It's a common theme in organizations: When a champion is trying to start a new venture, project, program or investment, or change the way something is done, he or she often faces a barrage of skepticism, negativity and discouragement. This is particularly true in complementary and alternative medicine, or anything that seems to be outside the medicine mainstream. The problems seem insurmountable and, of course, that is where most of their energy is spent — in paying attention to the problems and trying to resolve them.

But that may not be the best approach, say authors Chip and Dan Heath in their best-selling book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. When tackling change, the "problem focus" often comes into play. Consider the child who comes home with a report card with one A, four Bs and one F. If you are this child's parent, where will you spend your time? On the F, of course. It is a rare parent, they say, who would instead look at the child's strengths and focus on how to build on them. The Heaths call these successes "bright spots," or as they are called in statistical jargon, positive deviants.

The same approach can be applied to organizations, but focusing on bright spots can be counter-intuitive in the business world. I've spoken to dozens of hospital leaders trying to build a new initiative in complementary medicine, or introduce a holistic nursing training program, or create some elements of a healing space to their physical environment. What they often hear are all the reasons it cannot be done. Common obstacles cited include budgetary constraints, lack of evidence-based studies and a lack of qualified practitioners.

So here's a new way of thinking about this, as inspired by the Heath brothers. Why not look at and look for what already is working in your organization — an asset map, as it were, of bright spots. Ask yourself what is working and how you can do more of it. To take it a step further, link the bright spots together to build your program or initiative.

Build on What's Already Working

Many hospital leaders to whom I've spoken over the years are facing fierce competition. They are trying to differentiate themselves by creating a healing environment by enhancing, for example, their patient-centered care initiatives and alternative medicine services. Of course, the prospect can seem daunting. Finances are generally tight and the organizational focus may be on the physical space, technology upgrades or other equally important initiatives. The challenge is to bring the rest of the leadership team on board with this new way of thinking — improving healing by integrating complementary therapies into the care clinicians provide their patients.

Probing further, we quickly discover that there are many existing bright spots or successful programs that can be built or expanded to support the vision. Here are some issues to think about in your own organization:

  • Survey your hospital employees to find out what hidden skills and interests they have related to CAM therapies. Are there nurses who know and practice Reiki or therapeutic touch, or is there a physical therapist trained in massage therapy?
  • Learn more about what CAM services, if any, already are being offered in your hospital. Is there a nursing unit practicing holistic nursing that can be emulated? Is there a physician trained in acupuncture, for example, who could help champion your efforts among the medical staff?
  • Is there an employee wellness program or fitness center that you can work with to expand or include some CAM therapies? Many fitness centers are beginning to incorporate massage therapy, nutritional counseling and other modalities into their offerings.
  • Ascertain your community's interest in CAM. Is there a pent-up demand for these services among your constituents?

Small successes can illuminate a road map for action and spark the hope that change is possible, say the Heaths. With a few questions and a little imagination, you can resist the focus on problems in your organization and look instead toward the bright spots.

Sita Ananth, M.H.A., is the director of knowledge services at the Samueli Institute in Alexandria, Va. She is also a regular contributor to H&HN Daily.

This work is supported by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command under Award No. W81XWH-10-1-0938. The views, opinions and/or findings contained in this report are those of the author and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position, policy or decision unless so designated by other documentation.