“People at the periphery of organizations are usually the most creative and often least consulted.”
Warren Bennis, Leadership Expert
Do you want to know…
How to get more satisfied customers?
How to expand into new markets?
How to increase the academic performance and graduation rate for Black males?
How to live a life of purpose and meaning?
How to have a safer neighborhood?
I am oftentimes blown away when I am speaking, coaching, consulting, or training by the number of people who do not ask me “how” I have been able to do what I have been able to do after hearing my story: of growing up in foster homes with drug-addicted parents, having a learning disability, living in 25 different homes and being homeless, to going on to play Big Ten football, winning the McDonald’s Leadership Award, becoming a school principal, preparing to obtain my 4th college degree (Doctor of Education in Leadership), to being a successful entrepreneur who left a six-figure income in the midst of the great recession.
Even in our organizations, communities, and personal lives we miss golden opportunities for new discovery and change due to the questions we ask or don’t ask. Questions like What’s wrong? What’s missing? lead us to discover what the true source of the problem may be (not the solution).
What if we asked the questions, What is working in the midst of the challenges? Who, in our company, is getting outstanding results in the area of customer satisfaction? What departments or individuals are having success expanding into new markets? What is working for the Black males who are doing well in schools and graduating? Or what occurred in schools that helped successful Black males graduate? Hence, the reason for my dissertation research focused on The impact of teacher expectations on Black, male doctors (M.Ds., Ph. Ds, D. Ds., Ed. Ds, J. Ds., etc.). Who are the people around us living a life of purpose and meaning in our tough economy? And how are they doing it? Who are the people and families who are not involved in drugs, gangs, and violence in many of our distressed communities?
In Positive Deviance, the authors (R. Pascale, J. Sternin & M. Sternin) shared that many times we become accustomed to the voices of those expressing, “It’s just the way it is” and “It will never change.” Research has shown us that this “It’s just the way it is” perspective also known as prolonged equilibrium is a precursor to organizational, community, and individual stagnation and death. When an organization, community, or individual becomes stuck in the space of equilibrium
and status quo, they, ignore, and suppress, positive exceptions to the dilemma they are facing. Soon these individuals and organizations become irrelevant to the environment and people in which they strive to serve and attract.
Seeking what’s working shakes the position of status quo to its core for organizations, communities, and individuals. If we are to become more solution-focused, we must be deliberate in seeking out those observable exceptions; individuals who are outliers and succeed against all odds. You can be assured that at least one individual in a community or organization, with access to the same limited resources, has conquered the problem. This is the person who deviates in a positive way from the status quo and norm. We have to make the invisible behaviors of these individuals visible to the community and to organizations. Our attention has to move from what’s wrong to what’s right?
Once we discovered what’s working, we must then decide what behaviors will become unlearned in the community and in organizations. There is a Vietnamese proverb that goes, “A thousand seeings aren’t worth one doing.” Once we discover from those outliers around us what’s working in the areas of customer satisfaction, expanding into new markets, increasing graduation rates for Black males, living a more purposeful and meaningful life, and maintaining safer neighborhoods, we then have to move people into action.
In our current economic conditions, we need a reminder of our previous successes, when we were at our best. Here are a few things to consider:
Remind yourself about a peak experience or high point in your professional life – a time when you felt most alive, most engaged, or really proud of yourself or your work. What were the circumstances? Who was involved? What were the outcomes/results? What was it about you, the situation, the organization, and the leadership that allowed that peak experience to emerge? What did you do? And what do you recall feeling about that high? What made this experience such a high point for you? What will it take to duplicate the same success in your current situation? (Geri England)
Here are the four Ds (Positive Deviance) to make the invisible, visible in individuals, communities, and organizations:
- Define: Define the problem- involve other individuals, communities, or organizations who are close to you in defining the preferred future from the current conditions, list the behaviors and challenges conducive to the problem, establish a time frame to eradicate the problem
- Determine: Determine who is having success in meeting the desired outcome despite the challenges others are facing- do research and look at data to identify those outliers, talk to others in the community and in organizations to discover who these people are
- Discover: What they are doing to lead to their success? What are the uncommon successful behaviors, establish a list of criteria for those behaviors?
- Design: Design a strategy to expand the behaviors in individuals, communities, and organizations – demonstrate successes, provide opportunities to practice the new behaviors.
Until next time,