Positive Deviance

As I write this article it comes to me that I might be writing what many people think is an oxymoron; a figure of speech that contrasts apparently contradictory elements. Many of us think of deviance in its usual form where we refer to behaviour particularly that of children as being deviant, and therefore not acceptable.

Deviant therefore for many of us is framed in our mental reference as a negative; something that is not good or appropriate because it departs from what is thought as acceptable or “what is done around here”.

Let me introduce you to the concept that is the opposite this and it is positive deviance. Why you may ask have you not heard of this concept before? It is predominately because although it is in front of you many times there is a fear to embrace it. Let me explain.

One of the catch phrases in business at present is innovation, with expressions like; innovate or perish or if you want to stay sustainable you need to innovate. But what does this really mean. Innovation has a multitude of definitions but usually masquerades under the cover of “better…. “; and is applied through two aspects improved, changed or alternate product or service.

Innovation is a change concept and as you will read later we are more responsive and adaptive to change that we believe that we are.

Positive Deviance is an aspect of innovation; Positive Deviance is when intentional behaviours that significantly depart from the norms of a business or organisation are applied in honourable ways. The three critical aspects of this being intentional behaviours, significant departure from what is normally done and crucially that the behaviours are done for honourable reasons.

The link with innovation is the significant departure from the normal ways of doing things, often cuts across the business culture and if there is not a group acceptance or a leader willing to trust the application of the new intentional behaviour then the benefit for the business is lost.

Positive Deviance led to the development of much of the technology that we use today; converting from typewriters to computers to ipads – from telex, to fax machines, to email, texting and twitter.   Someone had the confidence to allow the positive deviation to be explored and the outcomes we are all enjoying from a lifestyle to a safety aspect are mostly honourable.

Think what your business may be missing out on by sticking to the mantra of “because that is the way it has always been done here”.


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