In the Moment

People are Awesome

Erika Bailey

Many of the people who know me and my work are aware of my experience facilitating a change process called Positive Deviance.  PD liberates the power of people to change their fortunes and solve complex problems for themselves. PD theory works on the theory that in any community dealing with a really ugly and intractable problem, there are always those who are able to do better, with no additional resources.

It is an inspiring kind of work and has led me to believe in the power of people to affect their collective fortunes in marvelous and unexpected ways.  When I open my eyes and notice the these positive deviants, I’m reminded again: people are awesome.

Positive deviants are everywhere.  I can name at least one in every one of my client groups.  These are the people who are keen and enthusiastic. They try new things and reshape the way things can be done.  They see the opportunities for change that require no approval or sign-off.  They bravely challenge and test “the way things are done here” and try stuff out.

These positive deviants often come out of unexpected places; they are the unusual suspects. In hospitals, these are the cleaners who have remarkable ways to prevent infections, but are rarely asked.  In a food company, this is the line worker who has figured out a way to solve a key customer need with a simple, brilliant solution.

In the most steadfast, heavy and stuck organizations, I have seen those who are nimbly challenging their non-innovation culture. In sectors that would seem to be shackled by fear and risk aversion, I have found people dedicated to exploring the new.  In almost militaristic organizational hierarchies, I’ve watched cross-level conversations deeply affect life-and-death problems.

These positive deviants often come out of unexpected places; they are the unusual suspects.

We should care (about these PDs) because the people deviating positively work in education, in healthcare, in government, in service delivery, in long-term care, in private industry and everywhere else. We should care because they are ready to be your innovation champions.  They encourage, prod, support, and drive small innovations. They can take the innovation challenge and run with it.  While they’re at it, they’ll pull others in.

Affecting real change in organizations and communities is a complex challenge.  There is no one way to do it.  There is one sure thing, however: those deviants are among us and they are a key element to any innovation strategy.

Positive deviants are among you. Discover these amazing people.  Give them a voice.  Help them spread their delightful deviance.  Prepare to be amazed. People are awesome.

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