Life lessons and the domino effect

Evan Zislis
Staff Photo |

You never know how a simple interaction with someone will affect you or how significant and lasting the impact might be. Sometimes the most profound life lessons play themselves out in unintended, unremarkable ways with domino effect.

I recently had the pleasure of working with an unlikely client, an assistant professor of Oral Pathology from Midwestern University’s College of Dental Medicine. Let’s call him Ted. A career dentist and accomplished clinical pathologist, Ted came out of semi-retirement and was less than a year into a new contract, teaching dental school sophomores the intricate nuances of oral pathology. Ted is widely considered an expert in his field and has earned the respect of his peers, patients and partners for over thirty years. While no one could question his authority in the field of oral medicine, he came to me overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information he had to convey in a seemingly impossible sliver of time.

Not entirely convinced of my services, rather reluctantly, Ted was seeking a little advice on how to simplify.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know the first thing about oral medicine. Lucky for Ted, I don’t have to.

The Intentional Solutions’ 3-Step Method is guaranteed effective whether taming the tangible clutter in your space, simplifying the operational systems of your life, or turning complex concepts into practical application. 1) Simplify. 2) Clarify. 3) Inspire. As an instructor in any classroom, no matter the topic, if you can simplify your content down to the bare essence of what is important, organize it in such a way to make it easily accessible, and then inspire your students with ownership and accountability — you will succeed. Period.

I had the opportunity to spend a long weekend with Ted and his family. In the evenings, Ted and I talked pathology. I intentionally manipulated our conversations in order to extract the most fundamental components of his curriculum — the bare essence of what his students needed to know and be able to do upon completion of his course. The volumes of prerequisite biology, physiology and basic practical medicine are truly overwhelming, but over time we determined that his class boils down to a specific process — a way to think like a pathologist. Like a detective, pathologists gather clues. Knowing what each clue means is critical, but the fun begins with learning how to process those clues in order to solve a mystery. The culmination is a reliable diagnosis and good treatment. That’s medicine.

By the end of our time together, Ted and I had devised a one-sheet flow chart that serves as a standardized map for gathering clues. His focus shifted away from the relentless minutia of information to a simple, engaging process with a specific end.

Effective professionals learn to find information, guided by an effective process to draw reasonable conclusions. That’s critical thinking — the bare essence of education and professional problem-solving.

From early childhood through high school, higher education and professional development, if you can simplify your content, organize it for easy access, and then inspire your students to bring it to life with style — they will exceed expectations with ownership and accountability every time.

So, what was so remarkable about my work with Ted? Most can tell you from personal experience that a young man can wait a lifetime to feel validated, respected, significant, worthy. There is nothing quite so rewarding to a young man than the love and adoration of his father. I know my family is delighted with who I am and all that I have accomplished in my short life, but nothing has given me more pride and a greater perspective on who I am in the world, than the respect and admiration of the man I admire most, Dr. Theodore Zislis, D.D.S.. Love you, dad. Now, go get ‘em!

— Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of, delivering hands-on organizational solutions for households, businesses, nonprofits, students, and life transitions. To comment or suggest column topics, visit the Facebook page “Intentional Solutions.” For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 366.2532 or email

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