
The Roller Coaster Treadmill is my new favorite business illustration of all time, probably because even I can draw it. I just fell into it one day. Responding to questions in a workshop, this illustration emerged. There is so much in here about how dental practices succeed or fail, and how the dentists can get off the treadmill.
First, let’s look at what thirty years of owning a dental practice looks all too often.
The Roller Coaster Treadmill can be read a dozen ways. No patients—too many patients; not enough production—too much production; not enough staff—too many staff; recession—growth economy, etc. One thing that never shows up on the Roller Coaster Treadmill is time; we never have plenty. It’s always never enough.
The overriding theme here is that we’re riding a roller coaster where most of this is happening to us, not because of us. We’re largely reacting to the world around us. And the game, after thirty years of this nonsense, is to hopefully be at the top of one of those peaks for a year or two at the end, so we can sell our job to some fool coming out of dental school who will do it all over again. Is it any wonder we’re tired?
Here’s what dentistry should look like after thirty years.
The overriding theme of this illustration is that life and business are not happening to this dentist or practice leader, they are proactively taking charge. How do you take charge when it’s so average to just react? This is the most important question from these illustrations, and we can illustrate it by juxtaposing them on top of each other. And the answer is, it’s about how you make decisions.
How Do You Make Decisions—Short-Term or Long-Term?
This is something that has only become clear to me in the last few years, even though it has been obvious and in my face for thirty-five or so. And that is this—people who make most of their business decisions based on short-term gain will almost always remain hostages to their practices and rarely taste true wealth (time + money). But people who make most or all of their decisions based on the long term will eventually, if not quickly, almost always find their freedom (wealth).
My Irish friend John Heenan asked me this great, related question a few years ago in his lyrical Belfast brogue: “Chuck, are you making decisions based on where you are, or on where you want to be?” It’s a life-changing question, because if you make decisions based on where you are, where do you think you will be next year? Welcome to the thirty-year treadmill.
Let’s overlay the Roller Coaster Treadmill with what a practice should look like—two very different thirty-year experiences. We’ll see how making decisions based on short-term gain vs. long-term gain results in business hostages or business freedom.
First, what do you see that is the same? The answer is that both practices experience the same issues, especially early on. Most successful practice owners and practice leaders didn’t get a pass, get lucky, etc. They simply made their decisions differently, based on long-term gain. Practice leaders who protect the present might have fewer issues up front, but they mortgage their future freedom to protect the establishment of a thirty-year treadmill.
Treadmill Guy vs. Freedom Guy
What is the difference? If you start with the end in mind (Stephen Covey was right), and you focus on that, you make decisions based on long-term gain and create a much different result. While Treadmill Guy is worrying about tactical things (I have a lease to pay), Freedom Guy is already thinking strategically about what he or she is creating. That leads Treadmill Guy to focus on the Tyranny of the Urgent, while Freedom Guy focuses on the Priority of the Important—figuring out from the start how to build a practice that makes money when they are not around.
Treadmill Guy is reactive and employs the Random Hope strategy of Dentistry - “I’m going to work really hard, and I hope something good happens.” Freedom Guy believes he can actually affect his future and plans very intentionally to use his practice to live out his Ideal Lifestyle. Sadly, Treadmill Guy’s focus on short-term gain has him seeing expenses, while Freedom Guy is seeing investments.
The result? Treadmill Guy is busy for thirty years making money, surviving, and repeating the same exhausting patient-centric activities for decades on the way to retirement, while Freedom Guy is living a life of Significance and Wealth on the way to freedom.
So I’ll ask again, because it’s a question that will lead to vastly different outcomes: are you making decisions based on where you are, or on where you want to be? How you answer is the first step in determining which track you’ll take. We’ll talk more next time about how to make freedom a reality for you, the practice leaders, and everyone who works hard for the practice and your patients.