Lifelong Learning Part 1: Change & Process 

March 22, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

Learning begins from our first moment of awareness as our eyes open and we have a response to something external to us that is brand new. That experience and all the ones that follow until the moment awareness leaves us to shape our reactions to and our actions in the world. 

Experiential Learning 

The brain is a dynamic and ever-changing organ, constantly adapting to new experiences and knowledge. 

When our youngest daughter Katie was a child, I was cooking dinner one night–my turn–and Katie was sitting at the island where the stove was. I turned around to get something from the cupboard and heard a loud inhale followed by a whimper. Upon turning quickly, I saw her move her hand rapidly behind her back. No more sounds came forth, but I saw a tear and I asked her what was wrong. She said in a wavering voice, “Nothing,” and then looking at the stove burners, “Mom told me those were HOT and never to touch them.”  

I gently took her hand from behind her and saw the blisters rapidly forming on her fingers. She started crying and said to me, “Please don’t tell mom.” I’m certain she never felt the need to verify the information her mother had given her again. THAT is learning. 

All of us have experiences like that every day. Some are memorable and become part of us, embedded in a manner as yet not fully understood inside our brains for almost instant access. Some “learning” seems to fade quickly or never even get recorded. I “touched” a lot of biochemistry information over the years without burning much of anything into my brain. Maybe I should have been touching the stove at the same time. Learning is not simply having an experience of something and then being able to view the recording later.  

The Definition of Learning 

In nearly all of the definitions I have located in my research I see that CHANGE and PROCESS are prominent parts of learning. For example: 

  • A change in disposition or capability that persists over time and is not simply ascribable to processes of natural growth. 
  • Relatively permanent change in a person’s knowledge or behavior due to experience. 
  • A transformative process of taking in information that, when internalized and mixed with what we’ve experienced previously, changes what we know and what we do. 

Choice & Focus 

My personal experiences have shown me that a big part of lifelong learning is what you believe about it and how you embrace it. It’s driven by some measure of choice and focus. 

Cheryl and I have sought out new ideas in dentistry wherever they took us. One of my friends in dental school, a wonderful man whom Cheryl and I still hold close, took a different path. Sometime around the 10th anniversary of our graduation we were visiting, and he told us that he had been able to get all the continuing education he needed without traveling.  

I discovered that his feelings around need and learning as it pertained to dentistry meant satisfying the requirements to stay current with licensure. He is NOT a bad dentist, but like many of the dentists I have come to know in the last 48 years, a hunger for dental learning changed once school was finished.  

A Drive for Learning 

I am reminded of one of the most original and influential thinkers on the creativity process, Robert Fritz, who believed you can create your life in the same way an artist develops a work of art. He said, “If you limit yourself only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want and all that is left is a compromise.” 

As a philosopher and scientist-physician, Dr. L. D. Pankey intentionally observed processes and their results (change) with the goal of becoming better at helping others. The embodiment of compassion, he was highly curious and actively sought ways to alleviate the sufferings and misfortunes of patients and colleagues. He traveled long distances to learn from others’ experiences. He inspired others to know themselves, their patients, and their work on a continuous road of mastery. As a lifelong “leisure” learner, he was interested in a wide range of subjects outside of dentistry as well. Through reflection, he often discovered he could apply this outside learning to his work. 

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Gary DeWood, DDS

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The Four Universal Promises of Leadership – Part 4

July 27, 2020 Edwin "Mac" McDonald DDS

In previous parts of this series, we looked at a definition of leadership, the commitment it requires, and the first two of four universal promises of leadership. The first promise was the promise to set a clear direction and create meaningful work for the organization you lead. The second was the promise to engage all stakeholders and hold them accountable for performance. Now we will look at promise three.

The Third Universal Promise

You will ensure your strategies, systems and processes facilitate focus and execution.

Selecting the strategies, systems and processes that serve your vision best is a leadership function. Execution of the systems is a management function involving the entire team, including you, the dentist.

Strategies are designed to fit your destination. Strategies, systems and processes efficiently channel actions into results. The ongoing results create feedback for refining your focus, systems and processes. This promise of leadership is about keeping the team (and yourself) focused on execution and minimizing distractions.

Focus Versus Distractions

Practice owners are flooded with messages that distract them. The entire dental industry targets them with promotions for things, services, and behaviors. They are told many versions of what they should buy and should do in order to succeed. Other distractions come in the form of emotions and self-doubt that become barriers to living out their dreams. Those “should” messages, emotions and self-doubt serve as continuous distractions from everything that is important.

Leaders sometimes break the third universal promise of leadership by:

  • Not providing or managing their critical resources.
  • Allowing distractions that diminish their focus or lead to inaction.
  • Ineffective or inadequate processes.
  • Becoming addicted to the process rather than results.

Here are two examples:

  • One of those distracting messages leads you to buy the latest and greatest technology. It uses up your capital resources, and you then hesitate to purchase the fundamental instruments, equipment and materials that your organization needs to perform at its best. If you were to live this all over again, you would have made a different decision. If you are clear that your strategies and budget are designed to get you to your destination, you can discipline yourself to refrain from such impulse purchases in the future.
  • You read an article or talk to a colleague who is trying the latest hottest strategy for practice building. It is in conflict with everything that you have said that you believe in and hope for. You wonder if you are doing the right thing. Your doubt leads to team confusion and disillusion. This is getting you nowhere. Now you find you have to go back and clarify your vision, mission and values to reset your strategies, systems and processes as aligned steppingstones to your destination. With determination and hope, you can and will refocus and get back on track!

Keep Hope Alive

Breaking promises is exhausting and energy stealing. It builds resentment and degrades hope.

Our organizational brand and our effectiveness as a leader are about the promises that we make and keeping them. I firmly believe the first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive…the hope that we are finding our way to a better place. That place is the destination we call our vision!

Until next week and Part 5

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Edwin "Mac" McDonald DDS

Dr. Edwin A. McDonald III received his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Economics from Midwestern State University. He earned his DDS degree from the University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston. Dr. McDonald has completed extensive training in dental implant dentistry through the University of Florida Center for Implant Dentistry. He has also completed extensive aesthetic dentistry training through various programs including the Seattle Institute, The Pankey Institute and Spear Education. Mac is a general dentist in Plano Texas. His practice is focused on esthetic and restorative dentistry. He is a visiting faculty member at the Pankey Institute. Mac also lectures at meetings around the country and has been very active with both the Dallas County Dental Association and the Texas Dental Association. Currently, he is a student in the Naveen Jindal School of Business at the University of Texas at Dallas pursuing a graduate certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching. With Dr. Joel Small, he is co-founder of Line of Sight Coaching, dedicated to helping healthcare professionals develop leadership and coaching skills that improve the effectiveness, morale and productivity of their teams.

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