One Important Secret to Launching Change that Every Leader Needs

Kara Powell | Sep 12, 2013

At the core of our new Sticky Faith Launch Kit is our goal of helping you bring about change. Between the work our team has done on the Launch Kit and preparation I’ve been doing to teach a new fall course at Fuller Theological Seminary on Adolescent Faith Longevity (sounds a bit like a more academic approach to Sticky Faith, doesn’t it?), I’ve been thinking more about how to bring about change.

One of my favorite recent books on bringing about organizational change is Switch by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. One of the most vivid points in the book—and one I can’t wait to share in my Fuller class—is the power of what they call “finding the bright spots”. The Heaths illustrate the power of this principle by telling the true story of Jerry Sternin’s work in Vietnam.

In 1990, Jerry Sternin, who was working for Save the Children, was told by the Vietnam government that he had six months to try to make a difference in the pervasive malnutrition in their country’s children.

Sternin didn’t speak Vietnamese, but he had studied malnutrition extensively. Conventional wisdom was that starvation was caused by poverty, lack of clean water, or the ignorance of rural people. Sternin viewed this as “TBU”, meaning “true but useless”. He knew he and his team needed a different approach.

So he traveled to local villages and mobilized the mothers of the village to weigh and measure every child in their village. When the mothers found poor children who were healthier than the typical child, he asked the mothers to find out why.

In other words, he was searching for the bright spots – the successful efforts worth emulating.

By observing the ways families fed children, Sternin’s team realized that unlike most families who fed their kids two meals a day, healthier children often received four meals.

They also fed them different foods. “Bright spot moms” collected shrimp and crab from rice paddies and mixed them into the kids’ rice. Bright spot moms also added sweet potato greens, which added more nutrients.

Sternin never would have figured this out on his own. It was an indigenous solution.

According to the Heaths’ research, there are a few keys to utilizing bright spots:

  1. Realizing that people themselves often already know how to solve the problem. We just draw it out of them.
  2. Understanding that relatively small changes can yield great results.

A few questions you might want to ponder:

  1. As you think about changes you want to launch in your own ministries, where are the bright spots?
  2. What does that tell you about how problems can be solved and progress can be made?
  3. What small changes might yield great results?
Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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