Applying SYSTEMS THINKING to offset the crisis waves

‘Never waste a good crisis’, – said W. Churchill. So true. Most amazing ideas we have the benefit of enjoying today came out of crisis, so yeah – I do think the future is going to be all right. But our system is broken – I hear this a lot. So let’s talk about the systems, as I recently got blown away by the Theory U.

Everything is interconnected and interdependent. Veterinary professionals are awesome systems-thinkers because we studied it. We studied how systems interact and how one little ‘fail’ may turn into a ‘mother of all fails’ at so many levels. We studied the concept of balance. We studied organ systems, you know the usual suspects like digestive system, respiratory system etc. We studied the basic principles of how systems and eco-systems can behave. But do we really understand the systems we live and operate within? I guess based on everything happening – not quite yet.

You can’t understand the system until you change it (K. Lewin). And this is exactly what COVID-19 did. The virus changed the system and helped us understand how everything is interconnected and where the gaps and the blind spots are. Maybe at the end of the day we are not on top of the pyramid. We are just a tiny little part of the system.

You can’t change the system unless you transform the source of your thinking (call it consciousness if you like). So often we are simply not even clear on where the source of our thinking is.

You can’t get to the new way of thinking unless you make the system see and sense itself (Theory U). All resent turbulences allowed majority to sense and see the system.

Disruptions became part of our regular life these days. And as human beings we tend to react to them in the same ways we did when we were cave people. No kidding – same ways: freeze, flight or fight. Maybe the evolution is slightly overrated when it comes to humans.

Many of us continue to be in the state of downloading (new term I recently discovered at the circular economics meet up). The state of not recognising what you see (ignorance at its best), not saying what you think, not doing what you say and not seeing what you do. It is a limbo of staying where you are, doing what you have always done, frozen 2.0 in time.

Some of us are turning away from it. Funnily enough, you see some ignorance here too. But also lots of fear and hate. This is where we blame others, we tear everything to pieces and we are still running away from the problem. There is very little one can fix or change when they come from the place of fear (closed will), hatred (closed heart) or ignorance (closed mind). This is the place of denial, bubbles, microtargeting, manipulative dark posts, blaming and shaming others. We think we are fighting it, but in fact – we are just running away. All it results into is more trauma for everyone involved. Now, when you are a zoo vet and the lion wakes up from anaesthesia, by all means – run away the fast you can and blame the anaesthesiologist or the lion. Sometimes it is totally justified and needed short-term, often this may not be an effective approach long- term (and please don’t tear me apart for not being all in on violence. Just like you, I am forming my point of view based on my values and what I know; I am open to learn more and I am learning ).

That leaves us with the 3rd option of turning towards. And while this is not an easy one to do (in front of the lion or social issues), it does come from the place of curiosity (open mind), compassion (open heart) and courage (open will). This response to disruption conditions us to see, sense, be present in the moment, try few things – some of which may actually lead into evolution. And some won’t. But if enough of us try – we might see the pendulum changing.

I want to see more of turning towards because we have done the downloading and the turning away for a very long time. And while we got really good at these – in my opinion, they are not working.

So what are the opportunities we all could turn towards, reimagine and reshape?

  • 1. THE WAY WE LEARN. It begins with being curious enough to learn. But the trick is that we need to consider the whole person and the whole system. The way we learn as a profession has to evolve. And I see some awesome things being done with mental health, well-being. I want to see more of co-creation in eco-systems. Learning in diverse groups.
  • 2. THE WAY WE DECIDE. How might we get to more direct, more distributed, dialogue-based decision making in our profession? Think for a moment about the telemedicine conversations at the start of COVID (some of us turned towards others turned away hiding behind regulations on what could go wrong).
  • 3. THE WAY WE RUN OUR VETERINARY ECONOMICS. How could we move away from EGO and turn towards ECO with the focus of well-being for all?

The veterinary profession is uniquely positioned at the intersection of so many systems, destined to make an impact. So how might we?

  • How might the veterinary community get more involved in circular economics and agricultural regeneration? How could we reuse and repurpose more?
  • How might we shift from jobs to entrepreneurship? And with that how could we further diversify income streams and decouple income from work. Because working somewhere should not define your universal income. Could side-hustling be a way to live more fulfilled lives?
  • How might we use technology to enable our professional creativity? That assumes that as a profession we actually need to reignite the creativity while operating within the laws.
  • How might we shift hierarchical leadership to the eco-system leadership and reinforce impact we make vs the title we hold? And with that, how could we move from organised interest groups to smaller self-organised groups that have intentional conversations and ability to rapidly prototype to test out solutions.
  • How might we measure success differently, possibly moving from revenue to well-being?
  • How could we involve younger professionals in decision making earlier? At the end of the day – the future is theirs!
  • How are we going to address the de-globalisation and de-urbanisation (we don’t know if these will happen, but certainly we all turned towards more local solutions and this might not be the last lock-down we see in our lifetime)? Are rural vets ready for the potential increase in their demand and services? Are we upskilled enough to tackle things locally? Are we going to see more competitors coming together and partnering for the greater good?
  • How might we innovate around business models and get creative with the value we deliver, the channels we use and the revenue streams? The way to survive is the relentless focus on value delivery to our patients, clients, community and stakeholders.
  • How might we shift from Clinic/Doctor-centred focus to People/Patient-focused model? Delivering more invisible, more preventative, more seamless and more convenient care. Making people & their pets the point of care. Not the veterinary clinics. Or at least – not only.
  • How might we put people first and yet consider the systems around them?
  • How could we leverage technological advances to be present without being physically present, to know without a need to be told?
  • How might we change the way people feel about vet med and the way we feel about vet med (the chicken and the egg, I know, but still). In small animals practices, the last thing people feel is a WOW from how huge the bill was. And I want to see them being WOWed with the love, care, attention and service they received. Is that too much to ask?
  • How could we ensure that we deliver good medicine with less (besides design & systems thinking, I am also very much passionate about becoming more minimalist and becoming more sustainable).

I know – there are more questions than answers. But one thing I know for sure is that by enabling creativity and innovation within the profession, a lot of the above questions might be answered. I believe they can.

Unloading my mind, felt good. Your turn – did you get curious to find the answers? Don’t waste the crisis – lean forward!

Li @ Vet Reflections

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Work-life balance is dead. Integrate instead.

VetReflections Work-Life Integration

Today the boundaries between one’s professional and personal life are constantly blurring. It is impractical to think of work-life balance as a complete separation between worlds.

Technology means that we’re all available 24/7. Everyone (and particularly emerging group of millennial clients) demands instant reaction and instant connectivity, there are no boundaries, no breaks.

Each of us probably asked ourselves the age-old question: is it ever possible to juggle work and home life effectively? Well, the answer could depend on how well we can integrate all the pieces – rather than simply relying on getting the balance right.

Balance is unrealistic goal that stresses us out more than we think. This is particularly true for veterinary professionals, who never quite had a ‘balance’ to begin with because pet lives and client’s demands often come first. Even when we work in the industry, often we approach projects as ‘critical patients’

In light of the dramatic increase in suicide rates in our profession – it is important we adapt a more realistic terminology and more importantly explore how veterinary team & leadership could help make work-life integration an everyday reality.

Key Definitions:

VetReflection Balance
VetReflections Integration
50% work / 50% lifeComplete integration of:
-Alone Me Time
Either / orIntegration
Right/ WrongAll valuable
One size fits allFlexible
Work HarderWork Smarter
Burn Out risk
Low Engagement
High Engagement

The benefits of work-life integration


Work-life integration is a great way to give time and attention to all areas of life, without having to sacrifice one for the other. It is more realistic to achieve and it brings a new outlook on work.

Veterinary professionals in selected specialties (like dermatologists, oncologists, physiotherapists, locum vets) have the advantage to make it happen due to the nature of their work and new technologies supporting distant online communications. For others, such as ER vets or surgeons – the entire system needs to be flexed.

Work-life integration doesn’t look the same for everyone – and how one chooses to organise their time will depend on both their professional and personal commitments and aspirations.

Whilst work-life integration is often a useful way to fulfill personal and career goals simultaneously, nobody expects veterinarians to merge both areas of their life completely. Attention must be paid to well-being and overall happiness and, crucially, veterinary professionals must do what’s right for them personally.

It might not work for everyone – but done right, work-life integration could be key to improving your career happiness and reducing levels of stress, anxiety, burnout and suicide.

Today, the picture is mostly like this:

  • Defined Schedules
  • Time off is strictly scheduled and generally restricted (e.g. vacation)
  • Break from work is not generally acceptable, maternity leave is limited
  • Break from work is not generally acceptable, parental leave is limited
  • Veterinary work can only be done in the clinic environment (industry vet work – in the corporate office)
  • Passion projects (new specialty, professional course of choice or even a hobby) only funded by the individual as if ‘non-work related’
  • Exercising strictly before or after work
  • Leaving work shift exactly at X pm, as per agreed standard shift schedule, to pick up a child after daycare
  • A single policy for all

In the future of integration, it should look more like this:

  • Flexible schedules that allow integrating day to day life, powered by AI technologies and efficient scheduling algorithms
  • Systems are in place to handle ad hoc time offs, making them ‘normal’ (in partnership with locums)
  • Sabbaticals are generally accepted, maternity/paternity leaves are flexible
  • Some work can be done from home with the support of technology (Telework, Telemedicine, Telehealth, Digitalisation of paperwork, AI assistants replace paperwork all together)
  • Employer supports, encourages and even funds individual ‘passions’ and side-hustles to ensure overall well-being, happiness and development
  • Yoga, mindfulness, gym at the clinic. Often a dedicated position to support well-being.
  • Bringing the child to work after school with someone to watch over should there be a need or as a common service
  • Flexible policy based on the individual situation

Suggested readings & activities to explore

  • Read ‘Leading the life you want. Skills for integrating work & life” by S.Friedman. Some of the ideas outlined in this blog were inspired by this book.
  • Complete personal assessments to increase self-awareness and understand your individual needs, for example ‘Emotional Index’
  • Commit time to daily reflection (check Vet Reflections blog for more posts on reflective thinking and consider joining our 7-day challenge)
  • Practice and experiment with work-life integration concept. Work with your employer to develop a small initiative in your clinic (arrange for one if you are a practice owner!)
  • Get a support from the life-coach (you will be surprised what good coaching can do to you:)
  • Share what you have learned with others and support those in need.
  • Stop to enjoy when things are good, remember that feeling for a “rainy day”


There are plenty of opportunities for veterinary professionals to establish a work-life integration. The fact that we did things in some way for decades, doesn’t mean it stays like this forever.

The profession is solely responsible for the well-being of veterinarians and for offering support and guidance to the members of the veterinary community.

Regular workshops (live and online) are advisable to further identify solutions, develop conceptual prototypes on how to change the way we operate to better integrate all aspects of life: work, home/family, community and personal ‘ME’ time, so we can live healthier and happier lives while continue helping animals.

Above content was originally prepared for the NAVDF 2019, where I moderated a Design Thinking breakfast session on the topic of work-life integration for veterinary dermatologists. If you are interested to run a session in your business or practice, please drop me a line below.

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10 questions to kick-start your vet reflections journey


It all starts with taking a step back, which is an important part of any problem-solving technique (and as members of vet profession, we are by default awesome problem-solvers:).

You must put yourself outside the situation and evaluate it with all the variables involved. Then you use your past experience to make plans or strategies that will create a desirable outcome from this situation.


Each day take 10-15 minutes at the close of the day to reflect on your day.

Here are some questions I use to guide my own reflective conversations:


  1. Am I ok (not at all, somewhat, ok, quite ok, awesome)?
  2. What was the highlight of my day? Successes to note?
  3. What have I learned today that will help me grow? Mentally? In relationships?
  4. Where do I need to change? What mistakes can I grow from?
  5. Changes needed that will help me? What action steps do I now need to take?
  6. What was most meaningful in the day?
  7. Was I able to reach out and touch someone’s life by a smile? Helped? Was I kind? Did I make a difference? Whom could I help tomorrow?
  8. What other perspectives do I need to look at?
  9. Did I laugh today and have fun?
  10. What is a memory I’d like to remember?


Reflective thinking is more about writing down significant thoughts and action points. Write it in the dedicated notebook or use digital tools like Evernote, Google Keep, Apple Notes etc. I learned the hard way the benefit of writing or capturing these thoughts (memory is a b….).

The questions can be used in the context of the workday or teamed up with personal experiences. Pick and choose what you’d like…or come up with your own. Set aside 10-15 minutes a day to do it (ideally at the end of the day).


Let your Vet Reflections guide you to a happier, inspired, fulfilled and safe state of mind.

If you are willing to help me out to explore the effect of reflective thinking on the members of vet profession, please join my 7-Days Vet Reflections Challenge. You will get plenty of inspirations and opportunity to practice reflection. It takes only 10-15 min a day + a completion of 2 quick surveys.

Even if you don’t join the official challenge, consider practicing reflective thinking for your own benefit.

Li @ Vet Reflections

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Why Reflective Thinking can be a game-changer


Reflective thinking is the process where you slow down to interpret and evaluate your experiences, check that they make ‘sense’ to you, create meaning, justify your actions, solve problems and savor good moments to create distinct memories and let go of stuff. It helps with your future planning and wires your brain in the positive & constructive manner.

Reflective thinking is powerful because it enables you to make faster and more informed judgments without having to spend a lot of time analysing the situation. I think it is a game-changer for veterinary profession if we can all master it.


You can apply this method to any situation (work case, family matter, lecture at the vet conference etc) from your own life or from the lives of others.

Why we all love the Facebook groups? Because actually a lot of content there is based off individual reflections. You are welcome – now you can use this ‘scientific evidence’ to justify the time spent scrolling through those posts:).


Values of Reflective Thinking for veterinary professionals:

  • Gives perspective within context
  • Allows you to continually connect with inner-self
  • Rewire your brain to remember more positives
  • Provides counsel and direction regarding the future
  • Increases confidence in decision-making


Let’s dissect this for a moment or two.

Reflective thinking gives you true perspective and keep you connected with inner-self. It puts your experience into perspective – small stuff, a crisis, a difficult case, an irritation from a difficult client or a great event to savor forever. This allows you to focus on what is really important to you. Connect with your life to gain true perspective and think with understanding.

Reflective Thinking helps rewire your brain. For example, thinking/reflecting on a vacation or a case helps make memories. Without reflecting on something, memories are not made. Ever wondered why you have vague memories of some things and vivid memories of others? Part of it is the attention you paid to it…going over it again, reflecting on it from various angles.

Now with reflective techniques you can spend more time reflecting on positive things, creating more ‘good’ memories and increasing your level of happy. This in return will help deescalate everyday pressure built up and give you small actionable steps to take vs big unrealistic goals.

Reflective thinking allows you to profit from experiences to empower direction for your future. It takes a good experience and makes it a valuable experience by examining it. This is how you learn from both successes and mistakes. It helps you discover what you should repeat and determine what you should change.

Reflective thinking increases your confidence in decision-making. A person looks over the various angles of something to ponder and gain insight. Capture other possibilities or things that may have been done should a similar situation raises. Next time it happens – you will be more ready to face it with confidence.


Few things in life can help you learn, improve, and enjoy life the way reflective thinking can. Add appreciation for the little things of each day by taking the time to acknowledge and memorise.

Reflective thinking can be mastered if you nurture the following traits within you:

Awareness1. Self-awareness: First and foremost, you should have a firm grasp about yourself. Your abilities, your past experiences, and goals. Self-awareness helps you to have a better understanding of the position you are in, and what can be done from that position.

2. Self-improvement: Each experience is a lesson that needs to be learned. When you find obstacles or success, make sure that you study about the routes you chose and the experiences that come with it.

Empowerment3. Empowerment: Apply the lessons learned from your experience and put them to use in real-life scenarios. You are empowering yourself to become a better version of yourself.

Convinced yet? Check out the 10 questions I use to stimulate daily reflections.

Li @ Vet Reflections

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