Turning Bright Spots into Your Sweet Spot

Looking for bright spots can help you find your sweet spot.

Looking for bright spots can help you find your sweet spot.

Boston has groaned under the weight of 104.1 inches of snow this winter, yet Bostonians are rooting for two more inches before the season ends. "It would be shame to have gone through all this and not break the record," said one upbeat Boston resident leaning on his well-worn snow shovel.

This attitude is known as looking for a bright spot. It is often the source of great success.

In their book "Switch," Chip and Dan Heath write about Jerry Sternin who went to Vietnam on behalf of Save the Children with the assignment of making a dent in widespread child malnutrition. He had virtually no money. Vietnamese officials gave Sternin six months to make something worthwhile happen.

Sternin didn't have time or resources to conduct an exhaustive study of why children were malnourished, so he went to villages to see what he could learn. He found children who were getting proper nourishment, and he took  time to find out how and why.

What Sternin did was look for bright spots. What he found were actions that could be copied in every Vietnamese village. He turned bright spots into shining examples of what could be done to make a difference.

Later, Sternin was responsible for setting up leadership training that looked for what he called "positive deviance," which is just another way of describing bright spot.

Far too often, we look for what's wrong, not what's right. Often, cultivating and nurturing what's right is a straighter path to success than trying to fix what's wrong. Copying success may be quicker, cheaper and smarter than coping with failure.

Looking for bright spots is not an excuse for neglecting to solve problems. But trying to solve problems isn't always the way to make breakthroughs. Dan Heath describes a company with a sales force with two stars, two plodders and two non-producers. A problem-solver may focus his or her attention on the plodders and non-producers. Someone looking for bright spots would spend his or her time finding out what made the sales team stars successful.

In the realm of issues management, the value of quality research is to look for bright spots – the message that makes a difference with the audience you need to convince.

Outreach efforts should stick to that effective message, rather than trying to "improve" other, less convincing messages.

Assessing community reaction to your messages should center on seeing who is impressed and asking them why. Is it the message, the messenger or something else? Finding the bright spot can become your sweet spot.

That can make all the difference in winning the day or finding yourself under an avalanche of opposition.