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  • Writer's pictureMatt Garris

Positive Deviants

The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.

Positive Deviants

Grenny et al. suggested learning from positive deviants, those who prevail against the same challenges that cause most others to fail, to identify vital behaviors. Even Jesus marveled at the centurion, a positive deviant known throughout history for his great understanding of faith (Matthew 8:10). Learning from those who are successful is a trick that “new guys” have used for centuries, but it makes perfect sense that influencers should do the same thing.

Albanna and Heeks described learning from positive deviants as a strategy which “harnesses the inherent wisdom of individuals existing within a community to develop solutions to their own problems. And since solutions come from the people, they take into account contextual and cultural variables, making them less vulnerable to social rejection.” I particularly like their characterization of this method, not only because of their focus on people’s ability to solve their own problems, but also because of their reference to “inherent wisdom.”

There is something limiting about learned behavior and something to be said about having a fresh set of eyes looking at the same problem. People often do have an inherent wisdom and an innate, God-given ability to solve problems. I would add that when looking to learn from positive deviants, one potential strategy is to create your own. Perhaps there is no existing positive deviant. Why not bring in someone who has never dealt with the problem before, tell them the objective, and see what they do? Human ingenuity can accomplish amazing things.


Albanna, B. & Heeks, R. (2019). Positive deviance, big data, and development: A systematic literature review. The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, 85(1), 1-22.

Grenny, J., Patterson, L., Maxfield, D., McMillian, R., & Switzler, A. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change. McGraw-Hill Education.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version (1982). Thomas Nelson, Inc.


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