Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Worry Plate

Title courtesy of Julie Allinson, founder of Eyebobs, purveyor of fashionable eyewear, from an interview provided as part of the content for this online business course I'm taking.

What's on the worry plate? Let's just say that mistakes were made. To err may be human, but nobody likes to be reminded just how human one's service provider is.

For a dozen years, I went to a dentist who had been recommended to me. He was known for being the reassuring, kindly dentist who went easy on anxious patients. His teeth gleamed, he wore a huge gold watch and always drove a newer model of European luxury car, he was hale and hearty and volubly conservative in his politics (he talked a lot about politics while performing his work; while I didn't share his views, I was loathe to engage him in debate, partly because who wants to argue with someone wielding sharp metal instruments near one's face, and partly because it was impossible to talk while holding my jaws open), and he spent a great deal of the winter skiing or talking about skiing. (Summer was dedicated to tennis.) Already in his sixties when I became his patient, the dentist died several years ago, after I had moved away.

Two years ago, I learned that this dentist had been a bad dentist. Expensive and unpleasant consequences followed this discovery. With the help of my current dentist, I tried to submit a claim for Dr. Bad Dentist to pay for the rework, but then I learned that Dr. Bad Dentist had departed this earthly realm, and that his malpractice insurance ceased covering claims a year after his departure.

So I asked my current dentist about how a consumer can tell that a dentist is good. Dentistry is highly specialized; what average consumer would be able to distinguish shoddy dental work from excellent dental work? How could I have possibly known that the cause of some of those trips to Dr. Bad Dentist was actually Dr. Bad Dentist? We talked about getting a second opinion, but what if the dentist offering the second opinion was Dr. Worse Dentist? Or what if the first dentist was Dr. Good Dentist and the second opinion was offered by Dr. Terrible No Good Dentist? There's really no way to know. My current dentist just shook his head and said you have to find someone you can trust. And I said again to him, Well, and how do I know I can trust someone?

I was thinking about how sleek and prosperous and jovial and reassuring Dr. Bad Dentist was, never failing in his good cheer, and yet--he did some damage is what I'm saying. 

My current dentist showed me some X-rays of what a filling should look like. He explained why it should look that way, and told me the principle underlying the practice. It all made sense to me. Then he showed me an X-ray of a filling of Dr. Bad Dentist's doing. He showed me the flaws and explained why they were flaws. This show-and-tell went a long way with me.

The story of Dr. Bad Dentist is just an illustration. I'm thinking about mistakes I've made and mistakes my subcontractors have made--ones that I caught before I delivered them and ones that I did not.

The mistakes are one thing--but one has to work with people whom one trusts to do their best work, to know what that best should be (and some people truly don't know and truly are unable to distinguish the good from the bad, but that is a different problem), and to fix mistakes when they make them.

From the consumer angle: ask questions. Ask a lot of them. Keep asking until you understand enough to be able to tell if the words make sense. More on this later.

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