How Can You Use The Super Mario Effect to Develop Your Team More Effectively?


As a Co-Founder of ClearDent, the most important thing on my mind in the first year was:

"How do I get my business off the ground and get customers?"

As the business grew, and customers began to appreciate our software, my Co-Founders and I’s thinking changed to:

"How do we build a high-performing team?"

This thinking is not unique to a tech company. It applies to every type of company, including a dental practice. Further, with increased competition, even new owners of established dental practices worry about survival but at the same time need to be concerned with building and sustaining a high-performance team. Able to build a high-performing team is a universal challenge regardless of what stage your dental practice is at.

So how do we build a high-performing dental team? I believe my learnings in building a different type of team at ClearDent can help the Canadian dentist-owner-leaders because of the many parallels.

It’s important to understand that providing an incentive to drive higher performance should not be considered talent training and development. For example, tying a bonus to a specific business objective; such as reaching a certain amount of recall bookings, merely is asking people to do more of what they already know. You are not asking them to improve what they can already do or expand their skill set. Yes, people are smart and could self-develop new and better skills to meet your target(s). However, it's a fallacy to make a cause and effect conclusion that performance incentives will result in learning.

Instead, talent training and development comes down to intentionally creating an environment where failure is an opportunity to learn more. What's at stake is not job performance and security, but the level of achievement attained.

The best way to create such an environment and encourage your team to focus on developing better and new skills is to gamify your training and development initiatives. Additionally, you want to ensure the learning outcomes align with your business goals in some shape or form.

Before I give you a real-life example from ClearDent, watch this video by Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer involved in building the Mars Curiosity rover and a science educator, on gamifying the learning process using what he calls the “Super Mario Effect.”

Let’s take a look at a recent example from ClearDent. We created a Dragon's Den competition for our sales and marketing team. The objective of the game is to come up with a way to add value to our customers while creating new opportunities for revenue generation. Three high-level executives (i.e., the people who can make a change) were the dragons, and we split the employees into two teams.

As failure in this environment does not impact job performance and security but encourages learning, both teams came up with innovative ideas. They were comfortable to think outside the box (and encouraged to do so). The outcome? They were not only amazed at what they came up with themselves but also throughout the exercise they improved. We saw better soft skills and more collaboration with other teams and among each other.

Further, the winning team was more excited at the trophy that's worth much less than the gift card that came with winning. As leaders (the dragons), we were able to benefit by converting plausible innovative ideas into actionable strategies. Our customers love them because of the values they add, and we have an improvement in our business performance.

The morale is simple - don't conflate incentives for performance management with the rewards for talent training and development. Think about it, when was the last time you got paid for learning something new? I think it's the other way around. Therefore, you need to think about how you can create a (safe) learning environment. Also, you need to give your staff some blank space in their days, so they can participate in the games you’ve set up and genuinely learn. Sending them to courses won’t be sufficient, and most importantly, don't focus solely on clinical topics – balance it.

It's not easy to set up, takes time, and there is a cost to doing it, but many studies have shown returns to be multiples of the investment. Further, it will also increase your chance in turning a good hire into an excellent hire, even for existing long-time staff, as well as retention.

Talent training and development is one part of running a profitable dental practice. BizED will regularly share knowledge on different and relevant topics that can increase the bottom line of your dental practice. Therefore, don’t forget to subscribe using the form below to stay up-to-date.


Peter P. Li

Co-founder and Chief Evangelist | ClearDent

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Peter Li