Bright Spots: How to Fix Any Problem

When Save the Children was invited into Vietnam to fight malnutrition, they asked an employee, Jerry Sternin, to open the office. It was a serious challenge. Malnutrition was widespread and seemingly unsolvable. There were countless reasons why: poverty, poor sanitation, ignorance about nutrition and lack of clean water.

Sternin described the analysis of the situation as TBU “true but useless.” Instead of being paralyzed by this overwhelming information, he employed a different strategy. Rather than focusing on all the malnourished children, he searched for examples of children living in poor villages who were not malnourished. He looked for exceptions to the rule.

Sternin’s strategy was to search for bright spots—successful efforts worth emulating. If some kids were healthy despite their advantages, that meant malnourishment was not inevitable.  Furthermore, the mere existence of healthy kids provided hope for a practical, short-term solution. Sternin knew he couldn’t fix the “root causes.” But if a handful of kids were staying healthy against the odds, why couldn’t every kid be healthy?

By observing the way that mothers of these healthy kids fed their children differently (they added cheap sweet potato greens, shrimp and crab into the food, they fed their children the same amount of food but spread it out into four meals a day instead of two larger ones and they hand fed their children rather than allowing them to feed themselves) they learned a simple way to fix a seemingly unfixable problem.

What can we learn from this? Don’t be deterred by TBU (true but useless information). Instead of troubleshooting, look for bright spots.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman