The Common Denominator of Success by Albert E.N. Gray
“The common denominator of success — the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful — lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.”
The Common Denominator of Success is as timely and inspirational as it was when it was first delivered in 1940. Though it was written for life insurance professionals, its message is equally well-suited to dentists, or anyone in any field of endeavour who seeks success in their professional, personal or spiritual lives.
An example outside of dentistry: If I want to be in good physical shape, I should do the things that overweight, physically unfit people don’t like to do — eat sensibly and with restraint, exercise a lot, and never routinely indulge and overeat or wake up hungover and useless.
“In other words, a secret and proven recipe for success is to exercise some of the actions that ineffectual people truly hate to do.”
Many years ago, I was brought face to face with the disturbing realisation that I was trying to supervise and direct the efforts of a large number of dentists who were trying to achieve success, without knowing myself what the secret of success really was.
The problem here is still almost everywhere I look in postgraduate education. Teachers just try to produce clones of themselves, as to allow any other result is too much for their egos to consider viable: “Do it my way, or face ridicule and derision.”
This lack of understanding naturally brought me face to face with the further realisation that, regardless of what other knowledge I might have brought to my job, I was definitely lacking in what could possibly be the most important knowledge of all.
Of course, like most of us, I had been brought up on the popular belief that the secret of success is hard work, good A levels, and attending lectures on various topics; but then I had seen so many men work hard without succeeding and so many men succeed without working hard that I had become convinced that hard work was not the real secret, even though in most cases it might be one of the requirements.
Don’t get me wrong, I work hard and admire others who do too.
So, I decided to understand the subject inside out. To decipher the literature in depth, it’s like it became part of me.
The first thing noted was that the success wasn’t determined by what the winners were doing but rather why they were doing it.
I realised further that the secret for which I was searching must apply to every definition of success — I was looking for the common denominator of success.
And because that is exactly what I was looking for, that is exactly what I found.
The Common Denominator of Success starts with the Why of what you are doing; and then it moves on to systems to make it happen: your thoughts, efforts and energy need to focus on the systems to achieve goals, not the goals themselves. The systems should be designed for success.
Another example: Raheel has subconsciously built success systems into his life at so many levels. All clinical concerns and outcomes are documented, discussed, processed and overcome. He doesn’t focus on being perfect, he focusses on improving himself on the endless road to perfection. Every bloody day he discusses case after case, wanting to dissect and challenge concepts and techniques to cross examine me and himself and conventional thinking. And he comes up with ideas to ‘just throw out there’ that are so good I use them myself the next day.
He is lucky that this is just DNA-deep in him, to relentlessly build systems for success. You can do it too.
One thing that failures hate to do is show their weaknesses to EVERYONE and ask for help.
But this common denominator of success is so big, so powerful, and so vitally important to your future and mine that I’m not going to make a speech about it. I’m just going to ‘lay it on the line’ in words so simple that everyone can understand them: The common denominator of success — the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful — lies in the fact that they formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.
It’s just as true as it sounds and it’s just as simple as it seems. You can hold it up to the light, you can put it to the acid test, and you can kick it around until it’s worn out, but when you are all through with it, it will still be the common denominator of success, whether you like it or not.
It explains why the academically brilliant dental student cannot make any headway as a successful dentist. And the mediocre also-ran is living their best life like a king.
It will explain why men have come into this business of ours with every apparent qualification for success and given us our most disappointing failures, while others have come in and achieved outstanding success in spite of many obvious and discouraging handicaps. And since it will also explain your future, it would seem to be a mighty good idea for you to use it in determining just what sort of a future you are going to have. In other words, let’s take this big, all-embracing secret and boil it down to fit the individual you.
If the secret of success lies in forming the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do, let’s start the boiling-down process by determining what are the things that failures don’t like to do.
What do failing dentists hate to do? First of all, a pertinent cliché:
Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
Failing dentists are likely to be those who aren’t improving.
It doesn’t matter if you are the worst dentist in the UK. If you keep improving, whilst others don’t, you’ll overtake quickly. You are not failing.
Perhaps you have been discouraged by a feeling that you were born subject to certain disadvantages peculiar to you, with which the successful folk in our business are not afflicted.
So, what if that’s true? What are you going to do about it? Just angrily lament your social isolation and do nothing…or build a system for change? Enjoy the system and use it to improve a bit every day.
Successful dentists are influenced by the desire for pleasing results — via an effective system, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Failures are influenced by the desire for easy, simple methods and are inclined to be satisfied with such results as can be obtained by doing things they like to do.
Why are successful men able to do things they don’t like to do while failures are not? Because their WHY is strong enough to make them form the habit of doing things they don’t like to do in order to accomplish the purpose they want to accomplish.
Whenever I meet a delegate who is in a bit of a slump, clinically or financially, we never ever just talk about money or techniques. More about why they want the money or why they want their dentistry to be predictable and beautiful.
The problems come when I ask ‘Why?’ And they ignore the question, obfuscate or change the subject…or tell me I look tired or whatever.
Now let’s see why habit belongs so importantly in this common denominator of success.
Every single qualification for success is acquired through habit. Habits are consistency. Humans form habits and habits form their futures. If you do not deliberately form good habits, then unconsciously you will form bad ones. You are the kind of human you are because you have formed the habit of being that kind of human, and the only way you can change is through habit.
Any resolution or decision you make is simply a promise to yourself, which isn’t worth a tinker’s damn unless you have formed the habit of making it and keeping it.
And you won’t form the habit of making it and keeping it unless right at the start you link it with a definite purpose that can be accomplished by keeping it.
In other words, any resolution or decision you make today has to be made again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the next, and so on. And it not only has to be made each day, but it has to be kept each day; for if you miss one day in the making or keeping of it, you’ve got to go back and begin all over again. But if you continue the process of making it each morning and keeping it each day, you will finally wake up some morning a different person in a different world, and you will wonder what has happened to you and the world you used to live in.
Here’s what has happened. Your resolution or decision has become a habit and you don’t have to make it on this particular morning. And the reason for your seeming like a different person living in a different world lies in the fact that for the first time in your life, you have become master of yourself and master of your likes and dislikes by surrendering to the true purpose in your life. That is why behind every successful dentist there must be a purpose, and that is what makes purpose so important to your future. Your future is not going to depend on economic conditions or outside influences of circumstance over which you have no control.
Your future is going to depend on your purpose in life. So, let’s unpack purpose.
Your needs are rational and can only push you so far. You need air and food and shelter. Once you have them you no longer crave them. It’s true…you weren’t even thinking about air until you just literally read that line. Your breathing needs are sated, so you ignore them.
Wants and wishes, however, are emotional and therefore limitless. Once your needs are met, they stop being evident. Wants go on forever.
It’s been said that the best way to achieve what we want in life—getting into better shape, building a successful business, relaxing more and worrying less, spending more time with friends and family— is to set specific, actionable goals.
For many years, this was how I approached my habits too. Each one was a goal to be reached. I set goals for the grades I wanted to get in school, for the FTP I wanted to score on a Wattbike, for the income I wanted dentistry to provide. I succeeded at a few, but I failed at a lot of them. Eventually, I began to realise that my results had very little to do with the goals I set and nearly everything to do with the systems I followed. James Clear’s book Atomic Habits was such a powerful book, I make no apology for advocating it time and time again. Particularly if you are struggling.
• If you want perfect end results, the system of success is the methods of access, shaping, disinfection and obturation.
• If you want a successful, profitable practice, you build systems with staff types, ethos and advertising.
• If you want your implants to all work, you build a system of periodontal, surgical and prosthetic networking to reach that goal.
SO, you must set goals — but don’t focus on them, just the system.
Concentrate on the endodontic process, the system, and the post-op radiograph will take care of itself.
If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.
Goals set the direction; systems get you moving towards it.
Winners and losers have the same goals.
Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.
It is adherence to systems that made the winners win.
Achieving a goal offers only fleeting emotions of happiness.
You may treat the caries, but you didn’t change the cause. The value is in preventative disease, not treating it artistically. How often do you see amazing composites on Instagram? That’s great and we can certainly teach you systems to emulate that; but surely, dear reader, surely if it were you, you would value having a non-diseased, intact molar with all its natural anatomy still preserved.
Achieving a goal only changes your life for the moment. That’s the counterintuitive thing about improvement. We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem. What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results. When you solve problems at the results level, you only solve them temporarily. In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs, and the outputs will fix themselves. Patients really do prefer to stay well in the first place rather than get ill then get fixed by you. Ask them!!!
The implicit assumption behind any goal is this: “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy.” The problem with a goals-first mentality is that you’re continually putting happiness off until the next milestone. I’m so prone to this trap, it’s ridiculous.
For years, happiness was always something for my future self to enjoy. I promised myself that once I was a specialist I would relax. Nope.
I loved learning, though.
Then it was being a consultant. But I definitely wasn’t relaxed yet.
The environment and daily experience growth was awesome, though.
Bench pressing 125kg. Nope, boring.
I did enjoy being in the gym, though.
When you fall in love with the system or the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. And a system can be successful in many different forms, not just the one you first envision.
Dental procedures — including all the emotional intelligence components right through to using ideal isolation and adhesive composite — involve staged systems and processes. We strongly encourage delegates to enjoy those systems. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress and your success.