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a blog by Chris Barrow

Salty dog


I want you to imagine your dental team attending a practice meeting on business planning.

You are interested (after all, you have your skin in the game) and they are reluctantly dragged along. At least it’s a break from routine but “yawn”.

Why not surprise them with sailing lessons?

Share with them this story:

Imagine that we are invited to take part in a transatlantic yacht race. Before you think “not me – I don’t like boats/water/swimming and I don’t know how to sail” – can I explain that the winning team will share a purse of £1 million per crew member? The good news is that you will all be fully trained in seamanship before leaving harbour – and the yacht will be equipped with the very latest gear and technology. No expense spared. Plenty of food and drink. Safety first. You will be competing against two other crews, who have EXACTLY the same boat, the same training and the same gear. The race is from Falmouth, Cornwall to New York – first past the Statue of Liberty wins the prize money. Oh – by the way, there is a catch (isn’t there always?): Crew A have no maps and no navigator and are given a 24-hour head start. Crew B have a map and a navigator who is allowed to check their position once a week and are given a 12-hour head start. Crew C have a map and a navigator who is allowed to check their position once an hour and leave Falmouth last. Which crew do you want to be? Please discuss.

I could say more – but in the team session I would prefer the participants to come up with their own reasons for (hopefully) wanting to be Crew C.

I want them to realise that:

  1. the course between Falmouth and New York is a straight line on a map but a sailing vessel constantly CROSSES the line and is hardly ever on it

  2. that the direction of the vessel is influenced by EXTERNAL forces, such as current and wind direction

  3. that the direction of the vessel is influenced by INTERNAL forces, such as the set of the sail and the trim of the yacht

  4. that the frequency of positional readings will increase the efficiency of the journey – you need to tack, tack, tack

  5. at the end of each day, every crew is equally knackered

Following which, I want them to realise that:

  1. A business with no destination or course is going – well – anywhere and nowhere

  2. A business with a destination but infrequent pauses to check position will work much harder to get to any point in the journey

  3. The progress of a business is influenced by EXTERNAL factors such as macro-economics, local competition, price and market sentiment

  4. The progress of a business is influenced by INTERNAL factors such as team morale, occupancy, equipment, decor, productivity and the patient experience

So ask your team what type of crew they would like to be in your business – and then ask how best they can help you to achieve that.

p.s. a business performance coach helps them to learn their individual roles on the vessel, helps find a great navigator and holds you accountable to stay on course. Your business development/practice manager is your First Mate. Your business coach is your Second Mate.

If you could benefit from this presentation facilitated in your practice – or need a competent First and Second Mate – email me at

I’m a salty dog when it comes to the business of dentistry.

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