Embrace failure to celebrate success

Can understanding Cognitive Dissonance grow your practice?

Peace We have investigated the idea that a growth mindset can help to develop your practice and that embracing failure is key to success. Let us consider how understanding cognitive dissonance could help us to take this to the next level.

“Cognitive dissonance: where we spin the evidence to fit our beliefs rather than adapting our beliefs to fit the evidence.” Matthew Syed

The idea that we choose to interpret evidence differently in order for it to fit with our beliefs is something that Matthew Syed – author of Black Box Thinking, explores in detail. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, he led the country to war with Iraq on the premise that there were weapons of mass destruction that needed to be destroyed. When it transpired that this was not the case, Blair showed classic signs of cognitive dissonance by insisting it was the right decision based on the intelligence they had received, he adapted the evidence to fit his beliefs and maintained he had made the right decision. Once you have established a strong core belief, you tend to dismiss other contradictory evidence, no matter how strong. In the case of DNA recognition, often people still cling to the belief that they have in their mind as being correct, even when faced with solid contradictory DNA evidence.

For example, when historic murder cases are re-examined using modern forensic DNA methods it has been shown that senior law enforcement officers still cling to the belief that the original convictions are still credible despite overwhelming new evidence to the contrary.

“When we are confronted with evidence that challenges our deeply held beliefs we are more likely to reframe the evidence than we are to alter our beliefs.” Matthew Syed

Success can only happen when we confront our mistakes. The greatest obstacle to progress is failing to learn from mistakes. Being honest with the evidence and not altering it to fit our beliefs is key to success.

“The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.” Buddha

According to Syed – ‘Black Box Thinking’ is about the willingness and tenacity to investigate the lessons that can be learned when we fail, but are infrequently exploited. What if we encourage our teams to take on this way of thinking? Could there be golden nuggets of learnings from those mistakes that are made in the practice on a regular basis if we are open enough to investigate them? Perhaps these very errors are a means to access a competitive advantage above other practices who do not face them head on.

“If we wish to fulfil our potential as individuals and organisations, we must redefine failure.” Matthew Syed

Consider a patient complaint in your practice, and how easy it can be to become defensive, and how you may fit the evidence in the situation to fit your beliefs. For example, a patient complains that they came in for a filling on a tooth that they hadn’t had any issue with previously, and this has since led to a root canal, then a crown and finally an extraction and a costly implant. They feel that they have been misled. We may feel as though we have explained all the risks to the patient, but sometimes, despite our best endeavours the patient still hasn’t fully understood everything and genuinely believes they have been misinformed. Do we review what happened to question and improve our processes to prevent what will be undoubtedly painful litigation or do we close our eyes and ears and make the same mistakes next time?

Creating a system and culture to allow your dental practice to learn from failures rather than shy away from them can allow your practice to grow. Encouraging the team to be true to the evidence and their beliefs in order to grow. Often we can be ready to blame others for their mistakes, hence making us more likely to want to conceal our own. This attitude results in losing the valuable information we need to learn, as individuals each hide their failures.

“Ever tried, ever failed. No matter. Try again, fail better.” Samuel Beckett

Embracing openness allows practice team members to be honest and learn from not just their mistakes, but colleague’s learnings too. The system where failure is reported upon openly and rational action is taken to improve it in the future allow a growth culture in the work place.