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Five building blocks of personal innovation will get you headed in the right direction. But if you’re still having trouble, start by stabilizing the base.

A personal purpose statement should answer this question: “Why do I get up in the morning, and how do I want to be remembered?”

While the term “innovation” is one of the most overused words in the English language, in its purest form it is simply the introduction of something new. Business model innovation can have a stronger impact on profit margins than service or product innovations, it can disrupt established norms, and it can lead to vibrant cultures that attract top talent. In the context of personal innovation, it means being ever-evolving with the mindset of bringing our best selves to everything we do.

Mirroring business model innovation, these five building blocks of personal innovation merit consideration:

1. Know Your Purpose and Focus

Most organizations and associations have a documented purpose. They might confuse their mission or vision with purpose, but in the general sense they know which direction they want to head and why. Have you ever made the time to think about and create your own personal purpose statement? Our personal purpose statement should be short and sweet as well as action-oriented, and it likely will evolve over time. It’s fluid because life is fluid — as our environment, perspectives and context evolve, so will our purpose.

A personal purpose statement should answer this question: “Why do I get up in the morning, and how do I want to be remembered?” Start with a few key words and morph them into one or two sentences that ring true to you. If you already have a written purpose statement, well done! Now might be a good time to review and ensure your purpose statement is still valid and that your daily actions and activities are in alignment with your purpose.

Another tool to help focus on what matters most is a “start, stop, continue/change” exercise. Many businesses use this exercise to gain insight from employees and customers. You can apply the same model by asking yourself which activities should start, stop or continue, based on alignment with your personal purpose.

Knowing our purpose makes prioritization and knowing what to say “yes” or “no” to much easier. As the saying goes, if we’re saying “yes” to everything, we’re saying “no” to something.

2. Leverage Uniqueness

We all have characteristics that make us unique. Consider your unique attributes and then leverage them to create value for those you serve. An excellent example of a veterinary professional who leverages her uniqueness to create value is Dr. Stephanie Jones, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, practitioner with a passion for helping kids. She founded Pets Help the Heart Heal, a nonprofit association whose mission is to improve the physical, social and emotional health of children through the human-animal bond.

3. Fail Fast, Fail Forward

The most successful innovators take calculated risks. They do their homework before they jump, and when they do jump, they are all in. They know that a series of failures might be necessary before they land on a successful idea. They do not let those failures deter them; rather, they use the learnings to fuel the next round. Taking risks is also about being open to new ideas, new approaches and new ways of thinking. Fail fast, fail often, fail forward and keep going.

4. Collaborate Diversely

You likely already recognize the benefits of being part of a network or community, and you know the power of collaboration. Check out the people around you. Do they look, act, talk and think like you? If so, now is the time to branch out. As Scott E. Page says in “The Diversity Bonus,” one plus one can equal three if the two ones are different.

5. Embrace Lifelong Learning

If you are reading this article, you are probably in the animal health space. If so, how do you fuel your intellect outside of veterinary medicine? Podcasts, art museums, book clubs — these are just a few ways we can be more expansive in our learning. In doing so, we might very well spark creative juices that in turn fuel new ideas that positively impact our work.

What Might Stop You

Now that you know the five building blocks of personal innovation, let’s explore six common barriers to personal innovation:

  • Forgetting to look up: We are often so busy getting through the tasks that make up our days that we forget to pause, take a breath and look up.
  • Exhaustion inertia: While we are busy getting through our days, the minutiae of living can cause exhaustion that leads to the desire to simply do nothing. Having downtime is important and a peaceful focus on nothingness can be the perfect opportunity to recharge. If, however, all we are doing is vacillating between working and exhaustion inertia, there is a problem.
  • Fear of the unknown: We cannot always predict what is around the corner. This concern about the unknown can lead to potentially debilitating fear.
  • Unstable base: When we have a firm foundation, we have the stabilizing roots that allow us to explore and try new things. When our base is unstable, we are less willing and able to embrace the new.
  • Blindly copying best practices: Understanding and mirroring best practices can give us a jump-start and help us mitigate the gap from where we are to where we want to go. But if we blindly copy best practices, we might create new habits that don’t align with our personal purpose and mission.
  • Treating just the symptoms: Veterinary professionals know that treating the symptoms without first gaining a proper diagnosis is a temporary fix.

So, how do we overcome or prevent the barriers to innovation? We can lump these tools into three categories:

  • Stabilize the base.
  • Seek feedback.
  • Activate the building blocks.

1. Stabilize the Base

We are better able to innovate, try new things and take risks when our base is stable. To maintain a stable base, focus on the three guiding principles below, including all nine dimensions of well-being.

The first guiding principle: The oxygen-mask rule is legit.

It’s true what flight attendants tell us: During an emergency, put the oxygen mask on ourselves before we try to put it on our child or whoever is occupying the seat next to us. Why? Because we are better equipped to help others when we take care of ourselves first. This is practicing self-care, and it’s easier to own on the good days than on the days we’re having a rough time.

The second guiding principle: Attitude really is everything.

As with the first principle, choosing our attitude or mindset is easy on the good days and challenging on the not-so-good days. “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor,” said the Persian poet Rumi. What a freeing approach. Assume the best, because we never really know what the other person is dealing with and strengthening our resiliency muscle makes choosing a productive attitude easier.

The third guiding principle: We must be self-aware before we can self-care.

If you’re solid on the first two guiding principles, making time to increase self-awareness is a good place to focus time and energy. How can we self-care if we don’t know what matters most and what makes us thrive? How can we prioritize and know when to say “no” if we don’t know what’s most important to us? Spending time to create, revise and align your priorities with your personal purpose is central to this guiding principle.

Also critical to stabilizing your base is to consider each of these nine dimensions of well-being, which I gathered from the AVMA’s Wellbeing and Peer Assistance Resource Center, authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter, and Ohio State University:

  • Work/career dimension.
  • Emotional dimension.
  • Spiritual dimension.
  • Social dimension.
  • Creativity and diversity dimension.
  • Environmental dimension.
  • Intellectual dimension.
  • Financial dimension.
  • Physical dimension.

Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5. Are you thriving (5), surviving (3) or completely burned out (0)? Know where you are today, decide where you want to be tomorrow, and make a plan that puts you on that path.

2. Seek Feedback

The second way to prevent barriers to personal innovation is to seek feedback. This could mean participating in a formal mentoring program, connecting periodically with an informal mentor or organizing a personal advisory board that you tap into to help guide you on your journey through life.

3. Activate the Five Building Blocks

And now we arrive where we started. We prevent or overcome barriers to personal innovation by activating the five building blocks and making them part of our daily lives. Are you ready to commit time and energy to yourself? What one thing will you commit to doing based on the five building blocks of personal innovation?

If you don’t have a written personal purpose statement, that’s a great place to start. If you have a solid purpose statement and it still aligns with what matters most to you, think about your collaboration circles and consider extending an invitation to someone new. #YouDoYou

VetPartners member Dr. Mia Cary is a consultant, speaker and workshop facilitator. She is the former chief of professional development and strategic alliances for the American Veterinary Medical Association and former chief innovation officer at the North American Veterinary Community.