Positive peer pressure and positive deviance

Peer pressure is really powerful.  The trouble is, it can be used for good or bad.  We aim to create positive peer pressure to achieve change, but it’s not always easy.

Do heroes help?

As discussed in the previous post, Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment to show how easy it is for good people to do bad in his “prison”.  He writes about heroes who go against the negative peer pressure, to avoid entering gangs, to stop picking on minorities.

Are these heroes positive deviants?  They are, but so what?  Are they just born different?  What happens to heroes in the community? What does that mean for others who may get pressurised into bad behaviour?  So what does that mean for changing behaviour and attitudes in organisations?

Working from the bottom up

There are (at least) two schools of positive deviance.  At the University of Michigan, they look at the nature of positive deviants, their values and beliefs.  They look at how they can influence others through their own actions and leadership in organisations.   Sarah Parkin takes the concept a stage further and identifies them as heroes who lead for the betterment of the planet.

Learning by observation and enquiry

We follow the Tufts University/Positive Deviance Initiative approach.   This is not so much about heroism and honour, but practicality.  Whilst they probably have different values, positive deviants do things differently and get some benefit from it.  If enough people try doing small things differently, copying what positive deviants do, and HOW, they start to see better results.  With reinforcement they will “act their way into a new way of thinking”.

We argue that it is easier for people to act their way into a new way of thinking, than think their way into a new way of acting.  This goes totally against the tradition that knowledge changes behaviour.

This needs awareness of the negative aspects of tradition and peer pressure.  Early in the process we ask people to collect stories about the negative impact of “good” traditions and peer pressure to challenge the accepted norm.  The groups collect evidence of what really works and what actually doesn’t.  The stories engage the emotions, and facts and figures challenge urban myths.

Creating the right environment to learn

As soon as possible, we ask the flip question, which turns a problem on its head.

“Is it possible for a woman not to be circumcised yet still to be virtuous?” was a question asked by Jerry and Monique Sternin in Egypt.  Community members recognised that there were indeed a few women like this, hidden away in their own social networks.  They learned from parents who pitied their female children, who protected them from mutilation, and what they did to enable this to happen. They saw social proof and start to accept that there may be another way, so they will at least try something different in a safe environment.

Connecting people for good

This can only happen with strong networks, so people have mutual support.

So this is how we teach Hidden Insights in both organisations and communities.  By involving as many stakeholders as possible in discovering what really works, we create positive energy.  This ripples out through the people, changes relationships and sustains and maintains improvement.  It creates positive peer pressure to join in.  It gives people confidence to be different, which is essential to avoid a negative spiral of behaviour.   It’s all about finding the right point in a process or system to intervene.  By starting with a small change, people get the confidence for a bigger one.  The positive relationships and networks last beyond the initial work and sustain the new behaviours.

This works really well in creating a new organisational culture without the need for a top-down culture change programme.  It also means that everyone can be a hero, not just the few.  And it’s fun and so much cheaper than learning from experts.

Positive deviants and heroes – two versions of the same thing?

Everyday heroes in a hostile world

There has been a lively twitter conversation about a fascinating interview with Philip Zimbardo, Stanford professor emeritus and author of “the Lucifer Effect“.  He explains that society may condition good people to do bad things, such as join gangs and participate in violence.  This has been demonstrated in his “prison” experiment, and in the famous “electric shock” experiments of Stanley Milgram.  If you put good people in a bad environment, they will do bad things.  Philip helps people learn to be ordinary heroes.

Heroes as positive deviants?

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New perspectives – psycho-social evidence for benefits of positive deviance

Jane Lewis and Dr Joanna Wilde ran a very successful workshop for the British Psychological Society in June.  This introduced positive deviance (PD) to a wider audience of accredited occupational and organisational psychologists.

We highlighted the benefits of working in this way at a time when workplaces can feel increasingly pressured and toxic.  True to the principles of positive deviance, it was an interactive session where participants worked on their own cases, mainly linked to staff (and volunteer) engagement, leadership and culture change.  Jane acted as the “expert non-expert” and Joanna commented on the links between our experience and current thinking and theory.  Her review helps to explain why positive deviance does work, and why it is particularly appropriate in the current climate. Continue reading

Sustainable results from hidden solutions

Not business as usual

I read Jane Bozarth’s excellent article on positive deviance (PD) in Learning Solutions Magazine with interest.  She succinctly highlights how PD uncovers hidden solutions and delivers sustainable results.  She points up the differences between PD and business as usual.  She sets out the usual scenario for solving problems:

“Organization has a problem.  Organization brings in “experts” to study the problem, devise a solution, run a pilot (which may mean a training program) and then leave.  Organisation members quickly revert back to old behaviors”.

Jane highlights the possibilities opened up by looking for what works.  A specific tool is the all-important “flip” or “somersault” question:

  • Not “why are staph infections so high across the hospital?” but “why are staph infections lower on the third floor?”
  • Not “why are sales down in regions 6 and 9, but “why are sales up in region 4?”

This helpful introduction highlights how simple the PD concept is, and how there are almost always hidden solutions.   On the face of it, it’s hard to understand why amplifying positive deviance, as practised by the Sternins, isn’t as common as many other improvement initiatives.  It’s about doing more with less, empowering and engaging people.  It spreads behaviours and practices that are already proven to be working, so the only resource needed is the time to find them.  It’s evidence based, teaches a lot about leadership and is fun to do.  What’s not to like? Continue reading

Human management, Hidden Insights and the British Psychological Society

We’re delighted to be sharing a platform with Dr Joanna Wilde on 3rd June at the British Psychological Society’s training centre in London.  We are running a CPD-accredited workshop for practitioners, to demonstrate a practical, evidence-based approach to human management and leadership. Continue reading

Engagement and culture change in Cambridgeshire

We are delighted with the feedback from the learning-by-doing we did over the last year in Cambridgeshire.  People have taken the Hidden Insights concepts of “don’t decide about me, without me” and “acting their way into a new way of thinking” to heart.  They have grown in confidence and created amazing engagement and community action.

You can read more about the Grub Hub in Huntingdon here. Continue reading

More with less? Serious fun at Accent Group

  • “A really good day”
  • “Bang on the brief”
  • “A great chance to mix and have my say”

We were delighted to be asked by Accent Group, the housing association, to facilitate their Eastern Region staff awayday.  We are already working with them, as part of a group of organisations in Cambridgeshire, which is using Hidden Insights as a means of improvinDSCN2299g relationships with, and building resilience in tenants.  This project has also been a great way of starting collaborative projects across organisations – Accent and Fenland District Council are sharing resources in Wisbech.  Using Hidden Insights thinking has attracted more than four times the usual attendance at resident events, again conducted in collaboration with the Ferry Project, Cambridgeshire County Council and Making Money Count. Continue reading

Ownership not buy-in – Hidden Insight of the season

People will take personal responsibility for solving a problem,  completing an action and performing better if they own the solution – a key Hidden Insights principle is “ownership not buy-in”.

Hidden Insights® achieves this through its group coaching approach.  Coaching works with anyone, in organisations, families, or communities.  Coaching is reported by the 2015 CIPD employer survey to be the second most effective learning after learning on the job (which is also a part of Hidden Insights). Continue reading

Emergent OD and the Buurtzorg model – reducing costs and satisfying demand

At the moment the pressure is on for HR and OD professionals to create flexible and responsive organisations, making the most of the trends and technologies available.  In the current economic climate, with productivity only just starting to improve, people have limited time for change projects and organisations are getting flatter, putting a greater load on managers.  So how can this be achieved? Continue reading

Converging ideas about leadership and the front-line

A trend is emerging that is challenging the top-down, “big everything” way of working: first Steve Hilton’s book, “More Human”, about sustainable and humane ways of managing nearly everything, from food to education, adamantly advocates the benefits of things at human scale, and of collaboration.  Hilary Devey, of Dragon’s Den fame, hosted a programme, “Running the Shop”, on Channel 4, which shows that staff do have good ideas and know what their customers want, and can make quick improvements in business performance if allowed to implement their ideas.  Lastly, at a more intellectual level, the recent Oxford Praxis Forum Stimulus Workshop, and celebration of the 50 years of management studies at Oxford both stressed the  need for senior management to act as stewards rather than drivers, to get their staff engaged in taking responsibility for making things better for customers, patients and service users in a fast-moving and complex world. Continue reading