Sunday, May 10, 2020

Bright spot diary: A source of ideas during challenging times

“Just surviving!” That’s the typical response I got from friends and family during the current ongoing Covid lockdown. Where does one find a source of creativity during such a gloomy period? In this article, I would like to present one such source which I find useful – bright spot diary. I have been maintaining this diary – more like a list in my diary – for over two years now. Let’s see how it helps me.

What’s a bright spot? It is anything that has (a) worked for me recently, and (b) was unexpected. Let’s look at 2 entries I made in this diary during the Covid period:
1.      Mindfulness webinar – 29 participants – 12-April
2.      Reading small chunks – Laplace approximation – 3-May

Entry no. 1 on 12th April is about the number of people who participated in an open webinar on mindfulness on that day. I didn’t expect so many people would turn up. Entry no. 2 is about a change I made while planning my day. For a while, I was writing in my todo list that I would finish a chapter from a book every day. And every day I would get stuck somewhere and fall short of the target. So one day I decided to allocate only one concept - more like a section – per day. And it worked much better. So I continued that way.

As you may have guessed, bright spots are well suited for asking scaling questions, “Can I do more of it?” Sometimes the answer is “yes”, sometimes “no”. But at least it creates options.

What does it mean for something to have “worked recently”? Well, it could be anything where things are not working out. So if days look boring, a bright spot would mean fun moments *in* the otherwise boring day. If exercise is not happening regularly, then a bright spot would be that situation where you went for a jog or did yoga. In fact, bright spot philosophy says that there is nothing universally dark. In every dark situation, there are bright spots lurking in the darkness.

I first encountered bright spots approach in the book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath. In fact, I wrote my first blog on the topic after reading Switch exactly ten years ago (May 2010). Then I followed the two sources from which Heath brothers borrowed it. One, psychotherapy called Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) and two, Positive Deviance approach championed by Jerry Sternin. So in a way, I have been sharpening my “bright spot” lens much before I began to write the diary.

What triggered the writing of bright spot diary for me?  Two years ago, in one of the guest lectures, a student asked me, “When everybody around you keeps pointing at your shortcomings, how does one get motivated?” and I suggested she write a bright spot diary. And then I asked myself, “Why not write one myself?” And that’s how it began. By then my bright spot lens – i.e. ability to notice bright spots in challenging situations had been honed for a number of years. And that brings us to an important aspect of bright spots.

Unlike the name suggests, bright spots are not necessarily very bright and shining and easily noticeable. In fact, they are oftentimes dim flickers in an overall dark and gloomy background. Somebody mentioned in my introduction in a panel discussion that I am an innovation and strategy expert. Wow! Strategy expert? Am I? Could I be? I noted it as a bright spot. And later asked me, “Could I develop this area further?”

Personal examples are always limiting. People say my life has been quite smooth. I never had major challenges. And that’s true. However, I feel that bright spots are present no matter how challenging the situation is. Apparently, people at the receiving end of the suicide hotline are trained to say, “Is there a part of you that doesn’t want to commit suicide? I would like to talk to that part of you.” There is usually a part that doesn’t want to commit suicide otherwise the person wouldn’t have called the hotline number anyway.

I hope you get to try it out and see if it works for you. Best wishes.


  1. Thank you. I too have read Switch but never applied it the way you did. Thank you.