Looking in All the Wrong Places

By Ann Elliott

puzzle piece
Experts advise you to identify the problem and find the best solution. You are looking for what is not working so you can correct it.  This works most of the time.  However, you may  be looking in all the wrong places to put your business or your  life on a different path for a better outcome. In “Find a Bright Spot and Clone It,” Fast Company, February 2010, Chip Heath and Dan Heath, describe how Jerry Sternin arrived in Vietnam in 1990 to fight malnutrition. According to the foreign minister, Save the Children, Sternin’s employer, had “six months to make a difference.”  The major issues of poor sanitation, widespread poverty, scarce clean water and ignorance about nutrition were intertwined with malnutrition. puzzle piece With meager resources and a tight time frame, Sternin concluded the analysis “TBU—true but useless.”  He spent his efforts looking for children that were “healthy despite their disadvantages.”  He found them.  He learned what the mothers were doing and developed a program to replicate it in other villages. The end result according to the Heaths, “The program reached 2.2 million Vietnamese people in 265 villages.  Our living university has become a national model for teaching villagers to reduce drastically malnutrition in Vietnam.” Why looking at the problem for the solution is problematic: •    The magnitude of the problem is so big and complex that it is overwhelming to know where to begin to solve it. •     The problem persists and may increase because the solution is as big as the problem and action is on hold. •    It is easy to overlook success in the midst of problems because you don’t expect to find success in the midst of failure. •    There is no clear path out of the problem. •    When all you see are problems, pessimism extinguishes optimism and hope. It is easy to understand why going to the problem to find the solution is the normal way of improving your business or your life.  A crisis can initiate a change process quickly. A multifaceted problem that is under the crisis radar and has a slow burn is different.  If you realize your business has little or no chance of success on your current trajectory, looking for the “bright spots” that the Heaths describe is an alternative approach. Why do we look in all the wrong places? •    Solving the problem by focusing on the problem is the “standard of care” for problem solving and it works much of the time. •    The power of small changes to create big results is overlooked. •    Common sense and simple approaches are underestimated by proponents of complex, cerebral analysis. •    The magnitude of the problem obscures precisely what must be done to produce different results. •    Radical, dramatic swift action can be seductive and glamorous. How do you create change in your business or your life in order to solve problems, survive and thrive?  Take the advice of Chip Heath and Dan Heath to “Find a bright spot and clone it.” A few simple guidelines to get you started: •    Understand your current situation as Jim Collins advocates in Good to Great by “confronting the brutal facts.” Balance the brutal facts with what can create change. Be aware of the TBU analysis. •    Build on your strengths—personally and organizationally. They can be hiding in plain sight.  When you have a lot of problems to solve, it is easy to take for granted what is working. •    Be willing to find successes in remote and unlikely places in a sea of challenges. •    Ask questions about what is working without assuming you know the answer. •    Design your roadmap to expand the small success and “bright spots” in your organization and your life.  Develop a training program, for example, to replicate collecting accounts receivables successfully in an economic downturn. •    Have clarity about the shared vision for your business. Take action that leads you and your team in the direction of your vision. In his op-ed, “More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs Jobs,” The New York Times, January 23, 2010, Thomas Friedman, advised making entrepreneurship the center piece of economic stimulation and job creation.  Friedman noted Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) in his article.  This organization trains teachers to teach entrepreneurship to middle- and high school students. Yes Carolina, founded by Jimmy Bailey in Charleston, South Carolina, is a partner program of NFTE.  Visit the website (www.YesCarolina.com) to read how The Palmetto Artisan Program helped local kids, known as “Rose Kids,” transform their negative reputation and behavior into a legitimate business venture. The city of Charleston saw the “bright spot” of creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit in the kids who were causing problems for business owners, residents and visitors. Now the kids have a legitimate business that complements the tourism market. Resist the pervasive pattern of problem solving by probing the problem. Search for success patterns and what is working in your business and your life.  Expand what is working to displace what is not working.  Start looking in all the right places.
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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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