5 Lessons DSO Leaders Can Take From Settlers Of Catan

What can leaders in the dental industry learn from settlers of catan?

Last month, Our team at Emitrr spent some time at my place in New Jersey and for those of you who don’t know, we all enjoy board games. We thought Settlers of Catan was a safe choice to bring, as it’s easy to learn, and everyone would be able to play. While we did not end up playing a lot while we were there, I personally had a lot of takeaways from the game which I felt can be applied to the world of dentistry. Specially for leaders in the DSOs (Dental Service Organizations)

None of us had given a lot of thought to what it takes to win the game as most of us had never played it before. But as we played more, we spent more time thinking about effective strategies and it started becoming clear that the things you need to do to win in Catan are really similar to the things you need to do to win in your career. With this in mind, we thought to share our learnings and the similarities the game has with the world of dentistry. Below are the biggest takeaways for DSO leaders pushing hard to take the industry forward:

1. Always have a plan

When you start playing Catan, it’s easy to just jump in and start buying things, settling where you can, and building some occasional roads. But like with any game, if you want to win, you need a plan. Maybe you’re going to amass as much brick and wood as possible to get your settlements out quick and go for the longest road bonus. Or maybe you’ll focus on ore and grain so you can get development cards and cities.

Or maybe you’ll try something else. The important thing isn’t that you have the best plan, it’s that you have a plan and keep improving by implementing a better plan each time.

It’s the same in dentistry. For a while, you can just go with it and react to the situations you’re presented with. But once you get past a certain stage (let’s say once you grow beyond 5,10, 50 or 100 locations), you’re going to really benefit from having a plan, a process and operational excellence. Again, it doesn’t need to be the best plan, or an extremely detailed one. It doesn’t even need to include the next dozen steps: just the next couple is enough.

But having a good understanding of where you are in your plan to grow the DSO, manage multiple locations, as well as a goal for where you’d like to be and how you’re going to get there, will help a lot. If you don’t have one, sit down with a notebook and write for half an hour. You won’t regret it.

2. Make compromises to boost future prospects

Of course, obsessively sticking to your plan and not being flexible isn’t good either. Thats a sign of a fixed mindset and not a growth mindset. Just the way in dentistry, In Settlers too, you often come across situations where you need to make a compromise in your existing plan. You need two ore for your city, but the best trade you can get is an ore and a wood. A lot of the time, it’s going to be a good idea to take that trade.

It might not immediately give you a big benefit, but by developing some good will with other players (read: teamwork in dentistry), you’ll increase the chances of more profitable interactions in the future, and they could pay off big. Not only that, but the compromises you make might open up unforeseen opportunities when you’re not expecting them.

It’s the same when you’re dealing with people, technology in your dental practice. You’re going to need to make compromises. As dentists, we are always contemplating investing in technology to make our lives and processes better. Sometimes the tradeoff may not be so obvious but it definitely is well worth it if it saves you time and offers your patients a good experience, even if it is not immediately ROI positive. 

Similarly, learn to let go of things as a leader and trust your team, let them fail a couple of times to grow faster in the long term. The compromise you are making here is a short term compromise of time.

3.Think carefully about investments (read: think long term)

This is important in any game, but Catan can contain a lot of deceptive situations: they look like there’s an obvious choice, but that choice can have repercussions that you might not expect. Obviously games that include other players and a lot of social interaction are going to be especially hard to predict, but taking an extra moment to think about what the results of your action will be can be a game-changer.

Similarly in the world of dentistry, when you are making investments (vendors, software, supply), make investments by thinking carefully about them. How?

  1. Invest into software, supplies that you feel are poised for innovation. This will insure you are partnering with people who innovate and you become a leader and not a follower.
  2. Ask your vendors for the product roadmaps or future plans. 
  3. Partner with young, dynamic and agile teams. Making large organizations move for your benefit is going to be hard but working with team hungry for growth will always help you grow and define the industry.

While there will always be a lot of factors to consider, you need to always focus on one aspect and that’s patient experience and satisfaction, if you want to continuously grow your dental practice/DSO.

4. Make the most of every resource

In every game, you’ll be presented with bad situations. Your opponent will get a better roll than you, or capitalize on an opportunity that you missed out on, or just be a little more skilled in strategizing. Although Settlers is a great game for beginners and experts to play together, no matter what the distribution of skill is, you’re going to be put in a bad situation, and you’ll have limited resources.

It can feel like you’re stuck and not able to do anything when you have a hand full of a single resource, or the exact opposite of what you need, but before you panic or get frustrated, remember that Settlers will reward you for a lot of different things. Pursuing the longest road or largest army bonus might not be your initial intent, but if you get stuck with a lot of a single resource, that might be a good way out. Getting a port that lets you trade more efficiently can turn a few bad placements into a winning combination.

If we had to compare this to the world of dentistry, one can very well relate to the problem of resources as you grow. Resources are not necessarily tangible things but here is how you should behave as a leader with lesser or not so good resources or simply if things aren’t moving the way you want them to:

What leaders at struggling DSO’s do:

– Go dark

– Hide

– Lash out

– Tweet/Share about lots of things non-work

– Spend time on tiny expenses

– Argue internally

What you should do:

– Be Present

– Be Honest

– Be the Rock

– Be Realistic/Optimistic

What resources do you have in your DSO? You might be thinking about money, number of practices, and other material things, but remember that you have a lot more than that at your disposal. Your interests, talents, passions, skills, motivation, and creativity are all fantastic resources. Whenever you’re presented with a situation where you feel like you’re running low on one, remember that one of the others can often help you bounce back.

5. Be prepared for surprises

In our final game of the weekend, we played a four-player game: me, my sister, my co-founder and a software engineer from our team. I had the most experience, followed by my co-founder and our engineer and then my sister. Who do you think won?

My sister. Seriously. I got to nine points, then she got to nine, and then my co-founder got there. It was a three-way tie for first place, with a single point to decide the game, and my sister got it first. It took me very much by surprise. But you just roll with it—things don’t usually go the way you think they will, whether you’re playing Settlers or planning your biggest life choices.

Having gone through a number of unexpected turns in my own life, I can tell you that being able to go along with whatever comes your way is one of the most valuable skills you can develop.

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