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Episode #617: Everything Works Until It Doesn’t, With Dr. Jim Otten

Have you ever thought that everything should work all the time, only to be frustrated when it inevitably doesn’t? Today, Kirk Behrendt brings back Dr. Jim Otten to explain that very problem and how you can think better and enjoy your career in dentistry more. Everything works until it doesn’t, so learn how to focus on the outcomes and push through the difficult times by listening to Episode #617 of The Best Practices Show!

Episode Resources:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Register for the Global Diagnosis Symposium

Learn more Global Diagnosis Education

Main Takeaways:

Be curious and ask questions.

Your dentistry is going to fail eventually.

Don’t copy someone else—just be you.

Focus on the outcomes.

Define what success means to you.

Work hard and put yourself out there.


“It’s important because we come out of dental school with a perfectionist mindset, and it’s perpetuated in our profession by a lot of different things. It’s perpetuated by a lot of myths that if you build this facility, they will come to you and you’ll be successful. If you use this technique, you’ll be successful. If you follow this protocol, if you go to this course and do this curriculum, you’ll be successful. And everything works to some degree, But it doesn’t at some point as well. And so what your mindset has to be is not in this perfectionism like the outcome’s going to be exactly the way you think it’s going to be, but what you learn along the way.” (07:46—08:29)

“Jack Nicklaus used to say when he played a whole round of golf in a competition; the three or four days they play, he only hit two shots pretty much the way he wanted. He missed everything well. So our job is really to miss it well and realize that it doesn’t matter what you use, who you follow, what material, what clinician, what protocol you use. You’re still dealing with people who have a certain amount of their own particular disease resistance and host response, and they’re all going to be different. You can’t take responsibility for that. That’s not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to help them decline at the lowest rate possible. And that means that they’re going to decline. It’s going to fail.” (08:31—09:16)

“Be a student, not an acolyte. No one has all the right answers. Everyone has a bit of information to help you move forward.” (10:55—11:08)

“You can emulate characteristics and philosophies that you think can work for you, but if you’re trying to copy someone else, you’ll never find the right mix of things to unleash your creativity and your potential. You’ve got to be you; just be you and do what you think is best for you.” (12:52—13:12)

“If you decide, for example, that you want to differentiate yourself and you want to specialize and become fee for service, you want to really build enormous value for your clients. You still have to feed the animal, right, still have to feed the bulldog, still have to feed the practice, so how do you do that? Well, [Steven Pressfield] talked about writing the book that you want and writing the book that sells, and if you think about it in two concentric circles that overlap, it’s the part in the middle. How can you find that area right in the middle where those things overlap? And it’s the same in dentistry. Can you have that overlap somewhere where you create value, for what you want to do, but it still has the capacity to help your practice move forward?” (14:18—15:03

“You really want to have the mindset of giving yourself enough space in your work time to pay attention to the outcomes that you get. Why does this work? Because if you’re the type of dentist that’s looking at just the means to get somewhere, then you’re going to miss the real essence and the real value in helping your patient move forward.” (16:02—16:26)

“I remember I was coming out of dental school and said, ‘My goal is to do my crown and bridge so well that in my entire practice, people never have to replace it.’ You know, there are a few that worked, but there were a bunch that didn’t because you can’t control everything. But I started to pay attention and thinking, ‘Well, that was a dumb idea.’ Why are they failing? Let’s figure that out so that what we’re really doing is we’re slowing the decline of the individual over time. How do I slow their decline to the lowest rate possible? If you pay attention to the outcome and you learn from the failures, they don’t have to be catastrophic failures. But why do they keep chipping this? Why does this happen? Then you start to look deeper and deeper, and you really start to pay attention to really what are the fundamental issues that are going on here that you really can become a great diagnostician and really help them become healthier, not just fix their teeth.” (18:42—19:42)

“What you have to realize is that through every one of those failures, you at least became a little bit better. That’s the key. If you can become a little bit better, become a little bit better diagnostician, you could become a better historian, essentially, understanding the patient that you’re dealing with. If you can become a better practitioner, a sense of organizing and planning treatment in ways that make it work better. You get a little bit better and that’s how you learn, really. You know, you don’t learn much in the stuff that goes really well.” (20:31—21:07)

“You have to be curious and pay attention to these outcomes and realize that you’ll have failures. They don’t have to be catastrophic failures. But just pay attention to the little nuances that happen so that you can be a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better. Excellence is improving just a little each step.” (23:04—23:22)

“We tend to focus on ‘Oh, we have to be like this, or we use this or we’re going to be like this person,’ then that defines success. Or, you know, ‘I’ve got to be able to do 2 million a year right now.’ These things that just sometimes are ridiculous and create enormous amounts of pressure on people that it really doesn’t have to be that way.” (25:33—25:58)

“And certainly we have to have a successful profitable practice to have that comfort and be able to provide for our families and provide for ourselves. Some people would define [success] as more freedom. Some will define it as the ability to help others.” (26:15—26:31)

“If you determine your why, then your success can be an outcome of the why, not the opposite way around. There’s one saying that really sticks with me too, and I don’t know where I heard it. They said, ‘If you’re always focused on the means, you’re going to miss out on the need.’ So if you’re always focused on a means to get to $100,000 a month, $150,000 or whatever it is, and you’re always focused on the dollars, you’re always focused on the profit, you’re always focused on the production, you miss out on the meaning. What’s the meaning? What brings meaning and joy to again, write the book you want to write, not the crap that has to sell. And anyone can do it. With enough intention, anyone can do that. I say that because I believe that whatever your definition of success is, however you define it, it always takes three things. It always takes hard work, some luck, and some talent.” (26:35—27:36)

“Anything worth doing takes hard work. It takes the ability to absorb that failure we talked about and learn from it and move to the next level. And it takes some luck. Sometimes things just fall together in the right place at the right time. But that doesn’t really happen unless you’re putting yourself out there. If you’re not in the game, you’re not going to get those opportunities.” (28:21—28:45)

“If you put it out there, then these opportunities are going to present themselves. And then when they do, you have to try to be aware of them and take advantage of them and go back and do the hard work it takes to take advantage of it.” (31:19—31:32)

“Great teachers are the ones who recognize something in you that you don’t see in yourself, necessarily. And I was the recipient of that. And so now I try to be the purveyor of that, but I’m the purveyor of that to the people who really want to learn, who really are taking an active role.” (31:41—32:03)

“In dentistry, you can develop talent. You really can. Now you’ve got to realize also that everyone has gifts and strengths and certain subsets of strengths that they have that are unique to them. I’m a big picture guy and philosophical thinker. So my talent is to kind of put big things together and put the ideas together and try to make them all merge and help people see the connections in between things.” (32:38—33:14)

“Everybody has their own innate talent, but you can develop that. If you don’t have a talent in something, if you’re self-aware, then you can develop those sorts of things. And that’s an important thing as well. When you’ve got it, that self-awareness is really important to realize ‘This is who I am. This is where I want my life to look like, how I want to manifest it, what do I want them to say at the eulogy?’ I don’t want anybody to say at my eulogy, ‘Oh, he did $1,000,000 in 1980’—no, that doesn’t matter. ‘He made a difference in somebody’s life. He helped somebody learn something, helped somebody move to the next level, he made the profession a little bit better by teaching these other people along the way.’ And that’s what really matters, is what are you doing every day to get out of your own head and help somebody else? Because if you’re helping somebody else, and you’re helping somebody else grow and develop, you can’t be in your own head. And that’s how we get in trouble—when we’re in our own head.” (33:36—34:34)

“I think it’s important just to keep [everything works until it doesn’t] in the back of your mind. It’s one of those truisms that we all have to manifest in our own mindset. Don’t try to hit the target perfectly every time. Just keep aiming and keep trying and push through. Even this week I had to push through some stuff that was tough, emotionally: coming to the end of clinical practice. I’m going to teach, I’m going to consult; so I’ll be active. But coming to the end of that journey, it’s the appropriate time, don’t get me wrong. But it’s an emotional struggle. But I’ve got to push through. There are bigger things ahead. There are better things ahead for everyone. And so you’ve got to just stay focused, work through the difficult times, take it easy on yourself.” (34:57—35:50)


0:00 Introduction.

02:40 Dr. Otten’s background.

07:35 Be a student, not an acolyte.

11:20 Find your own way.

15:04 Focus on the outcomes.

20:28 Learn from your failures.

23:56 Define what success means for you.

27:40 Luck doesn’t happen unless you show up and work hard.

32:21 Talent can be developed.

34:50 Last thoughts.

35:59 About Global Diagnosis Education.

39:27 Global Diagnosis Symposium.


Dr. Jim Otten Bio: 


Dr. James F. Otten is a 1981 graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry. He completed a one-year residency in hospital dentistry with emphasis on advanced restoration of teeth and oral surgery at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Leavenworth, Kansas. He taught crown and bridge dentistry as an Associate Professor at UMKC before entering private practice in 1982, where he served as Chief of Staff of a large group practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas, before opening his practice in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1984. 

Dr. Otten has pursued rigorous post-graduate education since 1986, accumulating thousands of hours in advanced continuing education that he has intentionally applied to his practice in order to develop its personalized care philosophy. He has completed the rigorous curriculum at two prestigious institutions, The Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education, and the Dawson Center for Advanced Dental Education. He lectures nationally and internationally and has recently been asked to join the faculty at the Newport Coast Orofacial Institute in Newport Beach, California. 

Dr. Otten has been named a Fellow of The American College of Dentists and is an active member of The American Academy of Restorative Dentistry. 

In pursuit of excellence, Dr. Otten has gained a considerable reputation, both regionally and nationally, for his expertise in disorders of the jaw joints, as well as crown and bridge dentistry, implant restorations, complex bite problems, removable and partial dentures, and naturally beautiful esthetic dentistry. 

Kirk Behrendt

Kirk Behrendt is a renowned consultant and speaker in the dental industry, known for his expertise in helping dentists create better practices and better lives. With over 30 years of experience in the field, Kirk has dedicated his professional life to optimizing the best systems and practices in dentistry. Kirk has been a featured speaker at every major dental meeting in the United States. His company, ACT Dental, has consistently been ranked as one of the top dental consultants in Dentistry Today's annual rankings for the past 10 years. In addition, ACT Dental was named one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States by Inc Magazine, appearing on their Inc 5000 list. Kirk's motivational skills are widely recognized in the dental industry. Dr. Peter Dawson of The Dawson Academy has referred to Kirk as "THE best motivator I have ever heard." Kirk has also assembled a trusted team of advisor experts who work with dentists to customize individual solutions that meet their unique needs. When he's not motivating dentists and their teams, Kirk enjoys coaching his children's sports teams and spending time with his amazing wife, Sarah, and their four children, Kinzie, Lily, Zoe, and Bo.