Positive Deviance

Su writes: I’ve been caught up in an interesting book: “The Power of Positive Deviance” by Pascale, Sternin and Sternin. Positive deviants, as outlined in the book, are those people who are working and living in the same set of circumstances and constraints as the rest of us, but that manage to succeed where others don’t. Immediately, possible scenarios spring to mind where this thinking might be applicable. This whole workforce is working under the posible threat of redundancy: how do some individuals still manage to be productive while others aren’t? All churches face similar constraints in terms of resources, time and money: how are some flourishing while others struggle? The key examples described in this book are about serious healthcare problems: malnutrition in children in Vietnam, female circumcision in Egypt. Rather than going in as the hero of the hour with education programmes and pamphlets, the authors instead worked with the communities in order to support them seeing who was doing things differently, how they were doing it and  allowing the community  to take responsibility for enacting these practices .

It sounds simple. But it isn’t done enough in organisations. The “top” feels the need to identify problems and find solutions, investing money in whizzy ways of communicating these. But actually devolving this responsibility to those actually doing the jobs is more effective. Scary, possibly, for those at the “top” who would like to control things, but far more effective in identifying the need for change and really making it happen. Do you remember the “our people are our greatest asset” mantra that companies used as a strap line in the nineties? Well I think this consideration of positve deviance may well be a way of making that aspiration live.

I wonder how it would in your organisation?

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