When I was watching the Olympics, I thought a lot about time. Nothing highlights the importance of time quite like the Olympics, where so much comes down to seconds. Katie Ledecky just set a world record for the 800m freestyle; second place was nearly 12 seconds behind her. To most of us, what’s 12 seconds?

In the 100m dash, the difference between the gold medal and last place is usually less than half a second, yet that sliver of time will define a person for the rest of his or her life.

At the Regional One Health Center for Innovation, we talk as much about where innovation can happen as when it can happen. It’s not just about having something happen at the right time. It’s also about making the time.

We’ve all heard about the importance of seizing every moment of every day. My own mother and grandmother impressed this on me as a child. As we get older, time flies by faster. In the Olympics of our lives, it feels like every second matters more, especially as we layer marriage, children, career, community, and other life experiences.

Whether we are entrepreneurs or employees at a major company, in most cases our time is dictated by the environment around us.

When it comes to the work we do in innovation, we have to remember that true innovation can be born in just a single moment—if we just remember to take the time. I have heard people tell me they don’t have time to be innovative. They are too busy putting out the fires of day-to-day operations.

We have to remind ourselves to find the time. Take a moment of quiet, a moment of reflection, a moment to remove ourselves from the daily grind in order to make life better for us and the patients. Innovation happens because we are in that moment. We can’t spend all our time waiting for the right moment. We have to claim that time.

One of the key goals of the Regional One Health Center for Innovation is to find a way to better create a positive relationship between the patient and the provider. The best way to do this is to develop ways to improve communication.

Sometimes the best way to innovate is to create a new tool. Sometimes it’s a matter of first reorienting our thinking.

Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a breath.

There are hundreds of quotes about how breathing relates to life. I know it might sound a little silly to say that “breathing is the key to life,” but I can’t help but see the comparison between breathing and good communication between the patient and the provider.

We often have to be taught to breathe “well.” It’s something our bodies know how to to do, but we can forget about how to do it well in times of stress. Expectant parents take classes on breathing. Athletes talk about how important breathing is to good performance. When we feel mental stress, we have to remind ourselves to relax and breathe. We have to consciously focus our energies to it.

Communication is the same way. Hundreds of articles are written about better communication. Just because we know how to talk, or how to relay information, doesn’t know that we always know how to communicate well. It can also be easy to momentarily forget what we do know, as someone forgetting to take a breath.

When our bodies are under stress, we all can forget to breathe. When we’re sick, we can also fail to communicate our issues to our providers until it is too late. In fact, just the thought of communicating with providers can often bring on more stress.

How can we simplify communication between a patient and his or her provider? We need to develop innovative tools and processes that allow the providers and support staff to communicate as easily as taking a breath. The patient has to be able to receive information and communicate back to the provider in a way that’s as easy as breathing out.

How can the Center for Innovation learn to breathe better and easier?

Maybe we are overthinking it, making it harder than we should. Maybe we just need to step back and take a deep breath.

We launched the Regional One Health Center for Innovation website earlier this year, but this center has been in development for much longer. Creating the system identity of Regional One Health had been in the works for even longer. It can be hard to describe the amount of brainpower and manpower required to get something of this magnitude off the ground. It can be harder still to describe how inspiring it’s been to witness.

I came on as Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in June of 2015, and I’ve certainly been reflecting on my first year these past months.

Quite frankly, I’m not entirely sure I knew what I was getting myself into when I accepted the position. I knew a few things:

  • I had always admired Dr. Coopwood and Susan Cooper for their successes in Nashville.
  • Regional One Health was a new name.
  • There was a buzz in the air about the outpatient facility at Quince and Kirby.
shark tank

Winners of Regional One Health’s recent “Shark Tank” employee idea competition.

Even at the beginning, as a sort of outsider looking in, I witnessed innovation each and every day. It’s been a humbling experience to come to understand the number of people, from the executive team to environmental services, who have been so committed to making Regional One Health better. I saw the staff solving big and small problems with innovative solutions via technology, process, or staff realignment.

On our homepage we say, “It’s time for a transformation, to create the innovation we want to see, rather than waiting for it to come to us.” This has been the literal truth for this center from day one, for both Regional One Health and the Center for Innovation.

All of us here at the Regional One Health Center for Innovation are pumped up with the knowledge that Regional One Health is moving quickly in the right direction. I look for the Center to organize the campus and encourage staff to solve some of our bigger challenges and seek solutions from outside entrepreneurs in Memphis and the Mid-South.

This past year has blown me away, and this is only just the beginning.