Reflections on Dan and Chip Heath's Concept of Bright Spots

Kevin Watson ·

I was recently introduced to Dan & Chip Heath’s concept of “bright spots,” and I wanted to take a moment for reflection.

To watch Dan’s four minute video and read the article about this topic on Fast Company, please click on the following link:

Here’s a small excerpt to illustrate the concept introduced in their book, Switch:

Let’s say your kid comes home one day and shows you this report card.

Anything jump out at you? Well, if you’re like most parents, all you really see is this.

You’d hire a tutor, and your kid would be grounded, and they can kiss their Wii goodbye. This thought experiment comes from the author Marcus Buckingham, and what it reveals is that we’re wired to focus on problems rather than strengths. It would be the rare parent who’d say, "Wow, honey, you’ve really got a strength in English. I wonder how we can encourage that." You’ve probably had friends spend hours analyzing all the problems in their relationships, but have they ever spent hours analyzing why things are working so well?

Most of the time, this problem-solving mentality works just fine. If your kid has one F, by all means, do something about it. If you work at a nuclear power plant and all your instruments are showing positive readings—except for one that’s a little bit subpar, then by all means, get it fixed. Obsess about it. But there’s one time in life when this problem-focus backfires on us, and that’s when we’re trying to change things. In times of change, our report card doesn’t look almost-perfect. It looks mixed. Parts of it look like a failure.

And if, in those times, we slip into problem-solving mode, we’ll spin our wheels, because there are problems everywhere. That’s a recipe for inaction and paralysis. In times of change, you need what we call a bright-spots focus. That is, you need to look for the early glimmers that something is going right. And when you find a bright spot, your mission is to study it and clone it.

Recently, we put this concept to work within one of our program’s operations. In an effort to better support the employers and jobseekers within the region, we looked for bright spots to clone. As we dove into the exercise, we found that our TOP 3 employer relationships all had a similar recipe for success.

We experienced varying levels of success with these employers when the interactions happened primarily via phone or email. As our team spent more time face-to-face with these employers, we were able to develop closer relationships, see through the eyes of the hiring managers and get a better understand the types of jobseekers that would be the best cultural fit with these employers. As our team built closer bonds with these employers, we moved into “trusted partner” status and, as a result, the flood gates opened for job orders…ultimately leading to a spike in placements. Experiencing this success, we’re planning to “clone” our efforts with additional employers in the region.

What bright spots can you identify within your organization? I encourage you to spend 5 minutes brainstorming with your team to identify one bright spot ripe for replication.

And if you are looking for some additional perspective to support your efforts and help you identify bright spots, email me at