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Positive Deviance: Start in context

May 16, 2008

“Maybe, says Jerry Sternin, the problem isn’t with the outside experts or with the company. “The traditional model for social and organizational change doesn’t work,” says Sternin, 62. “It never has. You can’t bring permanent solutions in from outside.” Maybe the problem is with the whole model for how change can actually happen. Maybe the problem is that you can’t import change from the outside in. Instead, you have to find small, successful but “deviant” practices that are already working in the organization and amplify them. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is already alive in the organization — and change comes when you find it.” 

We start in our immediate context. Jesus did this via the incarnation. As Peterson’s translation says in John 1 “He moved into the neighborhood.” He became one of us in every way. He had parents who made mistakes. He worked a job that was difficult and involved lots of splinters. He lived in a no-name town that others ridiculed. He immersed in a context that we can relate to. Jesus did not come to us as an outside consultant with all the answers and none of the effort… the notebook of theories and ideas but not the dirty, calloused hands. And when he did gather some students around him he told them the same thing. (Matthew 10, Luke 10).

So we start in our own backyard. We notice the problems but we look hard for the solutions that already exist. The little practices of the deviants that make the problem not seem like a problem. We look for things are working in a broken context and we notice, we pay attention, we analyze, we experiment, we discover, and we share. 

Jesus joined up with a positive deviant: his cousin, John the Baptist. What were the practices? Proclaiming the kingdom of God, calling for repentance and baptizing. And Jesus followed right along and did those very things… and then asked his first followers to do the same. Matthew 28 “Go, baptize, teach…. And they did it (Acts) and the church has continued to do it right up to today…

So what is a “problem” in my context that needs to be listened to? Not sure. I’m still listening. Anyone have any ideas for me?


2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2008 1:13 pm

    i would say look at your forearm for a good place to begin. manufacture some of that and now we’re talking.

  2. Mike O permalink
    June 19, 2008 3:24 pm

    I just stumbled across this today – what a great find!

    This sounds fascinating – and this is how I’ve lived my life.

    Let’s explore more.

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