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7 Powerful Steps to Thrive out of Failure


irk Behrendt is a practice performance coach, international speaker and author. He has invested his professional life studying elite practices in dentistry and the leadership that guides them. His extremely friendly demeanor and highly entertaining presentation style paired with his keen insights consistently captivate his audiences. His presentation at the 2011 Symposium was no different.


Frameworks Frameworks are the structure and systems that guide our lives. Most endeavors begin

Energy Energy is incredibly important to our business. Dentistry is inherently stressful and can quickly drain our energy. Within the Seattle Study Club it is very common for us to commit to excellence, but if we don’t maintain our energy we will be miserable, even in our excellence. Kirk shared three steps to reclaiming your personal energy, which came from a successful clinician he works with who, despite his advanced age, seems to have endless energy and good health. He maintains we need to compensate for the stress of practicing dentistry with one hour of exercise each day consisting of 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of resistance training and eating healthy 90 percent of the time. Our lives are all quite busy and many of us may believe we can’t find one hour to ourselves each day. Kirk had everyone repeat after him, saying if they couldn’t find an hour to themselves each day they would promise to stop lying to themselves. It was a humorous way to point out the fact that we all find time to do the important things. We need to make the right choices. We each have limited capacity. Overloading this capacity breeds failure. When we are


Kirk opened his presentation by talking about the speed with which we live. Each year seems to go by so much faster than the previous one. The challenge is to be more focused so we can keep up with everything. Seth Godin, an expert in marketing, predicts the speed, rate and size of the information that comes at us each day will double in the next 18 months. Our ability to focus on what is important will determine if we thrive or fail. We need to keep the answers to the following core questions in mind—why am I here, why am I doing what I’m doing and what is this all about? We all believe people can’t see what’s going on in our brains, but how we think is actually quite visible externally. How we see ourselves has a great deal to do with how the world sees us. Our brain controls our success. Kirk illustrated this by relating it to two dogs living in our brain that speak to us each day. The good dog tells us it is going to be a great day. Our patients are going to accept our treatment plans and everything is going to go smoothly. The bad dog tells us what we are doing isn’t going to work; the patient isn’t going to accept treatment and questions why we went into dentistry in the first place. These two dogs compete everyday. The one we feed will win. We need to feed the good dog, stay focused on the important things and eliminate the self-doubt.

relatively simply. As we dig deeper, processes become more complicated. For example, the masters of dentistry take incredibly complex concepts and break them down into simple frameworks. When you get back to simplicity, you realize very complex tasks can be accomplished. The greatest teachers in dentistry have the ability to share these frameworks with other clinicians. Success comes down to a few simple disciplines practiced every day. It’s not a magic formula. Failure, on the other hand, is a few errors in judgment practiced every day. Failure’s most dangerous attribute is its subtlety. We aren’t going to let someone drag us off course, but we may inadvertently allow someone to nudge us off course. Frameworks help keep us focused on our own personal why. Life is a series of problems. With discipline we can solve many of the issues that come along.


Symposium 2011: Mr. Kirk Behrendt

beyond our capacity things begin to break—we can’t remember things, we don’t think clearly and we become dangerous to others. Most of us simply don’t give our best energy to the things that matter most. We waste energy on things that don’t matter and when it comes time to address the important things, like family, we are wiped out.

Seek Stress

To thrive out of failure, we need to surround ourselves with the right people. Having the right staff members in our practices can make dentistry a joy. Kirk’s key to finding the right people is to focus on more than just skills in a certain task when we are hiring staff. He suggests telling new hires three key things about working in our practices.

We live in an avoidance culture. It is very tempting to avoid life’s difficulties. Kirk encouraged attendees to actively seek the good kind of stress. By systematically exposing ourselves to more stress followed by adequate periods of recovery, we can build capacity. An important point easily missed is that recovery is not a reward—it is a requirement for success. When we seek out stress and then relax we are able to come back stronger.


Everyone needs to bring a great attitude to the office. We all have lives outside of work that can sometimes be messy, but when we are together we have a job to do with the people we serve, so everyone is required to bring a great attitude.


We are each expected to perform our task well.

Eustress Eustress is a psychological term referring to the positive form of stress that helps us grow. Kirk calls this green stress. It is the positive stress we experience leading up to an important sporting event, rigorous exercise or the creativity we experience right before a deadline. This good kind of stress enables us to achieve our maximum performance and increase our output. Eustress allows us to live life on offense—pushing forward, scoring points and being proactive. This “green” stress compensates for the other stresses.


Every staff member must believe in the practice. This is a huge component of why we work together. The entire team needs to believe in the treatment we are providing to our patients.

Distress This is what Kirk calls orange stress. When most of us talk about stress this is what we mean. Our situation is misaligned with our expectations, causing a negative impact on our lives. Hyper-stress Hyper-stress is very dangerous for dentists. This red stress takes place when excessive volumes of stress exist. When we live in an environment of hyper-stress for extended periods of time, our tissues age at a cellular level, our immune systems can malfunction, cardiovascular disasters and even strokes can take place.

Surround Yourself With the Right People

As clinicians we need to invest in our team. Many clinicians are reluctant to invest in staff in case they decide to leave the practice. Kirk told Symposium attendees he had a better question. What if we don’t invest and they do stay? It may seem counterintuitive, but Kirk recommends putting our patients second and our team first. Many dentists say they always put their patients first, but it isn’t realistic or even possible to truly put each of our patients “first.” When our team is first, they are able to make our patients feel important and valued in a way we never could on our own.

Create Margin This is the difference between our limit and our load. Some of us are living right up to our limit. Many dentists create a practice that doesn’t match who they are. It’s easy to see what other practices are doing and feel the need to be doing the same things even if it doesn’t match our framework. It’s important to remember the why, stick to our framework and maintain margin to be able to deal with life’s inevitable surprises.

The first half of our life is about success, but the second is about significance. It’s about what we have done in our lives and how have we contributed to the people who are important to us. Dentistry offers a lot of flexibility. We can choose where to practice. We can choose what hours to work. We can choose who we want to work with. We can choose who we want to work on. Dentistry is an amazing profession. We can build our work around our life. Our business should serve our life, not the other way around. Life goes fast. We don’t know how fast our journey is going to be.

Conclusion A noble failure happens when we tried, we had the information, we did our best and it just didn’t work out. An inept failure is having the information, but repeating the same mistakes over and over again. We can live with noble failure. We can’t live with inept failure. This life affords us great choices and with the Seattle Study Club we have amazing opportunities to create significance in the lives that are important to us. Don’t waste this amazing opportunity. Kirk left the audience with a final thought— paraphrasing his favorite quote: The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. —Michelangelo


7 Powerful Steps to Thrive Out of Failure Keynote Speaker Kirk Behrendt