Positive Deviance, innovation and women of Vietnam

de·vi·ant n. One that differs from a norm, especially a person whose behaviour and attitudes differ from accepted social standards.

If you look for synonyms for word “deviant”, you will get following words- abnormal, different, aberrant, irregular, queer, variant, weird, anomalous, atypical, devious, divergent, freaky, heretical, kinky, perverse, twisted, unorthodox, unrepresentative, varying and wayward

If you look for antonyms, you get – same, regular, normal, standard and usual.

What are chances of a deviant getting recruited in organisation? Very slim!

But many feel that hiring positive deviants i.e. whose unorthodox, queer, weird thinking are beneficial helps organisation. These people outperform their peers with same quality and quantity of resources.

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“Positive deviance is founded on the premise that at least one person in a community, working with the same resources as everyone else, has already licked the problem that confounds others. This individual is an outlier in the statistical sense someone whose outcome deviates in a positive way from the norm.”

-Richard Pascale in his book “The power of positive deviance”     

While you may find lot of such examples in corporate world, one of the best examples came from poor women of Vietnam.

In 1990, the US NGO “Save the Children” received an invitation from the Government of Vietnam to create a program that would enable poor villages to solve the problem of childhood malnutrition.

UN officials found that almost 65% of children in Vietnam under age of five were malnourished.

After talking to people in one of the villages, they found out that there were some families in village which despite being poor had well fed children. Though these families were as poor as majority of families in village and like them were dependent on rice as staple food, they did few things differently than majority of families.

Firstly, in addition to rice, they also fed their children with crabs, snails and shrimps that were found in rice fields along with green tops of sweet potato which gave them necessary proteins and vitamins. Tough these were available freely, majority of families went by conventional wisdom that such things were dangerous for children.

Secondly, they were strict in following hygiene ex. washing their hand before feeding.

And thirdly, instead of feeding their children twice a day (like others) they fed them with small portions 5-6 times in a day. Since children have small stomach, they can’t eat much in one sitting, so feeding them 5-6 times in a day ensured that overall they ate more than other children.

This innovative idea of few deviant women of Vietnam made huge difference to children.

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