Positive Deviance and Diversity

Since the late 1970's, I have been wanting to attend a national Organization Development conference. Well, yesterday I finally went, albeit for just one day. But the trek from NJ to Baltimore was worth it, especially for the Positive Deviance presentation.

Co-presenters Jerry and Monique Sternin captivated the audience with a series of actual cases they had worked on, from reducing malnutrition in Vietnam to stopping MRSA in a hospital system in the U.S. They had a powerful message about solving seemingly intractable social problems: Somebody in the system probably has the solution already. These people are the "positive deviants" whose behaviors hold the key to solving the problem and changing the system.

This idea -- seek the positive deviants who have already implemented solutions somewhere in the system -- was so resonant for me that I found myself thinking of it in each of the subsequent sessions I attended.

It surfaced as an aha in the concurrent workshop that I went to next, Lessons In Minority Executive Development - Why Few Advance & Most Plateau, given by Darryl Simon of Vantage Point. One of the lessons Darryl shared is that from 1970 until today, there has been only a little progress in minority advancement into the C-suite of Fortune 500 corporations.

Darryl facilitated a case exercise to get us thinking about the experiences of minorities in organizations. As we discussed how to coach a CEO on ways to recognize and develop minority talent, we realized that there may be "positive deviants" already doing the right things in the organization.

As presenter Jim Swartz (who did the afternoon concurrent session on Innovative Leadership) might say, we saw David in the stone.

Added Note: Rick Maurer has posted a Part II on PD at his blog.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, Oct 24, 2007

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