Occupational Half Life – I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!


Recently, regarding his book, The World is Flat, published in 2005, Tom Friedman said; “I looked in the index under F. Facebook wasn’t in it. Facebook didn’t exist. Twitter was a sound, the Cloud was in the sky, 4G was a parking place, LinkedIn was a prison, application is what you sent to college, and for most people Skype was a typo….”

Which brings us to our topic: the world is changing rapidly –  to the point where information, innovation and technology is evolving exponentially.  It’s a challenge to keep up and requires more time and effort than it did a mere 5 years ago.  Essentially, it’s like trying to out-run a tornado!

Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce

Continuous change requires continuous learning. I don’t have to tell the doctors reading this. You get it. You know the importance of staying current in the clinical arena. But what about the team and the other areas of the practice?

Over 13 years ago, Jim Harris, PhD said something that caught Sandy Roth’s attention and it is just as relevant now as it was then:

“Another HR trend is the idea of occupational half-life, which asks the question, ‘How many years does it take for half of your work skills to become obsolete?’ In 1970, it took about 15 years. [That means] by 1985, half of your original skills were no longer useful. Today, the number is 2 1/2 to 3 years. That means in less than 30 months, half of what you’re doing will be obsolete.”

Whoa! This concept of occupational half-life is huge. It has major implications for anyone in almost any profession but it is especially true in the healthcare field.  What does this mean for your team? Well, for one thing, change is not an option. And to take that one step further, if one does not adopt a personal commitment to lifelong learning, they will quickly become irrelevant and obsolete.

Here is Sandy’s message to team members:

Learning cannot occur only within office hours. Academic and conceptual learning occurs outside of office hours. Practical application learning comes with the doing, where your practice is your learning laboratory. Indeed, there is a great deal that can be done during the hours of your employment, but it will never provide enough time to delve into the creative, the new and the innovative. And that is exactly where you must take yourself if you want to stay on the cutting edge and guard your future.

Your value to the practice will go down if your skills don’t go up. What is valuable to your practice right now will be less valuable in the future. Which half of your skills will be obsolete in three years and how will your diminished impact harm the success of the practice? You cannot expect your compensation to rise when your skill-base is stagnant.”

Did you get that last part team members?

So what role do you, the dentist, play in this? Certainly, you lead by example; taking continuing education courses, reading trade publications, learning how to implement new technology into the practice, networking with colleagues, learning from those smarter than yourself (that includes your team), involvement in professional organizations. While some of this may occur during practice hours, a lot of your learning and growth happens outside of the practice and at the expense of spending time with your family.  And why do you do it? While you know it will make you a better dentist and keep your practice growing, my guess is you have a curious mind and a strong commitment to lifelong learning.

Can the same be said for your team? Do they understand that their own growth and future potential lies in their own hands? Are they willing to invest in themselves by taking the initiative outside the practice? Are they spending their free time learning something new?  Do they have the mindset to “look it up” if they don’t know?

And are you encouraging and supporting them by providing opportunities for learning? Are you sponsoring independent learning, workshops, online courses or distance education?

I hope so.  That tornado is looming large in the distance.