Positively deviant

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Deviance is often framed as a bad, bad thing. It is often defined as intentional behaviour that departs from society’s norms, thereby threatening the well-being of others. So, examples of deviant behaviour can be stealing or antisocial behaviour. But can you be positively deviant? These are intentional behaviours that are deviant from the norm in honourable ways. Yes, yes you can – and the power of positive deviance can unlock a whole host of opportunities.

Positive deviants are people who appear to be finding better solutions to complex and pervasive problems compared to their peers and neighbours despite having access only to the same resources. Their ‘uncommon behaviours’ can then be spread and adopted more widely by the community. And they are uncommon behaviours. Positive deviance is about behaviours that break the constraints of the accepted norm and has profound effects of those people and organisations that foster and encourage those behaviours.

The key aspects of positive deviance seems to be:

  • Although most problems have interlinked and complex underlying causes, positive deviants demonstrate that it is possible to find successful solutions in the here and now, before all the underlying causes are addressed. That is, you don’t need to to address all those underlying causes to come up with solutions today.
  • The assumption is that there is useful know-how out there, just waiting to be discovered.
  • Because this know-how is rooted in context, it is automatically a good fit, acceptable, and relatively easy to adopt and spread.
  • The focus is on changing practice, not knowledge. It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking that think your way into a new way of acting.

Can you nurture your inherent positive deviant? What proportion of your behaviour is honourable and counter to the social norm? You don’t want to be out there on your own all the time, but there is something to be learned when going with the rip, when everyone else is struggling to swim against it.

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