What do Michael Jordon, Miley Cyrus, Rosa Parks, Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), Lady Gaga and families with healthy children in West Bengal India all have in common?

Positive Deviance.

They’ve all done or are doing something that puts them at the far right end of the “bell curve” of normal distribution. They are “deviant.” While that word has usually been associated with negative behavior, it doesn’t have to be.

Deviant comes from two Latin words. “De” means “from” and “Via” means “Road.” Deviate means “Off the beaten path.” People that demonstrate unconventional or uncommon behavior can be called positive deviants. I kind of like the term myself, and consider myself one of that group. Do you?

People who depart from the norm, walk to the beat of a different drum, think outside the box, go with their gut and otherwise step off the path of how-everyone-else-is-doing-things-around-here and are more successful because of it, ought to be watched. (And perhaps even imitated.)

In 1990, Jerry and Monique Sternin worked with Save the Children in Vietnam. For years, the-way-things-were-done when it came to malnutrition, was to diagnose the nutritional deficiencies and then supplement the children’s rice based diet with foods that were not native to the local environment.

That worked fine until the outside organizations left and the children quickly became malnourished again. When the Sternin’s arrived they found some pockets of deviance, where the children were healthy and well fed, even though they were in the same kinds of villages as the sickly kids.

What were these parents doing differently? What were they doing right?

Turns out some of the families were feeding their kids small freshwater shrimps and crabs they pulled from the grasses. Some fed them sweet potato leaves which are vitamin rich. Workshops began in the villages where each was encouraged to develop similar and unique solutions based on finding more vitamin and protein rich food right in their areas. It worked. After the foreigners moved out, the villagers were now able to take care of themselves using local resources.

Sound familiar?

In the last year or two have you found unique and inventive solutions where there were none before? What are you doing that’s working? What could you be doing more of?

What departments rock? What places are doing cool things? Who’s getting outrageous results?

Who’s engaged, passionate and purposeful? What can you learn from them?

In the last few weeks, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos’, book Delivering Happiness has been released and gotten much press. Showing all the world that creating a happy environment for employees and customers can be a profitable strategy. Soft skills, hard results.

Engagement is the name of the game. Engaged employees perform better and produce more – and they help engage customers. That makes the emotional connection that builds loyalty. Engaged employees like coming to work, they want to contribute, they want to make a difference.

Go on a deviance hunt. Who’s doing it right? Perhaps people right inside your own company, people in the company down the block – go find out.

I’ve heard of some real interesting solutions these last years. People are starting to think differently – are you?

Positive Deviance (PD) is an approach to personal, organizational and cultural change based on the idea that every community or group of people performing a similar function has certain individuals (the “Positive Deviants”) whose special attitudes, practices/ strategies/ behaviors enable them to function more effectively than others with the exact same resources and conditions. The premise of PD is that the superior practices of the Positive Deviants enable them to improve outcomes, and if those practices (also attitudes, thinking and behaviors) can be isolated then they can be used to improve the outcomes of others as well. (Source: Wikipedia)

Be curious,



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