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The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World's Toughest Problems Hardcover – June 16, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Richard Pascale is an associate fellow of Templeton College, Oxford University, and author or coauthor of numerous books, including Managing on the Edge, Surfing the Edge of Chaos, and The Art of Japanese Management. Jerry Sternin was the world's leading expert in the application of positive deviance as a tool for addressing social and behavioral change. Monique Sternin has been an equal partner in these efforts and now heads the Positive Deviance Institute at Tufts University
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (June 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422110664
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422110669
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
For those who are unfamiliar with the terms "outliers" and "positive deviance," the former refers to "an observation or phenomenon that is numerically distant from the rest of the data," an "extreme deviation from the mean." Malcolm Gladwell has written a book, Outliers: The Story of Success, in which he examines a number of individuals such as Bill Gates who become peak performers. As for "positive deviance," Richard Pasquale, Jerry Sternin, and Monique Sternin explain it as an awkward, oxymoronic term. "The concept is simple: look for outliers who succeed against all odds...The basic premise is this: (1) Solutions to seemingly intractable problems already exist, (2) they have been discovered by members of the community itself, and (3) these innovators (individual positive deviants) have succeeded even though they share the same constraints and barriers as others."

The co-authors acknowledge that the positive deviance process is not suitable for everything and suggest that "the process excels over most alternatives when addressing problems that "(1) are enmeshed in a complex social system, (2) require social and behavioral change, and (3) entail solutions that are rife with unforeseeable or unintended consequences." Also, this process should be at least considered when the given problems are viewed as "intractable" after prior solutions failed. Moreover, the process redirects attention from "what's wrong" to "what's right" - observable exceptions that succeed "against all odds."

I can personally attest that, on the basis of my extensive experience with corporate teams involved in process improvement initiatives (e.g. to reduce cycle time, improve first pass yield), the PD approach is almost always the best to take.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By M. Kayhoe on June 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I recommend this book without hesitation or limitation. The breadth of opportunity presented by positive deviance, as an idea, a mindset, and a methodology, is a bit staggering. Every profession or field can be affected - health care, economic development, organizational development, social activism, leadership development, politics, and so on.

It has already become a lens with which I think about and pursue my work. And it is an easy read, full of real world stories and examples.

Well done!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Michael V. Harper on August 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When charting a course, many of us are fond of saying "we don't know what we don't know." In this delightful book we are reminded that all too often in reality, "we don't know what we do know." Or, as Yogi said, "you can see a lot by looking." This is a book about just that: examining complex social systems, looking for unique positive behavior, coming to some level of understanding, and then propagating the better practice.

The book combs a lifetime of the most difficult kind of fieldwork by Jerry and Monique Sternin with a lifetime of teaching and writing by Richard Pascale to create a genuinely good book - one that is good on several levels. Leaders dealing with organizational change of the most difficult kind will find The Power of Positive Deviance to open up a world of tools that go often ignored in over structured change programs. But on an altogether different level it is a story book about remarkable case studies - childhood nutrition, female circumcision, deadly MRSA infections, and others - stories that are all about engagement, leadership, commitment and hope.

But it is not just a book about incredibly difficult problems; it is a book about how leaders can re-think their own organization by "re-looking." Easy to say and hard to do. The irony is that organizations spend enormous resources attacking negative deviance (as in "let's do a root cause analysis and fix the problem") but little or no effort looking for things that are "out of spec" in a positive direction. This is a book about how to do that - how to see what is happening, now to nurture it, and how to build a culture that embraces that kind of stimulus and change. For me that may have been the most powerful take-away: look for what is working - even better than you thought - figure out why and embrace it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Laurence Prusak on August 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While the title of this book may put off some potential readers of who have developed allergies to social science language, it is actually a very creative and innovative book about knowledge. The authors have taken a concept that is reasonably well known and applied it to some very diverse settings to show how it can be usefully applied. The concept in my (over) simplified view can be explained as "some people in your society or organization may already be working in new and more valuable ways and you should pay attention to them and maybe spread the news about what they are doing" This book is a wonderful and valuable read-it is a valuable contribution to the growing literature on the democratization of knowledge, within organizations and in the world at large. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
"Hook of Positive Deviance is looking for those who succeed focusing on the glass half full in a world of glasses half empty", pg. 153.

The Power of Positive Deviance tells many stories that revolve around many different facets and topics throughout the world. The authors are able to tell the story in such a way that you can apply it to any situation or event that you are dealing with in your life.
I work in the education field and the story that resonates with me most is the child malnutrition in Vietnam. As long as I can remember, we have tried to impose our beliefs onto others in the name of "helping". We are always confused when the concepts don't work or the community doesn't buy-in to what we are trying to accomplish. Yes, it is very important to feed the children and adults, but it is also important to feed everyone in a way that will work for the people that are affected.
As I read the Positive Deviance book, I was amazed at the simple and easy solutions that came about as individuals open their minds to other possibilities and instead of thinking they knew what was best, they searched for actual successes within the community. In our hectic world, we believe the tougher a job the more we will get out of it, but the authors show through several examples that according to Positive Deviance the only agenda is that of understanding.
In the education field we have many problems that need simple solutions. We have beat ourselves and the children up trying to solve the age old dilemma of schools with persistently low test scores and how to close the achievement gap. I, too, have tried to independently solve this huge issue, but no solutions with substance have resulted.
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