May
03

The Power of Positive Deviance

In 2010 Pascale, Sternin and Sternin published "The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World's Toughest Problems", published by Harvard Business Review. I am not sure how this book landed on my desk, but takes an outlier sampling approach to be utilized in a self-driven learning context for social change (and in one chapter, corporate change). The book is summative and chapters are essentially extended case studies and there is a methodology at the end. A few quotes:

"This book comes from years of hearing "We've tried everything and nothing works". Positive Deviance (PD) is founded on the premise that at least one person in a community, working with the same resources as everyone else, has already licked the problem that confounds others. This individual is an outlier in the statistical sense – an exception, someone whose outcome deviates in a positive way from the norm. In most cases this person does not know he or she is doing anything unusual. Yet once the unique solution is discovered and understood, it can be adopted by the wider community and transform many lives. From the PD perspective, individual difference is regarded as a community resource Community engagement is essential to discovering noteworthy variants in their minds and adapting their practices and strategies" (Page 3)

"The positive deviance process is not suitable for everything. As noted earlier, it is unnecessary when a technical solution (e.g., drought-resistant corn; a vaccine for smallpox) exists. But the process excels over most alternatives when addressing problems that, to repeat, (1) are enmeshed in a complex social system, (2) require social and behavioral change, and (3) entail solutions that are rife with unforeseeable or unintended consequences. It provides an alternative when problems are viewed as intractable (i.e., other solutions haven't worked). It redirects attention from "what's wrong" to "what's right" – observable exceptions that succeed against all odds." (Page 10).

"… what separates the PD approach from the alternatives. Unless the community itself spearheads the discovery, it doesn't own the "answers". Unless the community designs and staffs the workshops to practice successful strategies, participants will not successful "act their way into a new way of thinking," nor will the practices be sustainable." (Page 155) 

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