Learning from positive deviants

Rising out of polarizing debates concerning reform to the U.S. health care system are a variety of examples across America where health care costs are down and quality is improved. The Plexus Institute draws our attention to the notion of positive deviants (PD), which means examining situations where something is working to determine underlying principles that can be applied on a larger scale. For example, this PBS broadcast begins by reporting, “When President Obama talks about his idea of great health care, he usually singles out a few choice models.” Betty Ann Bowser quotes Obama on the NewsHour:

“Barack Obama: “What worked? The Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, Geisinger, Kaiser Permanente. There are health systems around the country that actually have costs that are as much as 20 or 30 percent lower than the national average and have higher quality. What is it that they’re doing differently than other systems?”’

Looking at positive deviants is a way to get beyond primal fears of innovation. One of the paradoxes of innovation is that although the general concept of fresh ideas and progress sounds attractive, our first impulse when encountering a specific potential breakthrough may be to ask where it has been done before. For naysayers who insist, “That’ll never work!,” we can cite deviants from the norm to reply, “But it has been working in this situation.” Studies on ways to improve infection control in hospitals provide another example of the PD approach.

This human need for precedents is a central challenge for pioneers who are doing great architecture. That’s why we have an ongoing interest in gaining insight into the role, thinking and potential for influencing naysayers.  

 -Sharon VanderKaay

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  • About The Nature of Innovation

    We see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow’s built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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