Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Overwhelming obstacles? Look for the “Bright Spot”

In the PR world or at least that of my firm, Panorama Public Relations, when a client is faced with a difficult or seemingly insurmountable problem, assessing assets is always a part of the foundation for a strong communications strategy.

The list of assets we gather is often intangible, things like community goodwill garnered by being a good corporate citizen. Assets in this case aren’t necessarily the ones on the books - but that’s important too.

When an issue boils over to a crisis and a company stands to lose valuable brand equity, then as advisors we begin to look for the nuggets, the intrinsic value, or “bright spots” to build our strategy for minimizing damage and overcoming the obstacles.

I was excited to read an article in the February issue of Fast Company magazine about SWITCH, a new book due out February 16. SWITCH, by author’s Dan Heath and Chip Heath, talks about how we in business tend to seek solutions equal to the scale of the problem and not for “bright spots” or “what’s working and how can we do more of it?”

The authors’ philosophy is reflected in the book’s subtitles – “FIND A BRIGHT SPOT AND CLONE IT– How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.”

The Fast Company article provides several examples of seriously tough issues, showcasing the use of the “bright spot” philosophy, and how it can apply to businesses faced with tough times.

One such issue was widespread malnutrition in rural Vietnam and how Jerry Sternin, a staff member at Save the Children, was able to cause sweeping change in a village riddled with child malnourishment. Sternin was given a six-month timeline by the Vietnam government to solve malnutrition. Talk about an insurmountable problem!

Rather than being overwhelmed by analyzing a hugely complicated problem, Sternin quickly uncovered the “bright spots,” a group of children in the village who were healthier, yet ate basically the same amount of food the undernourished children ate. What he and his team of moms from the village discovered was that the mothers of the healthier children were feeding their children four times a day meals enriched with small shrimp and crabs collected from the rice paddies. In addition, the child and parent were actively engaged in the eating process, and the children were fed by hand if necessary.

Six months later 65% of the village kids were better nourished. Sternin’s solution didn’t require a huge capital investment, positioning papers and hoards of experts analyzing the problem. He just found the bright spot and cloned it.