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What dentists can learn from librarians

Oct. 28, 2022
Make yourself accessible. Really listen to your patients. These tips and others gleaned from the library will help you have an edge on your competition.

Librarians amaze me. More than expert cataloguers, these wise people can navigate caverns of collected knowledge with a human touch that even Siri can’t imitate. The New York Public Library hosted Title Quest in 2018, a contest for librarians to demonstrate their prowess for locating books using only a few details from the vague recollections of readers eager to find books whose titles eluded them.

 For two hours, a group of librarians pored over clues submitted by library patrons from across the city and beyond. “A novel with a horse named Ophelia,” read one submission. The librarian sleuths identified it as Unbroken by Jessie Haas. Another requested a book “about a school with a dangerous contest.” They deciphered this as the plot to Panic by Lauren Oliver.

 Are you impressed? You’ll learn the difficulty of their feats by typing the clues into a search engine. It doesn’t work so well. The task required the delicate perceptions of well-versed minds. As if that weren’t enough, today’s librarians are just as adept at navigating the internet. They can lead someone directly to the most reputable websites for a particular inquiry while steering them clear of dubious sources. In effect, they’re prepared for nearly any question, whether it’s how to host a dinner party or where to turn when faced with addiction.

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What dentists can learn from librarians 

Business owners stand to benefit greatly by taking a page out of the librarian playbook. My financial advisory business is no exception. Clients know me for my near photographic memory when it comes to retrieving obscure but pertinent information. Unfortunately for me, while that competitive advantage served me well for some 30 years, it’s become all but irrelevant with the advent of the internet. 

So, why do my clients still count on my business if they have access to the same information I do? Simple—they stick with me for the same reason we need librarians. I navigate the infinite sea of data better than my clients can by themselves, and I do it better and more reliably than the competition. In other words, I’m paid not simply for information, but for my discerning wisdom. 

In many ways, the information age has leveled the playing field. But I don’t want a level playing field; I want an advantage, and so should you! “Take the job that no one else wants” is an axiom in the corporate world on how to get ahead. The prime openings have long lines of hopefuls. Good luck landing such a choice role even with years of experience. The real trick? Look for the slew of leadership positions available in sectors nobody wants to touch. That’s where the gold is, and the line to nab it is practically nonexistent. 

How to ensure the upper hand 

As a dentist in private practice, you’ve eschewed the ranks of the corporate world. But make no mistake; the same rules apply, particularly if you want a downhill advantage, a definitive edge that makes it easier for you to win the race. What are the two characteristics that ensure an upper hand? Accessibility and receptivity. 

The first one should be a given. After all, it doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to answer a phone, and yet it sets me apart from the competition. In the ’80s, I lugged one of those monstrous brick cell phones around with me. Not only was it heavy, but it cost me $4,000 a month. Crazy, right? But the beauty of it was that nobody else had one. People flocked to my business because I responded instantly when my competitors relied on secretaries, and then they often let 24 hours lapse before they returned calls. 

Now everyone has a cell phone, so I’ve lost that particular leg up. However, unlike my peers, I have no qualms about taking calls when I’m on vacation. I love what I do that much. In fact, I still have a loyal client who chose me specifically because I immediately returned his call many years ago while relaxing on a beach in Maui. 

As for the second ace up my sleeve, I pride myself on my listening skills. It’s not enough to simply hear out my clients. I make it a point to ask thought provoking questions and then really tune in to their answers, often taking notes in the process. It almost seems counterintuitive. Advisors are natural talkers who love spewing advice. Unfortunately for their clients, they can’t provide actual wisdom if they aren’t fully receptive toward those who seek their counsel. 

Dentistry is no different. How well do you know your patients? Why is it important to get to know them when you’re the expert in the room? For one, treatment paths vary according to numerous factors, including their particular ailment. Knowing the individual needs of the people sitting in your chair goes a long way in their determination to return. It’s no different from my business. The solutions I provide are as varied as the personalities who seek out my wisdom. 

Whether you’re managing a library, a financial firm, or a private dental practice, success requires wisdom. Advice is so cheap these days that it might as well be free. Much of the time, it’s not of any value to you because it doesn’t consider your unique set of circumstances. Know what you’re paying for when you seek proper guidance for yourself and your business. It takes sound wisdom to formulate a clear path. All my clients have one thing in common: they innately know that they can be who they want to become, and they can go wherever they want. They know this because they have someone by their side willing to lead them every step of the way. 

Author’s note: If you’re looking for additional guidance, my staff and I want to hear from you. Call us directly at (973) 422-9140 or email us at [email protected].  

Editor's note: This article appeared in the October 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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