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Outliers and Misfits

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Bob Sutton author of "Scaling Up Excellence" & “Good Boss Bad Boss” says. “But, if you want to see real innovation, often you have to hire defiant rule-breakers who don’t think much of corporate culture.”

How to cultivate Positive Deviants in your organization who can drive the change and innovation you need to keep your business ahead in the market.

Bob Sutton author of "Scaling Up Excellence" & “Good Boss Bad Boss” says. “But, if you want to see real innovation, often you have to hire defiant rule-breakers who don’t think much of corporate culture.”

How to cultivate Positive Deviants in your organization who can drive the change and innovation you need to keep your business ahead in the market.


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Outliers and Misfits

  1. 1. Outliers and Misfits Valuing Positive Deviance in Your Organization See slide notes for details and resources.
  2. 2. Earhart A few positive deviants Sakharov Gandhi Lady Gaga Mandela Adams (Hull House) Jobs
  3. 3. Let me tell you the They stick out Positive deviants are sometimes overlooked and shunted because…. story of two outliers... They stick out. They disagree with They leadership. disagree with leadership They do things differently or go against the grain. They do things differently or go against the grain
  4. 4. What do these two men have in common? They are outliers. Both are smart, creative and tops at their jobs. At sometime in their career they were banished to the ‘company basement.’ Both are ‘positive deviants.’
  5. 5. There’s no learning without trying lots of ideas and failing lots of times. Johnny Ive (Lead Designer at Apple Whose Ideas Led to the iPhone)
  6. 6. Lester Freamon (Homicide Detective from “The Wire”) Freamon is often the strategic brains that makes the major breakthroughs that lead to solving crimes and catching the big criminals in his department
  7. 7. They had two leaders who saw their potential… and engaged them! Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Lieutenant Lance Reddick from the “Major Crimes Division” (The Wire) We count on managers and leaders to identify people who will truly contribute to their organizations…. How did they succeed? They had leaders who were fortunate enough to see their talent and potential and harness it.
  8. 8. What is Positive Deviance? Positive Deviants find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite facing similar challenges and having no extra resources or knowledge than their peers Open Curious Willing to try new ideas Adventurous Receptive to Feedback Quick & Agile Minds Passionate & Energetic Intrinsically motivated to do extrinsic “value to society” activities High Morals & Ethics Highly Creative Tinkerers
  9. 9. Workplace of the Past Workplace of the Present & Future Brainstorming session at IDEO Demands: ● Creativity & innovative thinking ● Cooperation & Teamwork ● Communication between management & staff ● Fast but critical thinkers & doers who can help company react with agility to a rapidly changing marketplace Encourages & fosters: ● Docile & highly cooperative employees ● People who follow orders & instructions without question ● High need for conformity ● Company ‘yes’ men who fall in line Why do workplaces need positive deviants?
  10. 10. Positive Deviance isn’t just for PD’s it can be encouraged
  11. 11. Message to Executives: Positive deviants and outliers, when channeled correctly can help you avoid “Ossification”
  12. 12. In a way this is a normal part of modern workplace development Traditional cultures of middle management can kill employee engagement or even creativity
  13. 13. 1. Identify your culture and reinforce your values 2. Cultivate a culture of appreciation 3. Communicate constantly, walk the talk Care and feeding of positive deviants and outliers
  14. 14. MMoroer ea davdivciec efo fro rm manaangaegmeresn…t… 1. But, if you want to see real innovation, often you have to hire defiant rule-breakers who don’t think much of corporate culture
  15. 15. If you are exhibiting signs of Positive Deviancy, turn this into an opportunity… If you are a positive deviant… If you are a positive deviant... Temper your ideas. Find out how to communicate to your audience effectively. Get a translator & champion.
  16. 16. Summary… • Positive Deviants can be an asset • Managers should learn to recognize & channel their energy for the good of the organization & company • Cost of ignoring positive deviance can be high • If you are one, learn to communicate effectively & find a champion
  17. 17. Resources Positive Deviance Initiative: Audio interviews on PD: Collaboration & the Value of the Dissenting Voice: ion-and-the-value-of-the-dissenting-voice-2/

Notas del editor

  • Welcome.
    In this time I’m going to share my exploration of the value of Outliers and Misfits to organizations.
    A little background about myself: I have worked in a corporate setting for the last 15 years as a trainer and instructional designer. I’ve continually found myself asking the question… “Why not do something different?” Sometimes asking questions or making proposals that suggest a different direction are not always met with open acceptance, but I learned that there are also ‘good’ ways of communicating the need for change depending on the climate and your environment.

    Let’s briefly celebrate and examine what makes a Positive Deviant and how PD’s are essential to a company’s success. Let’s also answer the question, what is management & leadership’s role in identifying and leveraging the power of Positive Deviance in their organization.
  • At some point there were people who thought each one of these people were out of line or against the grain. Some like Mandela and Sakharov struggled against their governments despite overwhelming opposition and even threats against their freedom. What each of the people on this page have in common is that despite their misfit status, they were or are catalysts for positive change of some sort.

  • They stick out
    They disagree with leadership
    They do things differently or go against the grain

    Let’s closely examine the two stories of misfits who went across the grain.
  • One is real the other is fictional.

    Are outliers
    Both are smart, creative and tops at their jobs
    At sometime in their career they were banished to the ‘company basement.’
    Both are ‘positive deviants’

    Can you name who these people are?
  • When Steve Jobs found him, Johnny Ive was banished to the ‘basement’ at Apple because he had disagreed with leadership.

    And apparently, he was about to quit. Jobs saw what the middle managers did not he saw future possibilities and realized that Ive’s ideas might be helpful to making these possibilities come to life.


    “His tour finally brought him to the workbench of a designer ready to quit after just a year on the job, languishing amid a stack of prototypes. Among them was a monolithic monitor with a teardrop swoop, which managed to integrate all of a computer's guts into a single package. In that basement Jobs saw what middle managers did not. He saw the future. And almost immediately he told the designer, Jonathan Ive, that from here on out they'd be working side-by-side on a new line.”
  • ..other is fictional. In the series “The Wire” Lester Freamon is often the strategic brains that makes the major breakthroughs that lead to solving crimes and catching the big criminals in his department.

    The story goes as this as young and promising homicide detective Freamon solved a major crime, but he angered connected politicians and police leadership in order to do so. His deputy had him assigned to the very duty that he dreaded working in the pawnshop in the PD basement.


    From Wikipedia:
    He is a wise, methodical detective, whose intelligence and experience are often central to investigations throughout the series, particularly with respect to uncovering networks of money laundering and corruption.

  • How did these men “escape the basement” of their organization?

    They had leaders who were fortunate enough to see their talent and potential and harness it. Usually positive dissenters will either continue to hide within the organization or sadly leave and find employment where they will be heard.

    In the next section we’ll learn how to identify these gems in the rough, why they are essential to getting to those innovations that may make or break your organization’s standing and marketshare, as well as how to properly leverage and channel their attributes.
  • Traditionally, deviance has referred to intentional behaviors that depart from organizational norms in a negative way, thereby threatening the well-being of an organization and/or its members. In the corporate environment, openly questioning, disagreeing with leadership or the status quo, or tinkering and experimenting with current processes can be seen as deviant behavior.

    Take a look at the qualities here and try to remembertwo that stand out they can even been qualities you see in yourself, as we all have the capacity for positive deviance.


  • The workplace of the past in both the factory and early transition to service industry phase required a docile workforce that followed leadership’s cues w/o question. Maintaining processes and their integrity was key to the bread and butter of each company.

    Remember a decade or so ago when people were touting that phrase “think outside the box” this perhaps was a cultural reaction to our growing pains to evolve out of the lock in step factory mentailty.

    In today’s workplace, the market can be shifting and ever volatile, so it’s often necessary for good ideas to bubble up quickly. In this workplace creative or innovative thinking that reimagines how things ‘could’ work. This is where leveraging Positive Deviants can be helpful.

    Time and time again leaders find that deep innovation can't be taught or controlled – but it can be sparked or catalyzed. One way to jump start innovative behavior is to encourage, acknowledge, and reward positive deviance. This requires “an approach to behavioral and social change based on the observation that in a community, there are people (Positive Deviants) whose uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite having no special resources or knowledge.”[4]

    “Managers must actively look for those extraordinary successful groups and individuals, and bring the isolated success strategies of these “positive deviants” into the mainstream… [And] current best practice change management methods are not good at realizing this.”[5] Neither are best practice rewards methods.
    In growing corporations there will inevitably be a trend, at some point, towards standardization – in processes, titles, rewards and methodology – that is natural as an organization grows and matures – even though it inhibits risk-taking and experimentation. As this evolution takes place, it becomes more and more important that positive deviance is embraced, communicated out and rewarded.
    If a team has done something successful – technically, organizationally, with management, morale, etc., there are typically outlets for sharing best practices - but preparation and delivery to share comes at the expense of the individual, who often must forsake his or her own job, or more likely, work extra hard, in order to help the company by sharing.
  • What does it mean to be ossified? Stuck in the past and inable to adapt to market & environment changes sums it up.
    Positive deviants often seek out ideas that help a company adapt.


    Brian Sommer, CEO of strategy consultancy:
    “The companies that are ossified are unwavering champions for the status quo, “so rigid in their world view, their processes and business practices that they choose to ignore the very suggestions that could save their firms.”

    Signs that your company is ossified:

    If you can answer yes to the following questions, your organization may be ossified: Did it take forever for your organization to embrace Apple iPhones? Does executive leadership think cloud technology is too new to consider? Does the organization pride itself on being the one unchangeable, immovable rock in a sea of change?

    Positive Deviants do the following to help avoid ossification:

    1.) Positive Deviants Aren’t Easily Satisfied with the Status Quo - But a troublemaker can be your “secret weapon.” These folks are constantly thinking of smarter and better ways to do things, and who doesn’t need that?

    2.) Positive Deviants Are Problem Solvers - When a troublemaker has problems to solve (and come on, your company has problems, right?), he’s happy.

    3.) Positive Deviants are Natural Leaders - Troublemakers don’t sit around waiting to be told what to do. They’re proactive and see potential issues way before most other folks. Sometimes your more contented employees will become annoyed by what they perceive as the troublemaker’s tendency to “borrow problems,” but this isn’t the troublemaker’s goal. He just naturally thinks ahead. Don’t hate him for thinking. Your business needs thinkers, right?

    4.) Positive Deviants Are Brave
    There’s a lot of talk these days about authenticity and integrity and how much companies need employees who are willing to speak up. Well, look no further than your resident troublemaker! Troublemakers are passionate and opinionated and self-motivated. They’re willing to take a stance because they believe in their ideas and your business. Why in the world wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that?


    What does it mean to be ossified?

    Why Organizations need troublemakers:
  • Why is this normal?

    But what’s more is when business operations are good it’s in the company’s best interest to maintain the status quo… going down different paths can be dangerous. In the past, middle management was trained to keep the ship floating smoothly. They were not trained to look out for and grow employees who might be developing the next new innovation.

    The culture of politics in an organization can squelch any opportunity for positive deviance. An example of an extreme is an extremely hierarchical institution in which the ‘yes’ culture flourishes.

    When organizations grow large they become stratified.
    Sometimes the even fall victim to the Peter Principle -


    “While the stakes aren't usually as high, promotions like Brown's happen frequently in business and government bureaucracies. A person who excels at his position is often rewarded with a higher position, eventually one that exceeds the employee's field of expertise. This is called the Peter Principle, an observation put forth in the late 1960s by Dr. Laurence J. Peter, a psychologist and professor of education [source: Business Open Learning Archive].
    "In a hierarchically structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence," or, as Dr. Peter went on to explain in simpler terms, "The cream rises until it sours." The Peter Principle has even found its way into Masters of Business Administration (MBA) curriculum.”
  • Identify your culture and reinforce your values: Regardless of the positive or negative outlier, it is imperative that organizations develop a company mission and values. Reinforcing and recognizing these attributes on a daily basis will provide a direction for outliers and, ultimately, help them define their role within the corporate structure--or not.
    Cultivate a global culture of appreciation: While a negative outlier may bring a level of competition and aggressiveness to the table that management thinks is healthy, it can also be detrimental to those around him. By creating a culture of appreciationthat reinforces the company’s stated values, senior management is able to more clearly define expectations and measure employees against desired behaviors.
    Communicate constantly, walk the talk: Communication is critical to managing any type of outlier. It’s one of the more underestimated keys in management. Leadership should consistently communicate acceptable behaviors and then be in front of the workforce towing the party line. If management doesn’t walk the walk, outliers assume the rules are negotiable.

  • “Many companies are innovative despite management,” Bob Sutton author of the “No Asshole Rule” says. “But, if you want to see real innovation, often you have to hire defiant rule-breakers who don’t think much of corporate culture.”
    Defiance is often triggered by company executives “who have little to no knowledge about the work they are managing,” he said. Contrarian Sutton makes his point by citing real-world anecdotes. For example, masking tape, which turned out to be one of 3M’s most successful products, was invented because an employee defied an order from his CEO to stop the unauthorized work and return to his job in quality control. Or, take the case of Bill Hewlett, cofounder of Hewlett Packard (HP), who ordered an engineer to abandon work on a display monitor he was developing. Instead, the engineer took a vacation so he could demonstrate a prototype product to customers. Their positive reaction was motivation for him to persuade his R&D manager to rush the monitor into production. HP sold more than 17,000 monitors, yielding revenues of $35 million. Sutton also makes reference to former CEO of the Atari Corporation, Norman Bushnell, who said, “Sometimes the best engineers come in bodies that can’t talk.” Bushnell turned his back on the traditional team-player corporate mentality encouraged by most companies and instead hired loners, Sutton said. Bushnell said that the most innovative people may lack social graces and prefer to spend time alone with their thoughts and ideas. “They may be difficult to talk to and may not like working on teams,” he said. “But they do increase the range of ideas in a company and are appreciated in every innovative company.”

  • A few things to remember:

    Temper your ideas
    Find out how to communicate to your audience effectively
    Get a translator
    Find allies
    Cultivate positive acceptance for your ideas
    Do it on your own or influence elsewhere (outside)
  • Wanted - Innovation Leaders (SkillSoft Course)
    What do organizations risk by failing to promote a culture of innovation? Creativity becomes stifled.
    Employees lose confidence in creative abilities.
    Products, strategies, tools, and processes stagnate.
    The competitive edge is lost.
    What steps should management take to nurture innovation leaders? Actively solicit, encourage, and support innovative thinking and ideas.
    Openly promote and celebrate successfully implemented innovations.
    Champion and distribute ideas to stakeholders, knowledge experts, and powerbrokers.
    Invest in training and mentoring for employees.
    Make innovation a process to be mastered.