The Observation of Positive Deviants

A positive deviant is a person who pursues an honorable purpose in a surprising way. In the movie Stand and Deliver we encounter the saga of Jaime Escalante at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. The school has degenerated to a despicable level. Yet in a context of the deep depravity, Escalante becomes a positive deviant. He builds an astounding community of success and pride.

He did this despite the fact that there were minimal social asset in the school culture, the change targets (students) were closed-minded, they had no identification with the organization, and there was no respect for the change agent (teacher).

Escalante had to start from scratch.  He had to establish a vision, build respect and attract the highly resistant actors into the process of change. Furthermore, Escalante was not the senior authority figure in the school but merely a teacher. In that supposedly disempowered role, he transformed an impossible situation.

He was a positive deviant. In a large organization, where people feel disempowered, it is useful to identify the positive deviants. They are the people who are succeeding in the very midst of people who declare success impossible. While others claim they are constrained by the hierarchy, the positive deviant moves forward. By paying attention to the positive deviants we can discover the principles of transformative influence.

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