Seven Orthodontic Toasts #1 Our Practices
In 2003, Russell Crowe starred in a movie called Master and Commander which I’ve always enjoyed. He’s Jack Aubrey, the captain of a ship (HMS Surprise) during a war between the UK and France about 200 years ago. What I didn’t realise when I saw it first time was the amount of leadership lessons in it that would come back to me when I operated my own practice, Swords Orthodontics, years later – I’ll probably blog on those another time "Leadership Lessons From Lucky Jack" sounds about right, but it looks like a million people have thought of that before me.
When I saw it in the cinema one thing that resonated in my mind were the toasts that Captain Aubrey delivers every night in the officers’ cabin at dinner. It immediately reminded me of a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh a few years before – there was an unusual notice on the wall in the officers’ mess there which had stuck in the back of my mind (probably because it was a list and I’m very susceptible to lists!) and here was Russell Crowe reciting it in practice (I wouldn’t actually say “in reality”).
I can talk later about other similarities between a warship and an orthodontic practice, but last week I was sitting in an empty practice, and I thought again about the toasts and saw the sentiment behind them apply to Swords Orthodontics and the practices like it around the country and around the world.
The First Orthodontic Toast: Our Practices
In various navies this is the ominous “To Our Ships At Sea”.
Over the years this modified to “Our Ships” but ultimately when a ship leaves harbour it heads into some degree of uncertainty. Civilian or naval, aircraft carrier or car ferry, the ship has a mission ahead of it, a destination, but what it might encounter along the way is unknown. It certainly should be prepared to deal with the expected things and ideally it is prepared to deal with most of the unusual things that sometimes happen and can be prepared for, and then there’s the completely unexpected things that can’t be prepared for.
- Things we routinely prepare for: “known knowns”. The ship should have enough food, water, fuel to get to the destination. The orthodontic practice should have the materials brackets and wires and gloves and masks and plastic cups and tissues etc.
- Things we can prepare for even though they don’t often happen: “known unknowns”. Sometimes a ship drives into an iceberg - I saw a film about it once. If you don’t have enough lifeboats that is much more of a problem than if you do, but after it’s happened you learn to prepare for the next time the problem happens. In an orthodontic practice, sometimes it’s a once in a life time event like the iceberg - like a medical emergency so you prepare for it by equipping, learning, training and practising. Sometimes it’s a regular occurrence like a patient breaks a bracket from their braces. We don’t know who this will happen to, or when, but we know we’ll see several of these every week so we get good at dealing with these (in the same way as Accident and Emergency teams get good at dealing with medical emergencies).
- Things we don’t prepare for because we don’t know we need to prepare for them: “unknown unknowns”. Sometimes a ship gets attacked by pirates – I saw a few films about this, Captain Phillips at one end and Captain Jack Sparrow at the other. If your ship is in pirate-infested waters then this is something you prepare for, but if it’s the ferry across Strangford Lough, or from Larne to Stranraer then chances are you’re not ready to deal with it. For my practice this has ranged from a power cut to a global pandemic. We’re not done with the pandemic, but we did learn from the power cut so we’re ready for the next one. I hope that as a planet, never mind as a practice, we learn from the pandemic to deal with the next one.
Over time, the more of the third category we encounter, the more they become part of the second category and we prepare for them even though they won’t always happen. But first time around when you encounter the unknown unknowns, what gets you through them is values, skills and abilities of your people.
And that’s another toast.
But for today, raise your glasses….