Finding Bright Spots

The latest issue of FastCompany magazine has a terrific piece by Chip and Dan Heath, “Find a Bright Spot and Clone It.”  While it uses private sector examples, their insights apply equally to government.

“Our focus, in times of change, goes instinctively to the problems at hand.  What’s broken and how do we fix it?  This troubleshooting mind-set serves us well – most of the time. . . if your child brings home a report card with five As and one F, it make sense to freak out about the F.

“ But in times of change, this mind-set will backfire.  If we need to make major changes. . . A lot of things are probably wrong. . . So ask yourself, What’s broken and how do I fix it?, you’ll simply spin your wheels.”

“When it’s time to change, we must look for bright spots – the first signs that things are working, the first precious As and Bs on our report card.  We need to ask ourselves a question that sounds simple but is, in fact, deeply unnatural:  What’s working and how can we do more of it?”

For those who have been in the federal government the past 15 years, you’ve seen both approaches.  The Gore Hammer Award was an example of finding bright spots and showering attention on them, and the Bush President’s Management Agenda Scorecard highlighted what was wrong and needed attention.  Maybe next week we’ll see what the Obama administration’s emphasis will be when it releases its budget (and management priorities) on February 1st.

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