Faith in Positive Deviance

In a meeting with three gifted people, we worked to design a new organization. All three were accomplished. Two were older men who had built and run their own companies. The companies have been widely celebrated as positive organizations. The younger person was currently in the process of leading a positive organization.

As we worked, there were no egos in play. These highly accomplished people listened and respectfully built on each other’s ideas. What was stunning was that they all shared the same central notion.

They naturally focused on organizational purpose. They invested heavily in making the purpose as inspiring as possible.   From time to time in the design process, one of us would begin to conceptualize some sort of control that would ensure a given agenda. Each time someone else would challenge this natural tendency. The group continually moved back to purpose. The intent was to give the future participants two great gifts; meaningful purpose and the autonomy to pursue that purpose.

I thought back to a meeting nearly thirty years ago. We were also trying to design a new organization. The group was dominated by a brilliant lawyer. He drove continuously to imagine every possible contingency and to specify rules and policies that would control behavior. He was building a bureaucratic rule book before the organization even came into being. It was a depressing and exhausting experience.

The lawyer was designing from the fear of negative deviance. My three recent associates were designing from faith in positive deviance. People who have built positive organizations understand something the conventional mind does not. If people find themselves in an organization of higher purpose, they will go to great lengths to achieve that purpose. They willingly invest and personally grow.   In the process they will self-organize. The most effective design will emerge in real time.

Reflection

When have I engaged in designing the future?

What is my deepest definition of success?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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