Bright Spots — Harnessing Positivity

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Chief Rabbi Goldstein

Dear Friends,

In 2003 Richard Pascal was presented with a challenge by the drug company, Genentech. It had just launched a new drug called Xolair, which was considered to be a brilliant new drug for asthma, and yet six months after the launch the sales of Xolair were not doing well at all.

Pascal analysed the situation and identified two sales women who worked in the Dallas-Fortworth area and who were selling twenty times more than were the other sales people. Pascal’s approach was to analyse why these women were successful and to then communicate their method to the other sales people. Pascal discovered that the successful sales women were helping doctors with the practicalities of administering the drug. The practicalities were the barrier to the doctors prescribing it, and once this was overcome, the quality of the product sold itself. This was then shared with the other sales people and sales across the organisation increased dramatically.

This is an example of a change management theory called Bright Spots, discussed in a book called ‘Switch – how to change things when change is hard’, written by Dan and Chip Heath. It says that when approaching a situation to find opportunities for real impactful change the main idea is to focus on the bright spots — that is the areas that have brought success and achievement. Unpack, analyse and understand them with the purpose of applying them to other areas of your life.

This approach is actually deeply rooted in our Torah wisdom, and is crucial to successfully changing our lives for the good as we approach Rosh Hashana, which is a time of teshuva — repentance and real personal change and development. As we look to change we need to look for our own bright spots — the times we did a mitzvah successfully, and how we can expand the inspiration and magic of those moments to other mitzvahs in our lives; as Pirkei Avot (4:2) teaches, ‘One mitzvah brings another mitzvah’. This approach applies to every endeavour of life, including marriage, parenting, work and community.

The bright spots approach dramatically affects our attitude to personal change, as we search for positivity, which can be so powerful. It can help us become better people, but blind positivity can be harmful. We need to strike a balance. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik explains that when approaching the teshuva we need to come armed with two very different things. One is an unflinching honesty to confront our mistakes, and where we have gone wrong, and where we have stumbled. But secondly, we need to be positive and believe in ourselves and believe in our own potential greatness that lies within every human being.

Judaism is profoundly positive about people. Pirkei Avot (3:18) teaches, “Beloved is the human being created in G-d’s image”. This means that each and every one of us has a soul from Hashem which has infinite light and greatness within it. It is this soul in combination with the light of our Torah that enables us to transcend ourselves and our current situations and to achieve real greatness. This thinking applies not only on a personal level, but on a communal level as well.

We began a process in July of this year of applying the bright spots methodology to our shuls and have embarked upon a shul renewal project, which we have called Bright Spots. The vibrancy of shul life has been key to the success of the South African Jewish community. But in a rapidly changing world our shuls need to innovate and stay ahead of the curve to remain engaging and relevant. And so we have embarked upon a bright spots process which has involved surveying the community to understand the bright spots We then held dedicated bright spots workshops in Cape Town and Johannesburg with all the key people involved in shul leadership. Our inaugural communal shul renewal conference collated all the wonderful bright spots in our community and looked at ways of expanding and extending these efforts. This process continues and we hope to see positive and proactive changes in our shuls as we go forward.

Bright Spots is all about positive thinking. Let us think of where we have done mitzvahs, and think how those moments of inspiration and clarity can illuminate other mitzvahs. It is about harnessing positive achievements and directing that positivity to making the world into a better place. Let us this Rosh HaShana apply the bright spots approach to our own lives and to our shuls and may we all merit to be inscribed for a good and sweet New Year.

With blessings,
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein

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