The last time we were in Asia, we were told the story of Mongolian plumbing. I can’t speak to the truth of the story but the lesson is clear!

Our tour guide explained to us that when the Mongols conquered an area they would bring back trophies to from their conquest to their homeland. On one such campaign they conquered a town with indoor plumbing and ornate toilets in the homes of the wealthy. The Khan and his men ripped these toilets up, cut them loose and brought them back to Mongolia to be placed in the Yurts in which they lived. Yurts are round tents with a wooden framework and carpets on the ground for a floor so obviously there was no plumbing to connect the captured toilets to and therefore they were basically useless. This didn’t stop the Mongolians from wanting their homes to have all the trappings of success they found in foreign lands. In a short time, every self-respecting Mongolian had to have a toilet in his Yurt – even though it served no purpose.

In the modern world, the Chinese refer to anything that has the appearance of a functioning device with none of the necessary, underlying support as Mongolian Plumbing. It’s a useful colloquialism and perspective to have – it makes looking for, identifying and discussing occurrences of “style over substance” or “form over function” much easier. I realized I’ve been guilty of Mongolian Plumbing on more than one occasion and that it can be the result of one or more of the following issues:


  • Lack of understanding
  • Lack of follow through
  • A lack of resources
  • A need to fit in and be cool
  • An attempt to hoodwink others

Want some examples?

  • I have attempted to do social media and advertising campaigns in the past because I thought they were cool or necessary when, in reality, I didn’t have the time or the resources or the understanding to make them successful long term. Mongolian Plumbing
  • When visiting China, one must be very careful of purchasing anything with technical or electronic components. The Chinese have no compunction about duplicating trademarked or patented products and the knock offs they make are often very good likenesses of the original but, more often than not, they the counterfeit doesn’t capture the spirit of the genuine article. Mongolian Plumbing. Those of you who have been to the East know what I mean, those of you who plan to go will learn.
  • The AAO sees that orthodontic forums are popular and so they want to have forums of their own that they control. One need only log onto them to see a great example of Mongolian Plumbing
  • Practice consultants spend big bucks to put out fancy ads and brochures or even to be on the cover of a magazine to convince you to spend your hard earned money with them. Many times they have little to offer, have never practiced, do not change with the changing times once they formulate a “winning strategy” (meaning one that orthodontists will bite on and pay for) and don’t guarantee their results. Mongolian Plumbing
  • Product hockers package technology to appeal to the tooth-nerd in all of us and convince us how cool it is by having the coolest kids be KOLs (that’s short for Key Opinion Leader). Often the efficacy is in question. Often the product is effective but not necessary and only cuts into the profit margin of the unsuspecting orthodontist. Mongolian Plumbing
  • Financial advisors, insurance salesman and others who want to “help” you invest your money and promise big returns through the “magic of compounding interest” or “dollar cost averaging” or “closed investments” or “whole life insurance” or they claim to be “dental specific” even though no such designation exists. In truth, most are either are broke themselves or they are rich but don’t invest in the way they advise you to invest. Mongolian Plumbing

Looks can be, and often are, deceiving. Don’t make decisions in your practice or your personal life based on how cool something is or how cool or likeable the person pitching the product is. Don’t put a beautiful but non-functional toilet in your home just because you saw it in some far off land or some KOL claims it to be necessary. Ask for proof. Ask for tax returns from those trying to sell to you or get you to invest your money. Look at how they make their money and how much they make. Ask people for written explanations of how they get paid. Detailed written explanations…

I only wish someone had told me this 10 years ago – maybe then I wouldn’t have fallen for blatant Mongolian Plumbing as early and often as I did!