Who are Positive Deviants?

A deviant is someone who departs from the norm. They don’t do things the usual way. A positive deviant is someone who departs from the norm in a way that adds value versus creates pain.

Characteristics of a Positive Deviant.

Very open, curious and willing to explore ideas. A positive deviant knows that staying in the question will, with time, provide an answer. They are always looking for better, faster, less costly in time, energy and money- ways, to do things. Their minds are like eternal antenna’s, tuned frequencies that most people miss. They surrender their own way/idea/process in a heart beat if offered something that will work better, faster, cheaper and for the greater advantage to all.

Daring, courageous, motivated by adventure, what’s next? A positive deviant is bold enough to initiate new idea’s. They don’t need the idea to be perfect first. They will continue to work with the prototype until they get the major kinks out. Their motivation is about giving it a go, versus being afraid of failure.

Receptive to feedback. Positive deviants want feedback, from others and from the environment. Feedback is their altimeter, allowing for subtle or overt corrections as they move forwards. If the feedback is delivered in an ego attacking way, they move through their ego issues far more quickly than most, and take the personal out of it, asking if the feedback has use and/or truth.

Intrinsically motivated to do extrinsic “value to society” activities. The positive deviant has a very strong intrinsic motivator that is about service to others, the environment, community. They no longer work for a living. They work for the love of their work and the value it adds to others. They have a comprehensive perspective of their place and part in the world. They are plugged into a far greater game than the game of work for money, status and stuff. They have their egoic self on a tight leash because of their highly developed self awareness.

Passionate, energetic, vibrant, enthusiastic, dynamic. Positive deviants seems to have a well of energy that explodes into everything they do. Their view is about what is possible, how can we do this, what can I do, what do I need to see that I am not? Speed bumps and road blocks are perceived as opportunities to make course corrections and  keep going.

High cognitive development. Most positive deviants have a quick and agile mind, and can see the META meta perspective. Because perspective is relative, positive deviants are able to go to the highest altitude perspective with ease. They grasp complex issues, integrating them and staying within the issue until they have found the simplicity on the other side. They like to be challenged in their thinking, and to practice daily, mind expanding activities, such as dialogue, learning and practical experimentation.

High morals and ethics. By nature of the word positive in the positive deviant title, positive deviants have a very sharply tuned integrous compass. They have an awareness of the affect of their actions, thoughts, and words, and seek to only contribute in a positive way. Integrity is their code. They are constantly practicing Integrity, on an ever increasing basis.

A Sixth Sense. Positive deviants have a high degree of self esteem, universal trust, and intuitive respect. Therefore, they seem to be tuned in to a extra sensory compass. This shows up in different ways for different people. For some it is a highly tuned ability to read people, for others it is a very agile grasp of structure, form and systems. Others have a very highly evolved sense of time and space. Whatever the skill, it is based on an ability to tune into the intuitive and have the courage and grace to act from this, with humility, not righteousness.

You will know from reading the above list if you are either a positive deviant or moving towards being a positive deviant. Positive Deviants can  be found in all walks of live. Generally they tend to keep a fairly low profile. They want their actions to do the talking.

There is also such a thing as a company or team within a company who chooses to operate as a Positive Deviant organisation.  For example – Google X, Apple, Virgin all demonstrate signs of positive deviant behaviour although one might argue that as a company becomes mature it has the ability to lose the very positive deviant behaviour that had it become a success in the first place. Companies like Patagonia demonstrate a high commitment to keep pushing their own envelope.

In our currently world where the business/economic political system is failing to increase the well being of humanity and earth we need to cultivate positive deviants as they are the ones to push the edges of the incumbent systems and to create new models.

Beautiful Business – business where integrity is embedded in every domain – is an attractor for positive deviants.

September 22, 2008

*Buckminster Fuller was a life long practising Positive Deviant