Start with what’s working well to fix what’s wrong

They’re on to something — actually they’re on to the same thing.

I read in the current issue of Fast Company an excerpt from a new book, Switch, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Fast Company columnists and authors of Made to Stick).  I was struck by the similarities between their ideas and those espoused in the 2008 book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything.

At the risk of oversimplifying, changing something massive and pervasive (like malnutrition or disease in a third world nation or pervasive bad business habits), is possible when you look for what’s already working well.

For the Heaths in Switch, the insight is to “find a bright spot and clone it.” The authors of Influencer look for “high leverage behaviors.”

Synthesizing both books, it boils down to:

  1. Move beyond the obsession with “TBU — true but useless” information that points to solutions that are impossible to implement.   Instead, find the “bright spot” (Heath brothers) or “high-leverage behaviors” (Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler).   Find examples of well-nourished and healthy people — or clusters of people with good business habits — and identify what they’re doing right.
  2. Identify the influencers, those already trusted and, with their cooperation, share and reinforce the solution.
  3. Make it easy for others to replicate the bright spot or high-leverage behaviors.  Create opportunities to practice the new behaviors and introduce them to enough people so that soon the greatest numbers of people are nourished, healthy and, in business, profitable.

A business application of these like-minded theories might be helping a professional service firm solve the problem of over-servicing clients.   The typical response is to cull data, slice and dice the data, and then hold internal meetings to tackle the problem.  But the account teams that are already getting paid fairly for their level of service, already know that the secret to their success lies in building a trusted relationship in which tough conversations about compensation can take place without jeopardizing the entire relationship.  Explore their client service strategies (reporting, invoicing and relationship-building) and identify what they’re doing that could be “cloned.”

Another business example might be an organization with a stifling culture of deadly dull meetings dominated by pointless PowerPoint slides.   Find the bright spot — the manager who leads meetings that are engaging, action-oriented,  and with clear take-aways that his employees are inspired to execute.   Then make that the norm — not a culture of dueling PowerPoint data decks.  Create opportunities for the exception to influence the “rule” that needs to be changed.

As an eternal optimist who believes we can change the world, these authors are on to something huge!

Switch goes on sale February 16th and if the book is as good as the excerpt it will be another must-read from Dan Heath and Chip Heath.

Leave a Reply