Searching in All the Wrong Places

by Mark Isabella

Mark Isabella is now working on his approach to interactive storytelling. I’d call the following story a metaphorical story since it encourages the participants to reflect on the metaphorical aspects. I might call it a debriefed story because it includes a set of reflective questions to encourage the participants to debrief themselves. But who cares what it is called? On with the story.

Mark Isabella, creator of  Engagement Emergency  card deck

Mark Isabella, creator of Engagement Emergency card deck

A man returning home one evening was surprised to see his neighbor on his hands and knees, looking for something near a streetlight.

“What are you looking for?” the man asked.

“My keys.”

The two of them searched the ground for several minutes.  Finally, the man asked, “Are you sure you lost them here?”

“No,” his neighbor replied.  “I lost them across the street.”

“Then why are you looking for them here?”

“Because the light is better here.”

As performance improvement professionals, we’re expected to help people solve problems and adapt to change.  When we first encounter our clients, we may find them searching in the wrong places for the results they desire.  Like the man’s neighbor, they’re most likely to look in areas that are relatively safe and comfortable, well-lit and familiar.

A crucial part of our job is to discourage this all-too-human tendency toward risk aversion and superficial analysis.  At times, we must be willing to lead our clients into darkness and uncertainty where the illumination of insight can occur and real solutions can be found.

Reflection Questions

  1. What factors stand in the way of our helping clients accept uncomfortable realities?
  2. What are the risks of allowing them to remain in their comfort zones?
  3. What specific strategies do you use to help clients avoid “the streetlight effect?”