Awhile back I went to the dentist. Actually it was a new dentist for me. I had been planning on changing dentists for some time, but a tooth chipped on some crunchy granola finally forced my hand. (Doesn’t it seem wrong that eating something that’s supposed to be healthy should cause problems?) Anyway, I learned some things at the dentist’s office that made me think about you and your business.

First, the receptionist had me fill out the obligatory paperwork. While answering all of the personal questions, I left the line for the social security number blank. I make it a habit to never give it out unless absolutely essential. Dentists only need it for insurance purposes. Since I don’t have dental insurance, I wasn’t going to give it out. The receptionist assured me they needed it anyway. It is how they keep track of their patient records, she informed me. I suggested that another way of keeping track of patient records would be less intrusive. She stood firm. I mentioned that any expert who knows anything about identity theft says you should never give your social security number unless absolutely necessary. She assured me that it was absolutely necessary in this case. I refused. She asked if I just wanted to cancel my appointment. I was stunned.

I won’t go into the details of the compromise that we reached (and it didn’t involve me giving my SS#), but the bottom line is this: The dentist’s receptionist nearly turned away what would amount to thousands of dollars in new business in just the next few months (from me and referrals), simply because of a record keeping system that could easily be altered.

Later, I sat in the dentist’s chair conversing (as best I could with tools and fingers probing into my mouth) with the dentist and his female assistant. As we waited for the numbing medicine to kick in, the woman told an interesting story. She mentioned a friend who pulled out her wallet and offered her four-year-old son a couple one-dollar bills. The son wasn’t even slightly interested, but instead reached for his mother’s debit card that was sticking out of the wallet. To the boy, who was not familiar with cash transactions, the money had no intrinsic value. He knew, however, that the debit card was how his mother got stuff at the store. Pull out the card and you get to take yummy and fun things home. He knew that the card had value. The cash, on the other hand, seemed worthless.

So, why am I telling you these stories? My point is simple. Culture—and, consequently, business—are changing rapidly. If those of us in business think we can keep doing things the same way we always have, we’re sadly mistaken.

When I began in business, I would never have guessed that there would come a day when a small boy—or anyone at all—would think that currency was worthless. Yet, like it or not, that day is here. And, like the dentist’s receptionist, if we keep doing things simply because this is the way we’ve always done them, we’re likely to miss out on business.

I would challenge and encourage you to look at your business practices. You and/or your management team should take an honest look at how you do business. Maybe an outsider offering another perspective would be helpful. However you do it, you need to be sure you’re not missing out on business because of outdated methods and practices.

Culture and business are changing at an increasingly rapid pace. Because of this, we cannot afford to be passive about such things. Don’t be the proverbial ostrich with his head in the sand. For the sake of your business over the long-term, take a proactive look at what you’re doing. See if changes need to be made to keep up with the times.

                                            Tom Kraeuter for Bill Bayer