Social Edge blogger Seth Godin gives a shout out to positive deviance, which is a method of change-making whose core assumption is that every community contains latent solutions to the challenges it faces. The PD approach seeks out those latent solutions and then empowers the community to take heterodox practices (the deviant behaviors or individuals) and make them orthodoxy (i.e. “mainstream” it). I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed this on the blog before but I can’t find it anywhere.
Seth argues that “Great leaders embrace deviants by searching for them and catching them doing something right.” I think that’s true, obviously, but I’m not sure I agree with Seth’s characterization of positive deviance as an approach that is primarily about identifying leaders, per se (but It’s a novel perspective nonetheless). Good leaders recognize and reinforce the positive impacts of others, even when it deviates from organizational or cultural norms. But I think positive deviance itself is more intentional than that. PD is not an essential component for the practice of leadership, although the successful application of PD arguably requires a good deal of leadership skill.
Anyway we started a PD initiative at our Brightwaters community, but have really run up against big roadblocks. The “latent solution” we found for decreasing mobility in the neighborhood was really a form of isolation: residents say that the best way to stay and succeed at Brightwaters is to stick to yourself. That wasn’t exactly a practice we wanted to enable, and we’ve struggled ever since then to identify an alternative deviant behavior.
Basically, it’s always good to have an excuse for pluging such a powerful and promising method for community change.