Chapter Bright Spots: Proof for Chapter Leaders That Innovation Is Doable

Remember the good old days when kids came home from school waving around (or hiding) report cards? Now, imagine your child’s report card displayed a few A’s, a few B’s, and one F. All you see is the F, right? You immediately go into action mode: maybe you should hire a tutor or take away their PlayStation.

If you’re like most association professionals, you switch into this problem-solving mode quite naturally. According to best-selling authors and all-around clever guys, Dan and Chip Heath, we’re wired to focus on problems rather than strengths. This problem-solving mentality usually works well enough—with tutoring, that F can turn into a B—but, in times of change, it’s not the best mindset.

When you look around your chapters, it’s natural to see challenges and problems everywhere. You could spend all day putting out fires and getting caught up in analysis paralysis with so many “priorities.”

We’re going to suggest something different. Right now, you’d do better to focus on bright spots.



A bright spot is something that’s going right. The Heaths describe them as “early glimmers.” Instead of taking a problem-solving approach to change, they suggest you encourage change by finding a bright spot, studying it, and cloning it.

For example, if you have a chapter or two with an unusually large percentage of early-career members, find out what that chapter is doing differently than other chapters, then figure out a way to replicate that behavior in other chapters.

The bright spot approach has been around a while. It’s also called “positive deviance analysis.” Imagine that as a chapter award: Best Positive Deviant of the Year.

Here’s an example shared by the Heaths that illustrates the bright spot approach. In the 1990s, the aid organization Save the Children sent Jerry Sternin to Vietnam to help reduce the number of malnourished children. Conventional wisdom blamed the problem on polluted water, poverty, and ignorance about nutrition and hygiene.

But, instead of focusing on the problem, Jerry looked for positive deviants (bright spots)—parents with well-nourished kids. What were they doing differently? And, whatever it was, could other parents do it too?

If those parents are receiving funds from wealthier cousins in California, they don’t qualify as a bright spot. Extraordinary resources don’t count, but exceptional behaviors and practices do.

Jerry found six families who followed consistent but rare practices. They served multiple smaller meals a day instead of two big bowls of white rice. They supplemented rice with sweet potato greens and foraged proteins like tiny shrimp and crabs.

These six families were bright spots—beacons of success who demonstrated that the supposedly “impossible” task of solving malnutrition was actually possible for everyone. Jerry and his team arranged for the bright spot mothers to teach their meal practices to families in surrounding villages.


Chapter leaders are overwhelmed right now. In many regions, their sweet spot, in-person meetings, are not happening. They’ve had to change everything about how they operate—governancenetworkingeducationsponsorships, and exhibits.

They need bright spots not just as a morale boost but as a way forward. Bright spots provide a doable road map. They prove that other chapters have followed this approach and found success, so they can too.

With the ridiculous number of challenges they’re facing right now, chapter leaders need to focus their efforts on what’s been demonstrated to work elsewhere instead of trying to solve every problem coming their way. Bright spots prove that even in tough times, incremental change is doable and can make a big difference.

Unlike the usual suggestions from HQ, bright spots are ideas from fellow chapter leaders, their peers, not the mothership. If other chapters can do it, they can do it too since these bright spots don’t require extraordinary resources.

HQ’s role is to illuminate the chapter bright spot and provide the kind of support that will help chapters replicate it.


What are the right conditions for the bright spot approach?

  • You see chapters dealing with too many priorities. You can tell they’re stressed and morale is sagging.
  • You’ve identified a common challenge or problem.
  • You know this challenge requires a change in behavior or practice. You can’t just solve it by throwing money or technology at it.
  • You believe positive deviants (bright spots) exist in your chapter network.
  • You think your chapter leaders are willing to address the issue.

Your association and chapters probably face the same challenge the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) wrestles with: filling the industry and association leadership pipeline. But they found a bright spot in their New England chapter.

In an 11-month series of interactive seminars, the chapter’s Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) prepares young designers for association and industry leadership roles. The program is free for designers, even non-members. In exchange for training their young designers, employers pay for the designer’s membership. Now, the chapter has many ELN graduates serving on their committees.

What did this chapter do differently? Instead of working alone, they partnered with local firms to solve a mutual challenge—filling the leadership pipeline. IIDA now provides grants to chapters who want to start up a similar program.

By sharing bright spots, chapters see that improvement is possible. The change is happening right now. And, most importantly, it’s happening without the need for extraordinary resources. A bright spot isn’t one of those ideas from a big budget chapter—you know the ones that cause a mass outbreak of eye rolls. Bright spots are doable by any chapter.


Thinking back, when have you found a successful practice at one chapter and shared it with the others? You’ll want to remind chapters: we’ve done this before and it works.

What problems are chapters experiencing right now that could be solved by a bright spot approach? Remember, these problems must have a behavioral or practice-based solution.

How could you use your CRP network to help you embark on a bright spot exercise?


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About the author

Charlotte Muylaert is the former Marketing Leader at Billhighway and greekbill. She oversaw the marketing and branding strategies for 10 years in the fraternal and association markets.