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Posted by: briansittley Comments: One Comment 0 Post Date: March 17, 2010

A recent article in Fast Company highlights a strong point made by Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

In it, they propose some useful, if counterintuitive thinking.  The gist of it is this: When we are confronted with a problem, business or otherwise, what’s our first reaction?  Mostly, to fix it, right?  And mostly, to look at what’s wrong and try to fix that.  Instead, they argue, look at the bright side, so to speak.

This is not Pollyanna.  Take what’s right, shine a light on it, and clone it.  Their examples lend insight. 

In one case, an American aid worker in Vietnam was tasked with finding a way to fight malnutrition.  He had 6 months — and no idea where to begin.  The traditional problem-focused thinking dwelled on the insurmountable tasks: lack of clean water, lack of infrastructure, poor sanitation and universal poverty. These problems were not going to be tackled in 6 months.

So, long story short, he identified within villages what was working – among the kids who did not appear malnourished.  It turned out to be spreading meager food rations over 4 meals a day instead of two (the two larger meals were a mistake because malnourished kids can’t absorb that much food); eating with their families; adding a couple other foods (tiny shrimps and crabs, and sweet potato greens) to round out nutrients; and making a conscious effort to educate parents on how to do all this, via organized community efforts.  The result: six months later, two-thirds of kids were better nourished.

The authors reveal similar stories, like how school authorities helped a kid that was failing all but one class, not by focusing on his failures, but by drilling down carefully to find out what worked in the one class he did well in.  Things like greeting the kid at the classroom door, making sure he’s assigned work he can actually do, making he sure he understands the instructions.  The point is: focus on what’s working, and amplify it.

And the real underlying point to these and other stories was this: “We need to switch from archaeological problem solving to bright-spot evangelizing.”  The aid worker in Vietnam could have spent 20 years writing position papers on the malnutrition problem.  Instead, he found successes, small ones, even in failure.

Business problems offer the same focusing opportunity.  Got a problem?  Look for the bright spot.  See what’s working, and work back from there.  It takes you from negative-focus to positive.  Your whole attitude might just change, too.

Comment (1)

  • Carlton Stith Reply

    What a refreshing way to start my morning. I really enjoyed your article and I also agree with you. In order to implement a change, you must (in order to avoid the opposite party from entering “defense mode”) focus on the positives and work from there in order to duplicate the outcomes on the projects that lack promising results. This ideology is far too often ignored and thus I salute you for addressing this topic.

    March 18, 2010 at 9:45 am

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