My last post argued for recognizing and adopting the innovative practices of positive deviance. Now I’m suggesting you can become one. Identifying and adopting the strategies of positive deviants can be a powerful accelerant in your work, your play. I’m talking about being a Change Artist – creating new, unique change in positive and pro-social ways.
First, what’s positive deviance:
Positive deviance focuses on those extreme cases of excellence when organizations and their members break free from the constraints of norms to conduct honorable behaviors. – Gretchen Spreitzer, University of Michigan
Change artists do at least these four key things constantly, always:
Positive deviance can also happen on an organizational level. Previously I posted about Merck during the dark Vioxx days, but Merck has deviated from the norm in positive pro-social ways too. In 1978 Merck inadvertently created a potential cure for river blindness – a painful and debilitating disease that affects millions in developing nations around the world.
They had a choice to think like a capitalist and mine the bottom of the pyramid market with this new drug, drop the project due to daunting manufacturing and distribution costs, or… be true to their founder’s words: “We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they never fail to appear.” – George Merck II
In spite of the fact that the manufacturing and distribution was greater than what the 3rd world market could bear, in spite of the fact that Merck lacked the infrastructure to effectively distribute the medication, in spite of the fact that the drug wasn’t mass market-tested and they were unsure what the medication’s effect would be at scale, and in spite of the fact that they risked Wall-street confidence by investing against earnings because there was no foreseeable profit and a 250 million dollar price tag – despite all this, since 1987 Merck has donated more than 2.5 billion tablets of MECTIZAN in more than 30 countries worldwide and protected over 100 million people from this debilitating disease.